Last year, before his novel The Maker of Swans was published, Paraic O’Donnell wrote a post about words his spellchecker highlighted. You can read it here, and unless you’ve done that, and then followed him on twitter, we can’t really be friends. The idea grew from Sarah Perry while she was writing The Essex Serpent: Paraic shared her list, and his thoughts about it, here.
As I sent my editor final tweaks and suggestions to my poetry collection, I realised it was my turn. Being me, I couldn’t help doing a brief statistical analysis to save face:
I adore The Maker of Swans, and goodness knows I adore Paraic, whom I’ve never met. However, I have had many and varied online conversations with him – about words, roses and life – all sprinkled with creative swears. His post intrigued me. I can’t attempt his level of grammatical filigree, but can lay this down as an homage. Looking at the final file of my words with tiny red squiggles under some of them makes me uneasy and somewhat cross. These words belong where I put them, even if I invented some. I won’t be gainsaid.
They are the kind of words that mark a book out as, if not special, at least off-kilter to some extent. Enough to make a computer stop and think. After removing my many English/American confusions, I am left with this list.
Some are aspirational and defiantly continental European in our drab post-Brexit dystopia: the Gaudis, the trouvèrents or the Saxony-Anhalts. Some are bizarrely earthy: Daz, moolah, plaggy (a dialect/accented version of ‘plastic’ I wanted to magpie* into one particular poem’s leap of voice). I’m disappointed only three of the un-words I love made it through; it would have been five had one more poem sporting two of them made the final cut. I have my love of the un-word in common with Paraic, and shall never apologise for it.
Make of this list what you will. My collection, Don’t Ask, will be published in February with Eyewear Publishing. You can read all these words in their proper place if you buy a copy. (I need to work on my sales pitch.)
* Yes, I did just verb ‘magpie’. Sue me.