Vocabs potentially useful for creative writing
shamble: (of a person) move with a slow, shuffling, awkward gait.
Scottish baronial architecture
coffered ceiling: A coffer in architecture is a series of sunken panels in the shape of a square, rectangle, or octagon in a ceiling, soffit or vault.
mantel: A mantel is a shelf that sticks out just above a fireplace. People often put trophies and pictures on their mantel.
If your house has a fireplace, chances are you also have a mantel. A mantel is a handy place to display anything you like looking at or want to show off to visitors. Trophies and prizes are common things to find on a mantel, as are pictures of family and friends. If you want people to see something, put it on the mantel.
spiffy: Something or someone spiffy is fancy or dressed up, like the spiffy red velvet tuxedo you're wearing to your cousin's wedding.
If you're looking for an informal way to compliment someone's outfit, spiffy is the word you need. Your brother may look particularly spiffy on his first day of school, in his brand new sweater and expensive jeans. You could also say he looks dapper, dashing, or snazzy. The adjective spiffy is an American invention, along with the now-obsolete spiff, "well-dressed man."
contrived: If you see something that seems fake since it was too perfectly planned out, call it contrived. If you can easily predict the final minutes of a made-for-TV movie, then call it contrived.
The adjective contrived describes something that is artificially planned, especially in an obvious way, so it comes across as faked or forced. It's not just drama that can come off as contrived. Someone's speech habits, wardrobe, or even personality can seem contrived. Whenever someone appears as if he or she is "trying too hard," they might seem contrived, or the opposite of "natural."
pummel: The best pummelers in the world are probably boxers, as to pummel means to repeatedly beat someone down, especially with fists.
The main sense of pummel is physical, but you can use it figuratively when something is taking a beating. During a stock market crash, the economy is being pummeled. A heavy rain can pummel the earth. If you get three bad math grades in a row, it feels like numbers themselves are pummeling you. When many bad things happen at once, it feels like you're being pummeled by life.
glean: To glean is to gather ideas or information bit by bit. Glean originally meant to pick over a field after the harvest, now it means to gather anything, not just seeds and grains.
When you glean information, you sort through ideas and take what you need. Seeing a word in context lets you glean information about how it's used, for example. If you want to find treasures at a thrift shop, you’ll have to glean the good stuff out of the piles of junk. To glean a field means to walk along and see what’s left on the ground. It takes patience to glean.
lull: See lull, think "calm." It could be the noun form (like "the lull before the storm") or the verb: one can lull someone by calming them (as in lulling a baby to sleep with a lullaby).
The noun lull is often used in relation to a storm, but the term has a broader meaning as well. Lull can be used to describe any temporary period of calm or diminished activity, like the quiet time before the lunch rush in a restaurant or the brief period of tranquility before the doors open for a pre-Christmas sale. The word's verb form means "to soothe or to make someone feel relaxed." When used as a verb lull can turn deceptive, and it is often used to convey a false sense of security.
tally: A tally is a continuous count of something, like the number of words in a document, or the number of favors your best friend owes you. To tally is to add up, like keeping the score of a game.
The word tally has to do with counting. It comes from the Latin word for “stick” because people used to keep a tally by marking a stick. Tally can be the total, or the act of adding it all up. If you count the bikers riding by, your count is a tally. As a verb, tally is used for keeping score. Two friends playing basketball need to tally the points after each basket so they don't lose track.
spindly: long and lean
tress: A tress is an old-fashioned word for a curl or braid, but it’s used more loosely now as a word for long hair. If someone admires your beautiful tresses, they love your long flowing hair. Congratulations, Rapunzel.
Use the noun tress for a curl or ringlet, or as part of a head full of carefully curled tresses. Tresses has changed in meaning over the years and now refers to any hairstyle, but especially a woman’s long unbound hair. This word derives from the Old French tresse, which may stem from the Vulgar Latin trichia, "braid or rope," and the Greek root trikhia, "rope."
mangled: Something that's mangled is damaged or even ruined from being crushed, torn, or sliced. Your recycling bin will be full of mangled soda cans if you stomp on them with your work boots before tossing them in.
Cars can be mangled after a bad accident, and even buildings might be mangled after an explosion. Mangled debris may mark the site of a bomb or plane crash. You can also use this adjective figuratively, to mean "ruined," like when you perform a mangled rendition of your favorite song at the school talent show. Mangled comes from the Old French mangoner, "cut to pieces."
militate: Your father's loss of his job may militate against the big family vacation your parents had been planning. To militate is to be a deciding factor for or against.
