Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Time I Used the Word Chagrin

It was college. And like any college student, I was experimenting. I had been writing long enough to stop caring so much about doing things the “right way” and focused more on doing things the fun way. I had always been criticized for a high vocabulary, even outside of my stories. While at times it came from being a pompous windbag, that was also natural, and now I was starting to free myself from the concerns of teachers who didn’t know what “enigma” meant, and just writing in the style that I actually wanted to be writing in.

I produced a lot of plays in college. I would gather the students together, telling them, “Congratulations! You got the part.” (They weren’t going to question the lack of auditions if they already succeeded), and then informing the teachers on the performance date. (I’ve found just telling people what was going on was far more effective than asking.)

So one day a friend of mine, my actor, decided that I was making words up. This wasn’t a surprise to me. I had been directing him for a long time by then, and my most common director’s note was, “You know how I can tell you don’t know what you’re saying? Because what you just said doesn’t make any sense.”

If he didn’t memorize his lines perfectly, he’d try to say the gist. But if he didn’t know what the gist was, he’d change enough words to turn it to complete gibberish.

Now, I’m not going to put all on him. By this method, I did find some denser styles in my writing I knew that I wanted to change. I was taking risks, and he was a great indication when I had gone too far.

That being said, if I stuck with only words he understood, I’d only being using “was” and “cat.”

So, one day he comes up to me and says, “Did you make up the word chagrin?”

I said, “Why would I make up a word that you couldn’t figure out what it meant from context?”

He shrugged. “I’ve just never heard it before.”

“Wait a minute. Isn’t Twilight your favorite book?”

“I love Edward!”

I just glared at him.


“Did you seriously just ask me if I made up a word that your favorite book is accused of using way too much?”

In essence, when he read a book he trusted, he completely ignored a word he didn’t know—one that was so common that her readers started to criticize its use—but when he read my play, one that he didn’t trust, he had to severely question it.

It’s not like I want to be a dense writer, but don’t limit me to simple word choice just because I’m not as deserving as Stephanie Meyer to—I don’t know—use the words that I actually know.