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”Prosaic," ”Exacerbate,” and Other Words I Tried to Squeeze Into College Newspaper Articles For My Own Amusement

Categories: Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, Guest Columns, My Writing Life.

There were always the same few words that kept popping up in my college research papers. Words like “exacerbate,” “maelstrom, “quagmire,” “aforementioned,” and the deliciously awesome “melange.” Words like this were thrown in as an attempt to sound smarter than I was. But it would be senior year, when writing for the college newspaper, when I really started to have fun. As the year continued, I gathered a list of strange and unique words that I was determined to squeeze into newspaper articles somehow. By the way, if you’ve never tried to squeeze funky words and inside jokes into printed articles/books, you are letting the best in life pass you by.


My friend here at work just said that, in high school, all the newspaper reporters would use the word “plethora” as much as humanly possible in articles. “I’m pretty sure we were misusing it at times,” said my fellow editor. In fact, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article where he talks about his time at the Washington Post and his many attempts to get the phrase “perverse and often baffling” in the paper. It took dozens of attempts before it snuck past the copy editor. 

For me, writing for my college newspaper was when I really started to just throw crap out there and see if it stuck. I remember one time I used the word “phoenix” as some kind of verb. That was a doozy. Another time, I snuck in the word “fancypants,” which I thought was a nice touch. But my greatest achievement was a piece where I managed to squeeze in not one funky word, but actually four. The first three were “caveat,” “prosaic” and “doomsayer.” But wait! You haven’t heard my crown jewel of weird-words-that-I-got-paid-to-write. It was:

Envenomed.

Back up! You heard me right. I used the word “envenomed” in an article that had nothing to do with snakes nor any kind of animal. Beat that! If anyone else has similar amusing stories to tell, I am all ears.


 

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4 Responses to ”Prosaic," ”Exacerbate,” and Other Words I Tried to Squeeze Into College Newspaper Articles For My Own Amusement

  1. linda says:

    On the other side of the fence, as editor for a beach community newspaper, I used to rail against the inevitability of finding the phrase "for visitors (or tourists) and locals alike" in every story. Once I counted variations of the word "local" 28 times in one short article.

    My fellow editor told me that during her days as a writer she and her colleagues would always work in something like, "It was as if an invisible hand was guiding" (whatever).

    I remember when an editor thought I’d made up a direct quote with the word "incredulity" in it. Slight irony there, eh?

  2. Diana says:

    Fantastic! I am also a huge fan of the carefully crafted made up word, a skill The Simpsons writers are especially good at. Words like "craptacular," "embiggens," and "promulent" are some of my favorites.

  3. I had a great friend in high school who was a bit of a character. One beautiful Sunday, he was scheduled to give a talk at church (our church does not has a pastor; rather, two or three people from the general congregation are called–in advance–to speak during the Sunday meeting).

    Anyway, this particular Sunday, it was Brandon’s turn to speak. His talk was to be spiritual and reverent. And, it was also to use the word Sasquatch (there was another, but I only remember sasquatch). We dared him to incorporate it into his talk, and never being one to back down from a dare, he took us up on it.

    The best part is: Brandon used all the words we gave him in a completely seamless way! He worked them in so well, without letting any hint of the game play across his face, that I am pretty sure the rest of the congregation just took it in stride. It was possibly the most epic talk I ever heard at church.

  4. Kristan says:

    "By the way, if you’ve never tried to squeeze funky words and inside jokes into printed articles/books, you are letting the best in life pass you by. "

    Oh what a life you lead, Chuck.

    But hey, if Malcolm Gladwell does it, then it must be cool. (Not even kidding with that.)

    Sadly I have no such stories to tell, but perhaps I will keep "funky words" in mind when blogging…

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