The word militate descends from the same Latin word as military. Imagine armed soldiers at a check point. Their presence might militate against your plan of crossing the border, or it might militate for their bringing you in for questioning. When you are young, sometimes your age works for you, and sometimes it militates against you.
disfigured: Things that are disfigured don't look the same way they used to — they're damaged or spoiled in some way. A disfigured landscape might be one that's had all its trees cut down to make way for a new development.
You might describe the town where you grew up as disfigured if dozens of tall buildings had been constructed since the last time you visited. People can also be described this way, especially when an accident leaves scars or otherwise damages the way they look. Disfigured comes from the prefix dis-, which means "not, un-, or away," and figured, from the Latin figura, "shape, form, or figure."
bungle: Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, dropping something, tripping and falling: these are some classic bungles — and they’re always embarrassing.
Bungles are bummers, it’s true. Ever said something awkward in front of a grandparent or dropped a cake on someone’s lap? Those are bungles — accidents that make you blush. Bungle can also be used as a verb when someone acts like a fool or simply messes everything up, as in “The teacher bungled her lecture because she left her notes at home,” or “My bungling dad fell into the punch bowl. Again.”
scour: If you're going to scour those dishes, you'll need a sponge and some strong soap. To scour also means to examine something very, very closely. Looking for a job? Scour those classified ads!
When you scour something with your eyes, you examine or search it very closely. If you can't find the math homework you finished on Saturday, you'll have to spend some time on Sunday scouring your room until you find it. When you scour something with your hands, you scrub it very hard — often with a brush or pad — until the surface is spotless. For example, to remove the graffiti from the wall outside the restaurant, you'll have to scour it by hand, probably for hours.
scourge: A scourge is a whip — or anything else that is punishing and dreadful. You could confront "a scourge of corruption" or "a scourge of hunger."
As a verb, scourge means to cause suffering. Not surprisingly, it comes from the old French word meaning "to whip." A dictatorship could scourge and oppress its citizens, and an infectious disease could scourge an entire community. When you see scourge, think "suffering."
hearty: Hearty describes abundant, full, and satisfying things, and lively, strong, and enthusiastic people. A bowl of thick chili with cheese and a glass of milk is hearty. A spoon of water with a grape? Not so hearty.
You can't miss the "heart" in hearty. Words like "wholehearted" and "half-hearted" also have "heart" and are a help in remembering the adjective hearty. If you put your whole heart into anything from walking a dog to saying good morning to your friends, you're hearty and full of life. Something half-hearted is weak and not hearty. A loud laugh that fills a room is very hearty; you can almost feel its fullness. If it comes from the heart and adds well-being and happiness, it's probably hearty.
promontory: A promontory is a high, rocky cliff jutting into a body of water. A promontory is just the kind of thing a heroine will threaten to throw herself off of if the love of her life does not return to her.
A promontory can be a foreland, headland, or rocky cliff. Think Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher jutting into the sea. Connect promontory with prominent, "important or sticking out," project, "estimate forward" and protrude, "stick out," which also carry this sense of jutting out. In anatomy, promontory can refer to a projecting part of the body.
fjord: A fjord is a long, narrow strip of sea that falls between tall cliffs. If you’re traveling in Norway you might be amazed by the rocky cliffs surrounding the deep water of a fjord.
A fjord is formed when a slow moving glacier carves out a valley in the earth that then becomes flooded by ocean water. Tall cliffs surrounding a narrow band of water make fjords look very dramatic. Fjords are common in countries like Norway, Iceland, and Greenland. The word fjord gets its looks from its Norwegian origins. Pronounce this funny looking word with a long “e” sound and the accent on the first syllable: “FEE-ord.”
heebie jeebies: If you have the heebie-jeebies, you're worried, anxious, or jumpy. Haunted houses, for example, give many people the heebie-jeebies, while others get the heebie-jeebies from circus clowns.
jut: When something juts, it extends outward. Your nose juts out from your face, just as your ears jut from your head. If you’re feeling determined, you might jut out your chin.
The word jut applies to anything sticking out. Anything that goes beyond the main line of something juts out, like a rock on a coastline or a bump on a log. If you walk into a room with your chin jutting out, people better watch out because you mean business.
verb: pass or cause to pass easily or gently through or as if through the air
[no obj.] • the smell of stale fat wafted out from the cafe
[with obj.] each breeze would waft pollen around the house.
