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More than a few readers have written to tell me they’re surprised by the vocabulary in Birthmarked, enough so that I was unsurprised to be in another conversation about “avuncular” last Friday.  We love our words, don’t we?  Especially the fun and pithy ones.

My bookmarks for Birthmarked list favorite words from the novel.

When I’m writing and revising, I consult a couple of dictionaries and a thesaurus regularly.  Often I have the meaning of something in mind but the first word that surfaces doesn’t have the color or emphasis I want, so the thesaurus nudges me towards a better choice.  “Dimwit” is quainter, for instance, than “idiot,” but still has a bite.  Sometimes I think I’m using a word correctly, like “slue,” but I need to check to be sure.

I particularly relish encountering new words I want to adopt, and I keep a list to remind me of them until I’ve memorized them.  Recent entries include: “proclivity,” “vicissitude,” “litotes,” “ineluctable,” and “Sisyphean,” all of which I’m still shaky on.

Some words remind me of people.  My dad is the only one I ever knew to say “desultory” aloud.  “Grotesque” reminds me of my mom because she taught me how not to pronounce it, and “supinate” I learned from my son, who fences.  Some words I associate with the books I first saw them in, like A Handmaid’s Tale taught me “palimpsest,” and The Road gave me the creepy “catamite.”  I haven’t used that one in my writing yet.

The only time I don’t use a word I really love is if a simpler word would make the meaning come through more cleanly and I can’t risk interposing the distraction an unfamiliar word.  “Supinate” is a good example.  It means to turn your hand palm-upward, and there’s a point in Prized when Gaia does precisely that.  It’s a small but important moment.  Since “supinate” is not in the dictionary I most frequently consult and I never knew it until lately, I suspect it’s rare, and I don’t want the reader to have to scratch her head when I’d prefer to have her thinking about the light.  So here’s what I have:

She held her other hand out, too, turning it in the light, and then she stepped down the two steps and pushed out into the garden where sun fell on her bare head and shoulders….

I would dearly love to substitute “supinating it in the light,” but no:  “turning” is the right word.  I’d like to think Strunk and White would commend my restraint.

My other favorites these days are “eviscerate,” “coruscate,” “sylvan,” and “hyperbole.”  It helps when they’re pleasurable to say.  “Unlake.”  I like that one, too.

14 Responses to Words

  • My favorite word = euphemism.

  • Alyssa ~
    Ha! That one always makes me think of death. I mean, kicking the bucket.

  • Sylvan? Sylvan is one of your favorite words these days? I WORK AT SYLVAN! :D
    Also, Book 2 excerpt get me excited! When do I get to have it in my hands?!

  • consanguinity. I recently wrote a poem where this was the only word that wold work.

  • Unlake is definitely my favorite of the bunch.

    For me, my vocabulary is lacking. I consult a thesaurus more than I probably should. But if there is a word in my writing that just doesn’t feel right, then I’ll change it, whether I move it up a vocab notch or done – as long as it feels like the right thing to do.

  • Katie ~ I know about you and Sylvan. They’re lucky to have you!
    Kathleen ~ I have an affinity for words with blood in them.
    Kelly ~ Exactly. The adjusting is so satisfying, isn’t it? Like a game with your own mind.
    It’s so nice to know other writers out there.
    All best,

  • im working on a project and i need 5 more vocab. words from your first book birthmarked

  • please let me know before 9:00 today and i need the definitions

  • caragh please answer asap not to be rude or anything i need it before 9:00 please ill be on here for the rest of the night until nine

  • r u there

  • Lexi ~ I am not comfortable helping with projects of this sort as I suspect the point is for you to read, identify words that are new to you, and discover the definitions yourself. I’m confident you will do well with it on your own, and if by chance you fail, that will turn out okay, too.
    All best,

  • I have this book on order. I am supposd to read it for my summer high school ap reading class. We had a choice to choose between Divergent or Birth marked. I chose Birthmarked, because after I read the except of it I think I fell in love it seems like a book I would like. I am counting down the days till it gets here and after I read it ill leave another reply. Thankyou!!!!!!!!

  • Elyssa ~ I hope you end up enjoying Gaia’s story. I liked Divergent, too, so I’m glad my book is in such good company. Have fun reading, and relish these last weeks of summer.
    All best,

  • I LOVE your book. I am doing an English project on it and have to right a thing on it. I did not know there was a 2nd book I will have to get it. So excited!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Upcoming Events

September 14, 2014: We'll have a launch for The Vault of Dreamers at the UConn Coop Bookstore, Royce Circle, Storrs, CT on Sunday, September 14th at 3:00 p.m.


September 16, 2014: The FIERCE READS TOUR begins as Ann Aguirre, Marie Rutkoski and I visit Anderson's Bookshop in Downers Grove, IL on Tuesday, September 16th at 7 p.m.


September 17, 2014: The FIERCE READS TOUR continues with a stop at Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, NH on Wednesday, September 17th at 7 p.m.


September 18, 2014: The FIERCE READS TOUR continues. We'll be visiting the Cambridge Public Library in Cambridge, MA on Thursday, September 18th at 7 p.m.


September 19, 2014: With the ongoing FIERCE READS TOUR, I'll be visiting Books of Wonder in New York, NY with moderator Emmy Laybourne, on Friday, September 19th at 6 p.m.


September 20, 2014: The FIERCE READS TOUR continues with a visit to R. J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, CT on Saturday, September 20th at 6 p.m.


September 21, 2014: I continue with the FIERCE READS TOUR, visiting Towne Book Center & Cafe in Collegeville, PA on Sunday, September 21st at 2 p.m.


September 22, 2014: The FIERCE READS TOUR continues with a visit to Politics & Prose at the Bethesda Library in Bethesda, MD on Monday, September 22nd at 7 p.m.


September 23, 2014: The FIERCE READS TOUR will wrap up with a visit to Blue Bicycle Books in Charleston, SC on Tuesday, September 23rd at 5:30 p.m.
Check out the second leg of the tour with other FIERCE authors Gennifer Albin, Nikki Kelly, Marissa Meyer, and Jessica Brody.


October 2, 2014: Tui Sutherland, Dayna Lorentz, Kristin Cashore, and I will be on a panel moderated by Jim Shepard about Writing for Young People at Williams College in Williamstown, MA on Thursday, October 2nd at 8:00 pm.


October 3, 2014: Tui Sutherland, Dayna Lorentz, Kristin Cashore, and I will visit Northshire Books in Manchester, VT on Friday, October 3rd at 4:00 pm.


November 15, 2014: I'll be visiting The Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, MN on Saturday, November 15th at 4:00 pm.

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