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Saturday, August 07, 2010

New Old Words

I've been reading The Red Rover by James Fenimore Cooper. I downloaded it from Project Gutenberg last year after I had visited J.F. Cooper's birthplace in Burlington, New Jersey. I had not known until that visit that Cooper had been in the Navy. Years ago, I read The Water Witch, because it was set in the Highlands of New Jersey. However, I did not know about The Pilot and The Red Rover, Cooper's other books with very nautical settings. I've already read The Pilot, but I am now reading The Red Rover. It's a good story (a pirate story!!!) but it goes slowly. Cooper was, like most authors of his time, verbose. He uses a lot more words to get from one point to the other.

The surprising thing is sometimes Cooper's vocabulary--ancient words that are completely out of common usage. I am an avid reader and coming across these little nuggets has had me reaching for the dictionary. The old words are still there, but it makes me sad that they are getting moldy. However, if I use any unfamiliar words in my manuscripts, I could lose readers. Odd words stand out like little red flags and take the reader out of the flow of the story.

Of course, there are always new words popping up in our language. The English language is alive and well and constantly changing. It is so rich and full of nuances that working with it is a joy.

Below are a few words from Cooper's The Red Rover that I looked up at

habiliment –noun
Usually, habiliments.
clothes or clothing.
clothes as worn in a particular profession, way of life, etc.
habiliments, accouterments or trappings.

Porteous-Porteous, John , d. 1736, British soldier. He was captain of the Edinburgh town guard at the execution (1736) of Andrew Wilson, a smuggler. When the crowd, which was sympathetic to Wilson, rioted, the guard fired into it, killing eight or nine persons. Porteous was tried and sentenced to death, but his execution was postponed. On Sept. 7, 1736, an indignant mob took him from prison and hanged him, a crime for which no one was brought to justice despite the efforts of the government. Incidents of the Porteous riot are used by Sir Walter Scott in The Heart of Midlothian.

a rogue, vagabond, thief, or brigand.
a pirate or corsair.
–verb (used without object)
to act or operate as a pirate or brigand.

mantling–noun Heraldry .
a decorative piece of cloth represented as hanging from a torse so as to cover the sides and rear of a helmet and often so as to frame the escutcheon below.

I think everyone should read lots of classic books, which anyone can get for free at Project Gutenberg. It's a great way to learn some new old words. :^)

1 comment:

MarkD60 said...

Looks like you got spammed!

I too always use a dictionary. Sometimes for common words as well as those I've never heard before!