• Much of the old-time fragrance is wafted back to me — Hesse, Hermann. Demian
noun: 1. a gentle movement of air. 2. a scent or odor carried on a movement of air.
weathervane: mechanical device attached to an elevated structure; rotates freely to show the direction of the wind
warren: When Bugs Bunny outruns Elmer Fudd and vanishes down his rabbit hole, he's escaping into a warren — a network of underground tunnels where rabbits live.
A warren isn't just the maze-like tunnels where rabbits live. You may encounter a warren of subway tunnels or a warren of interconnected bomb shelters. Bring those narrow paths above ground and cluster them with homes and you have another kind of warren, or a maze-like residential area.
marquetry: inlaid veneers are fitted together to form a design or picture that is then used to ornament furniture
rattan: the thin pliable stems of a palm, used to make furniture.
"a rattan armchair"
squelch: When you squelch something, you're putting an end to it. You can squelch an idea or a rebellion.
This word has several meanings, but it's usually a verb for crushing things. A mean remark could squelch your self-confidence, and a powerful military could squelch an invading country. Squelching can also mean to make a squelch-like sucking sound — or to slop, slosh, splash, and squish through the mud. There's also a type of electric circuit that cuts off when the signal is weak: that's a squelch circuit, which squelches the connection.
clangor: Clangor is one of those words that means exactly what it sounds like, so you can feel free to describe the noise your brother makes when he's banging on his drums in the basement as a clangor.
The word clangor brings to mind clanking sounds, but it can also be used to mean any kind of resounding, deafening noise, such as the shouting of a crowd.
lump: If it's hard to determine its shape and otherwise looks like a big blob of something, it's probably safe to call it a lump.
Jabba the Hut looks like a disgusting lump. So does the growing mound on your noggin where you walked into the glass door. And if you've been lumped together with a bad bunch, you might have been grouped with people indiscriminately. But all lumps aren't bad. Little old ladies put lumps of sugar into their tea. And that choked up feeling you get during a sappy movie? That's just a lump in your throat.
glob: A glob is a shapeless clump or hunk of something. Even the most skilled potter starts out with nothing but a glob of damp clay on her pottery wheel.
Globs are soft, squishy, or partly liquid substances — you can't really have a glob of pizza, but you can add a glob of melty mozzarella to the top of a pizza. An artist drops globs of oil paint on her palette, and a chocolate maker fills molds with globs of warm melted chocolate. While we know glob first appeared in print around 1900, its origin isn't clear. It may have imitated words like blob and gob.
blob: an indistinct shapeless form
harp: When harp is used as a verb, it means to talk constantly and dully about one topic: "The harpist did nothing but harp on about the weather."
hub: A hub is the center of a wheel or the center of some kind of activity. If all of an airline's flights go through Atlanta, you'd say the southern city is their hub.
You know how a lot of activity is called a hubbub? That makes sense when you consider that a hub, in a wheel or otherwise, is the center of whatever's going on. Southern California has long been a hub of the computer industry, and Detroit used to be the hub of the auto industry. Busy airports like the ones in Chicago and Atlanta are called hubs. Any hub is important, because it's right in the middle of all the action.
hubbub: Hubbub is a fun, rhyming word for an uproar, a brouhaha, or another crazy situation that has gone completely higgledy-piggledy. No one would say, "What's the hubbub?" at the library, unless it was the loudest, most bonkers day ever in a place that is usually quiet. A hubbub is chaotic, disorganized, loud, and distracting. Sometimes, hubbub can mean a controversy, as in "What's the hubbub over this new law?" If you like peace and quiet, stay away from hubbubs — a word that sounds as loud and unruly as its meaning.
shed: Shed is a verb meaning "to cast off," like when a snake sheds its skin. If your couch is covered in fur, it might be because your dog is shedding. You can shed non-physical things, like a bad habit.
surge: A surge is a sudden strong swelling, like a tsunami wave that engulfs the land. Although a surge offers a fluid image, anything can experience a sudden surge, including emotions, political support, or an angry mob.
The original Latin word surgere, meaning “to spring up or rise,” serves as the basis for the word surge, which refers to a great sudden growth or swelling. If you are watching a sad movie and you experience a sudden surge of emotion, do you quietly reach for a tissue, pretend something's in your eye, or simply weep and sob with reckless abandon? Yeah, me too. Christmas shopping can be dangerous when there is a surge of interest in one toy and desperate shoppers surge into stores trying to grab it up.
ulterior: An ulterior interest, argument, or revelation is one you try to keep hidden, like your ulterior motive for weeding your grandmother's garden is to have a conversation with your crush — and Grandma's neighbor — who happens to be outside, too.
