Weird Words: Lacklustre and Dais

Haven't done one of these in a while, and these two words have caught my attention for very differing reasons.


I've already mentioned that I'm a fan of self-describing words, of which the best one I know is the French word cucu which means infantile. Cucu is actually baby-talk for cul which means, well, arse (ass in US English). So the French common-use word for infantile is not only an infantile word, but it's formed in an infantile way, from a completely transparent euphemism.

Love it.

Lacklustre is the opposite. It's a word that is not at all what it describes. The synonymous dull is practically onomatopoeia for dullness. Dull sounds like dull feels. Whereas lacklustre is a sparkly, ostentatious, attention-seeking anomaly. "Look at me!" shouts Lacklustre, "My dullness scintillates like myriad stars."

Love it even more. A word that is not what it means.


Authors seem to have a problem with this word. Hardly anyone other than authors even use it. In speech, I've only heard architects, historians and archaeologists.

And I suppose that authors are dimly aware that the word gets minimal use outside a few special contexts, because although many authors seem to want to use the word, most authors seem worried that readers won't know what it means. And rightly so. Doug Harper says the following:

Died out in English c. 1600, preserved in Scotland, revived 19c. by antiquarians.

This is his deliciously polite way of saying that in modern English its use is limited to a pretentious few.

So it's understandable that authors can't resist putting things like:

"on a low dais" (a dais is by definition a low platform)
"The raised dais" (the whole point of a dais is that it's raised)
"raised up on a low platform that formed a dais" (I'm speechless...)

In part, this issue arises because authors are not conscious enough of their, and their readers', relationships with words, and are making these qualifications, justifications and explanations unconsciously. But mainly, it's because these authors are not being judicious in their choice of words, instead allowing the words to 'flow out organically.'

I got new for you: you can do both. If you've trained yourself to be conscious of your word choices, then you can write organically, you can "pants" a whole lot more than just your plot; but only once the groundwork has been done.

Oh yes, and while I think of it, next year, 2016, over on Narrative Path (link in the tab at the top), you will be able to access the first 30 lessons of a course that will teach you how to become an effortless language expert. This is my 100 lessons poetry challenge. I'll blog again about it when it launches.

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