Some of you will have heard of Neal Stephenson and read his books.

He's an author whose books are often found in the scifi section. His stories often incorporate cool technological ideas which get described in great detail in the books, sometimes detracting from the story itself. The stories seem to be a second priority, with endings left hanging...

By the way, I am a slow reader... I like to absorb the words, imagine the scene and take in the detail. I often read a paragraph several times.

Anyway, back to the point. Neal Stephenson has an enormous, big dictionary. I've never seen it, but I know it's there! He uses unusual words in his books. At least, words that are unusual to me. Maybe, as a slow reader, I just haven't seen as many words. Maybe, where he comes from (is it Seattle?), these words are in everyday usage.

As he goes out of his way to use these words, I go out of my way to look them up in my dictionary. When I find the word, I understand its meaning and how to pronounce it. Then, I can reread the paragraph and gain the full sense of what he has written. A minor inconvenience, the story can continue...

BUT, sometimes there is a word that I can't find in my dictionary. Or in my other dictionary. Now I get annoyed. What does this word mean? Is it made up? What does the sentence mean? Can I carry on? A fast reader would take a guess, use the context, and speed on to finish the book. But not me... stupid perfectionism.

I offer you one example.

nefandous
Any ideas? Someone who knows, write a node.

A Plea to Neal

Neal! Your stories have technological ideas, but they are not technical papers, you do not need to use jargon. The words you use are interfering with the story. It should flow from chapter to chapter and take the reader on a wonderful journey. Instead, it is a literary obstacle course where only those with the largest vocabulary and the biggest dictionaries can gain the full appreciation of your tale.

Waaah! I have a small dictionary. I don't feel worthy enough to read your books :(

1) Bear in mind that The Diamond Age takes place in a future society that has adopted the manners and mores of Victorian England. Their version of English is known for being convoluted, highly-educated, and including many terms that have since fallen out of general use. The unusual language isn't just Stephenson showing off; it is evocative of the culture he's writing about. Examples of these words include singular, scrum, and foetid (American spelling: the unassuming fetid).

2) Many of those words are worth learning. They concisely express useful concepts which would otherwise take some trouble to get across. I'm sure I'm more intellectual than most, but my ordinary communications would be genuinely compromised if I didn't have the words ecumenical, rote, or façade.

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