The adjective ulterior is a Latin word which means “more distant” or “future.” Something that is ulterior may lay the groundwork for what comes later, like a new friend who hangs out with you at your house but whose ulterior motive is to date one of your siblings, or the incredible popularity of a series of novels set in a real place having the ulterior consequences of that place becoming a tourist destination.
fret: When you fret, you worry so much about something that it eats away at you. Many people fret about taking standardized tests, but really, they're nothing to sweat.
Fret comes from the Old English word freton which means to devour like an animal. When you fret over something, it consumes your thoughts. If you tell your mother to not fret about you while you're at a sleepover camp, you're telling her to not worry about you too much. Sometimes it means to be agitated though. When you're waiting for the results of an exam, you might fret and wring your hands. In a totally unrelated meaning, a guitar player calls the raised lines on the neck of the guitar that help him play correctly frets.
garbled: A garbled message makes no sense. If you get a bad phone connection, your friend's message might sound garbled. Or, if you have rewritten the same sentence numerous times, its message might also be garbled.
When you were young you may have played the game telephone, where one student thinks up a line, whispers it to his neighbor, who whispers it to his neighbor, and so on, down the line. At the end, the last person to receive the message shouts it out; it usually has nothing to do with what the first person said: it has been garbled along the way. Most of the change is accidental, the price of being human and imperfect — you hear "dope" rather than "hope." Besides messages, facts can get garbled — remember the history test where you wrote 1960 instead of 1860?
gabble: When you gabble, you talk so fast that you can barely be understood. A nervous public speaker might gabble for several minutes before she's able to get her point across.
If you're gossiping about a neighbor and suddenly realize he's standing behind you, you might gabble for a while from the sheer awkwardness of the situation. Your grandmother might declare that she doesn't understand the music you like, saying, "They don't sing — they just gabble!" Gabble is a noun, too, meaning the sound itself: "See? It's all just gabble!" Gabble has a Dutch root, gabbelen, which is imitative — it sounds just like what it means.
sheer: If people can see through your shirt, it's sheer. This can also mean something steep, like a cliff, or anything extreme, like sheer nerve.
This word has several meanings, but they're all extreme. A sheer (see-through) shirt is an extreme way to dress — climbing a sheer cliff is almost impossible. If your car sheers, it swerves sharply, and you might crash. Maybe you've met all these meanings in a single nightmare: When the sheer cloth blew over your face as you drove, you lost control and the car began to sheer, filling you with sheer terror as you went over the sheer cliff.
calcify: become inflexible and unchanging
unblinking: Someone who stays calm and unemotional is unblinking. The unblinking gaze of your social studies teacher may be enough to quiet the entire class.
This adjective is also useful for eyes that literally don't blink: "The lizard's unblinking eyes made me nervous, so I covered the cage." You can also use it to mean "brave or unflinching," like an unblinking warrior who marches into battle with her sword raised. This word is composed of the prefix un- ("not" or "opposite of") and the verb blink, which may come from the Middle Dutch blinken, "to glitter."
liken: When you liken one thing to another, you compare them and point out what they have in common. You might liken your long walk to school to your ancestors' voyage across the ocean to the New World.
When you equate two things, or emphasize their similarities, you liken them. You could liken your experience at the dentist to torture, or liken your dad's skill at baking pies to that of Rembrandt painting a portrait. Your grandmother might liken her romance with your grandfather to a fairy tale, and you could then liken the day you spent listening to her stories to watching a long, dull movie.
deadpan: Use the word deadpan to describe someone who uses no expression when speaking, such as the deadpan way some comedians deliver even their funniest jokes — which can make them even funnier.
Deadpan dates to 1928, when pan was slang for "face." So if you seem to have a "dead face" as you say something, it means your face looks very blank — no energy or animation. Deadpan is associated with sarcasm, and like sarcasm, if you use it for comic effect, there's a risk your audience won't pick up on it. Nevertheless, deadpan humor can be funny and popular
sap: If someone calls you "a sap," it suggests you lack strength and character.
sappy: Something sappy lacks substance. It's silly, foolish, and overly sentimental.
Have you ever heard someone refer to a sappy song? That's not a compliment, because anything sappy is considered cheesy, saccharine, clichéd, ludicrous, or goofy. Serious or excellent art would never be called sappy. Greeting cards are often sappy, as is someone saying "I wuv you" to his dog. In the 1550s, sappy meant "full of vitality," but by the end of the 1600s its meaning changed to "foolishly sentimental," possibly influenced by the stickiness of sap.
sashay: To sashay is to walk with an exaggerated flounce. Fashion models sometimes sashay down the runway.
