Wince words

blahI make up words all the time because they better reflect what I want to say. Portmanteau words that pull together different ideas to create one. Examples of such words that I have not created: dramedy, rockumentary, cosplay, jazzercise, literotica, and so on. I know some people hate these words, or words that are nouns made into verbs (google a subject, for instance, or disrespect someone). But I’m okay with those. Sometimes they ping me a little, but really, the words that bother me and make me wince, are the words that are different iterations of common words that are used just for fanciness, or so it seems to me.

I hate hesitancy in place of hesitation. In fact, a lot of the words that drives me nuts end in -ancy or -ency. Like Aberrancy in place of aberrance. Rampancy for rampant. Expectancy for expectant. There’s a lot of these words. And they are real words, so my wincing doesn’t make a lot of sense, and yet . . . They drive me up a wall. It feels pretentious, even though it probably isn’t. I think it’s because the form I dislike is used less often and therefore feels that it’s a reach because the ordinary form is just that . . . ordinary.

There’s this thing called the willing suspension of disbelief. That’s when you start a story as a reader, you willingly let go of your disbelief that say magic can happen, or that a planet exists, or that humans have colonized space. You say–yes. I’m going to believe the world the author has created and in this people that don’t exist. I’m going to believe it for the entire length of the book. Now the author side of that contract is the author promises that the world will be cohesive and coherent, and that nothing in the book will throw you out of it and make you go . . . wha-?

Things that throw you out tend to be anachronisms–like modern language in a medieval setting, or current slang in a future setting. Like when a future colonizer says–that so sick, dude!  Other things are when the world doesn’t makes sense, or history has been changed inexplicably and so on and so forth. It’s probably happened to you before for various reasons.

These wince words throw me out of a story or anywhere they are included. I start paying very little attention to what’s happening and instead focus on the way in which it’s happening.

What are your wince words?




About Diana Pharaoh Francis

A recovering academic, Diana Pharaoh Francis writes books of a fantastical, adventurous, and often romantic nature. She's owned by two corgis, spends much of her time herding children, and likes rocks, geocaching, knotting up yarn, and has a thing for 1800s England, especially the Victorians. Check out samples of just about everything on her website:


Wince words — 13 Comments

  1. I read a review of a Regency novel on Goodreads the other day. The reviewer complained of anachronisms that threw her right out of the story. The heroine had hair the color of espresso, for instance, and someone refers to Robert Scott the Antarctic explorer. There is a level of idiocy that is just intolerable.

    • Regency romances, especially the ones with magic, just don’t even bother anymore. The readers don’t know the difference–they want the snark, the hot guys in lace and high boots, the gowns, the palaces. At best the authors have read a lot of Georgette Heyers.

        • Well, but she made errors, and they are noticeable to the readership who know the period. But again, there are readers who don’t give a fig, and really want modern gals having fun with the period trappings. So types branch out, according to what the readership likes.

  2. I wince more at grammar errors than at words, though I always wonder why someone would say tenseness instead of tension, for example. But hearing “I laid there thinking about it . . .” is like a needle to my ear.

    • Funny, tenderness and tension sound very different to me, with the former referring to a human being and the latter lifted from a physics course.
      In the only language in which I am a native speaker, inappropriate dialectal or register choices drive me nuts. Unfortunately this is very common when a few words of the language are (ab)used in an English language novel. Moral: when you borrow sentences from a language you are not familiar with, don’t blindly trust Google translate.

  3. A current pet peeve is “epicenter” instead of “center.” Epicenter has a specific meaning, as does center, and the former is not a more precise or more intense meaning of the latter.

    I mean… the center is *one point.* How much more precise can you get than a single point?

    You could use “epicenter” metaphorically, but pundits mostly don’t.


    P.S. I recently read a Very Famous Very Critically Acclaimed SF Writer’s novel (one of those books that would be held up as “hard” SF, much preferable to, say, squishy biologically-based SF like most of mine), in which he said that three points define a line.


  4. I’m seeing homonyms miss used more and more. I think they slip through Word’s grammar checker. I crash and burn every time I run into one, and then I have to dig my way back into the story.

  5. I’m not only a natural nitpicker but also a copy-editor, so perhaps I get too wound up about wincing. But in general I particularly dislike sloppy use of suffixes, such as educationalist (one who is in favor of things being educational) rather than educator, anxiousness rather than anxiety and burglarize (to turn someone into a burglar) rather than burgle. I also loathe “the retail apostrophe”. One of these days, I’m going to take an indelible red pen to a local bar and fix the sign, which advertises “wine, beer and cocktail’s”. Funny suffixes may mean a speaker’s in a hurry. The retail apostrophe means that the user doesn’t understand something basic and important about the way English works, which is scary and sad.

  6. I have learned never to copyedit except in a professional context. It never serves, to copyedit menus in restaurants or signage in streets. There is a tire facility near my house that offers “ALINEMENTS”. I have quit worrying about it (although I will never take my car there).
    It frosts me, all those anachronisms. I work hard to make the work perfect: slang, incident, fashion. Do not expect me to excuse your carelessness.