Does My Book Need a Vocabulary List?

5-14 Paper and penOkay, that’s a ques­tion I sel­dom ask myself. I write mys­tery (most­ly) tak­ing place in the cur­rent time, and in the coun­try where my books are sold. I don’t have any char­ac­ters speak­ing a for­eign language.

Oth­er books, often ones I read, are set in past cen­turies or oth­er coun­tries. They might have a list of names, or words that are unfa­mil­iar. That’s handy. There are oth­er instances that neces­si­tate word lists—often involv­ing unusu­al occu­pa­tions, or even hob­bies. But cozy, or almost cozy mys­ter­ies? Most read­ers know enough of the words used to describe recipes, needle­work, antiques, pets, and the var­i­ous occu­pa­tions of our favorite ama­teur sleuths.

Now, back to my ques­tion. One of my mys­ter­ies involves boat­ing. The fol­low­ing is a para­graph that may have non-boaters think­ing I must have missed a few gram­mar lessons in ele­men­tary school.

The coiled anchor rode smelled musty, even though it was 5-14 anchorcom­plete­ly dry. Lit­tle col­ored plas­tic tags lay, woven into the fiber to mea­sure off the feet as the line payed out. Would I have to remove all that line to see if there was any­thing under­neath? Not tonight. Too much trou­ble. I flashed around the inte­ri­or one last time. There was a small piece of paper stuck low, under a few coils of the rope. I pulled it out.”

Did I mis­spell some­thing? I checked a boat­ing site from the Great Lakes. This is a sen­tence describ­ing how to anchor a boat. “When all the rode has been payed out, gen­tly back down on the anchor to set it in the bottom.”

RODE — anchor chain or line (rope) that attach­es the anchor to the boat

TO PAY OUT, or PAYED OUT — to allow the rode to uncoil and leave the anchor lock­er so the anchor is lowered

Or, is that just too much? Per­son­al­ly, I think so. I don’t mind read­ing a book with a few things I have to infer from con­text. What do you think?


Does My Book Need a Vocabulary List? — 8 Comments

  1. Gene Rod­den­ber­ry had the right approach in Star Trek. The char­ac­ters just use their hi-tech equip­ment and don’t stop to explain it. Peo­ple use jar­gon all the time and to “dumb it down” insults the read­er. Jar­gon adds real­ism to a sto­ry. Of course there’s always too much (like many police sto­ries) but a lit­tle bit adds flavor.

  2. Great ques­tion — as we know, each hob­by or pro­fes­sion has their own vocab. I am in the process of “dum­my­ing down” a man­u­script writ­ten by a very intel­li­gent client that can loose a lis­ten­er after about eight words of so. This being said, an agent told me I had to change his deep but beau­ti­ful lan­guage so john q pub­lic would under­stand what he was writing.

    So, my sug­ges­tion is to rewrite the word, phrase, or sen­tence so the mean­ing is under­stood by the reader.

    I was thrown by the word “rode” and phrase “pay out”. Even using con­text real­ly did­n’t make me feel cer­tain I under­stood because the “con­text” was com­mon knowl­edge to me.

  3. I’m a for­mer sailor, yet I’d nev­er heard the word “rode” used, so that one might be con­fus­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly because in both spelling and con­text, it could seem as if “rope” was the intend­ed word. You might have used chain instead. How­ev­er, I’ve been famil­iar with the expres­sion, “payed out” for as long as I can recall, and it does­n’t seem to need expla­na­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly in your context.

    My books are set in a hos­pi­tal, so I use med­ical terms, but so far, in the first book to be released, no review­er has com­ment­ed on vocab­u­lary. I do lis­ten to my edi­tor and proof­read­ers, and if any word or term is unclear, whether med­ical or oth­er­wise, I attempt to make sure the read­er isn’t frus­trat­ed by it.

    • Pos­si­bly “rode” is used in some areas more than oth­ers. For med­ical terms, read­ers might fig­ure if a doc­tor is using an unfa­mil­iar word, he or she is using it prop­er­ly. If we need­ed to know too, it would be explained. So, that’s anoth­er way to go with sail­ing terms too.

  4. Here’s anoth­er idea. Start each chap­ter with a quick quote or dit­ty and two of those could cov­er def­i­n­i­tions for rode and payed out. I’ve heard payed out com­mon­ly but not rode in the con­text of rope. But I’m from Florida.

  5. IMHO, if it’s not clear to the read­er it should be rewrit­ten. Trip­ping over a word or phras­ing, then stop­ping to look it up takes the read­er out of the sto­ry. A read­er might do this once, but more than that runs the risk of the author putting the book down. Putting in every def­i­n­i­tion about boat­ing, whether cor­rect or not, could pos­si­bly be con­sid­ered an author show­ing off.

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