When you sashay, you're showing off — but in a deliberately casual way. Kids playing dress up might sashay, and the most popular middle school students might sashay into class on the first day. You can also use sashay to describe a dance step, both a sideways square dance move and a ballet step; it's a mispronunciation of the French ballet term chassé, "gliding step," or literally, "to chase," since one foot "chases" the other.
outsize: adj. exceptionally large.
hurly burly: A hurly burly is a hubbub or commotion. There’s the hurly burly of the schoolyard, or the hurly burly of a food fight. When there’s a hurly burly, things have gone totally higgledy-piggledy.
When something loud, unruly, or chaotic is going on, there’s a hurly burly. It’s an old-fashioned British word. In fact, a witch in Shakespeare’s Macbeth says, “When the hurlyburly’s done, When the battle’s lost and won.” A hurly burly isn’t always as serious as war, though, it’s an informal word for a disturbance, hoo-ha, kerfuffle, a real to-do, the kind that wouldn’t be welcome in a library. Any hurly burly is noisy in some way.
higgledy-piggledy: adv. in a disordered manner.
“they were piled up higgledy-piggledy”
topsy-turvy: Something that's topsy-turvy is either upside down or in complete confusion, like the topsy-turvy life of a worker whose shifts keep changing from daytime to overnight.
If a roller coaster loops upside down, you'll be topsy-turvy when you ride it. You're also topsy-turvy when your life is figuratively turned upside down, like when you move across the country or adopt triplets. This word dates back at least as far as the 16th century, and there are many theories about its origin. The most likely root is the now-obsolete terve, "to overturn," from the Old English tearflian, "to roll over and over."
haggle: If you want a great deal on a used TV, then you can try to haggle with the sellers to see if they’ll bring the price down. To haggle is to negotiate or argue over something, usually a price.
You can haggle at a flea market or anywhere where the price of items is flexible. But haggle doesn’t always refer to price. You can haggle over a job, a contract, or who gets to ride in the front seat. Haggling is relatively aggressive behavior, and this word is closer in meaning to wrangle than it is to negotiate. You’ll rarely hear of anyone haggling quietly. Haggle implies an argument in which both parties want the best deal for themselves.
wrangle: To wrangle is to take part in a long, angry, intense argument, especially over an issue with lots of details. You can also wrangle, or herd, a bunch of cows. Politicians and lawyers frequently wrangle, no cows necessary.
Wrangle in its current meaning comes from the nineteenth century American term wrangling, the art of herding cattle, probably with the idea in mind that rounding up those tiresome details is a bit like rounding up all those tiresome cattle; they tend to go flying off in all directions. From wrangler in the cowboy sense we get Wrangler jeans, though not all wranglers wear Wranglers of course.
capacious: When something is really big and holds a lot it is capacious, like a woman's capacious purse that is so big, people mistake it for a piece of luggage.
Have you ever seen a Fourth of July hot dog eating contest? As you watch people wolf down 60 or more hot dogs in a matter of minutes, you must be thinking, "Where do they put all that food?" Well, it helps to have a capacious stomach. The suffix -ous adds "full of" to capacity; capacious is literally "full of capacity." If something is capacious, it has plenty of extra room.
vespertilian bat: a variety of carnivorous bat
maw: If you're staring into the maw of a wild animal you should probably think about running away as fast as you can. A maw, you see, is an informal term for a mouth.
There's something ravenous as well as ferocious about the term maw, and in fact it comes from the Old English word maga meaning "stomach." Occasionally you may find it applied to human rather than animal usage, especially when implying comical greed, as in "he was stuffing cupcakes down his maw as fast as he could." Other colloquial terms for mouth, such as piehole, goband trap tend to suggest a tone more amused than fearful.
maelstrom: A maelstrom is a powerful whirlpool. A luckless ship might go down in one, and conflicting ocean currents might cause one. These days, you're more likely to hear maelstrom used metaphorically to describe disasters where many competing forces are at play.
When an economy or a government fails, the situation is often described as a maelstrom. Following some precipitous event, all the forces at play — banks, governments, consumers — are trying as hard as they can to protect themselves. This creates a maelstrom — a perfect storm, so to speak — that drags any potential for rescue down with it. Maelstrom comes from an obsolete Dutch phrase meaning "whirling stream."