Oh No, Not That Word Again: Uncommon Words Commonly Used in Fiction

You know how every action movie has a car chase? Every TV show a tidy resolution? Well, books have repetition too, and it comes in the form of words.

“Duh,” you say. “Words are what make up books.”

True. But what I’m referring to are those words we never say in real life that show up in every novel. At least it seems that way to me.

See if you agree.

carrie, brad, and angelina 3

Photo taken at Madame Tussauds in New York.

uncommonly spoken words commonly found in fiction:

  • Permeate (spread throughout; pervade)

One day, an inhuman stench permeated my teenage son’s room.

  • Nonplussed (to be puzzled and perplexed)

Nonplussed (and retching), I scoured the bedroom for the source.

  • Unnerved (to be deprived of courage, strength, or steadiness)

Spotting nothing, I dropped to my hands and knees and lifted the stained bed skirt, though I was unnerved by what I might find.

  • Cacophony (a harsh, discordant mixture of sounds)

Before I got even a peek, a cacophony of teenage snark, grunting, and monosyllabic responses erupted behind me.

  • Bemused (puzzled, confused, or bewildered)

Bemused (and still retching), I dropped the bed skirt, creaked up to a stand, and took a tentative step toward my son.

  • Proffer (hold something out to someone for acceptance; offer)

“Is this what you’re looking for?” he asked, proffering a long-since-vanished bowl bearing a foul, black-fuzzed substance.

  • Apoplectic (overcome with anger; extremely indignant; of, relating to, or causing stroke)

Trembling and apoplectic, I stiffened and fell to the floor. “Why yes, son. Yes, it is.” (Okay, maybe I didn’t stroke out, but I did insist he toss the organic matter into the trashcan.)

But who am I to be sanctimonious? Aside from nonplussed and apoplectic, I’ve written these words myself. In all three of my books. In fact, why I haven’t tossed in nonplussed and apoplectic is anyone’s guess. But there’s always book four…

Any other uncommon words you see commonly used in fiction? Any scenes you see played out from movie to movie?

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Rubin4Carrie Rubin is the author of The Seneca Scourge and the upcoming Eating Bull. For full bio, click here.

261 Responses to “Oh No, Not That Word Again: Uncommon Words Commonly Used in Fiction”

  1. My Inner Chick

    You can make anything interesting, Carrie!
    I’ve found that I continually utilize the same words in my blogs: beautiful, empowering, love, power, & rise! I must find synonyms for these!! xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carrie Rubin

      Well, you have a specific message with your posts, so I think repeating those wonderful words is perfectly acceptable. 🙂

      Thank you for the Twitter share!

      Like

  2. Aquileana

    Apoplectic made me think of a similar word, “apologetic”, which means, as adjective “regretfully acknowledging or excusing an offense or failure”.
    Furthermore I thought of “amused” when I came across “bemused”… I guess I was thinking analogically somehow…
    I find that languages can be tricky and marvelous at the same time when quite similar words have total different meanings… Needless to mention homophones…
    Great post, dear Carrie… Have a wonderful day… Best wishes, Aquileana ☀️

    Liked by 2 people

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you! And thank you for the Twitter share too!

      I accidentally used ‘bemused’ instead of ‘amused’ in my first book. Luckily the editor caught it. But by the way it sounds, it does indeed seem like it should mean “to be amused”!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Darren

    I once used the word ‘recrudescence.’ It was in the first person with a 19th century timeframe, so I guess the narrator (me, haha!) had been reading a lot of classic literature at the time.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      That’s a great word, and I think it fits perfectly with that timeframe! I’m all for using uncommon words in fiction, and I love learning new vocabulary. But the words I listed make me smile because I see them all the time in novels.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Alana

    I hate business writing worse: Implementing in general, and impact as a verb 😀
    Then there’s the revolting “Learners” instead of “students”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carrie Rubin

      Oh yes, “implementing” and “impact” find their way into academic writing too. “Incorporate” as well. Hopefully I don’t pepper my novel with those!

      Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      They are, and I’ve seen far more uncommon words. But these ones just seem to make an appearance everywhere. And I’ve yet to hear someone use ‘nonplussed’ in a verbal sentence!

      Like

  5. hilarycustancegreen

    Hmm, I was curious enough to go check. I was feeling cocky as all I could find was one ‘unnerving’ in my last novel. However, I checked the one before… a nonplussed, a bemused and half a dozen unnerving/unnerved. At least I’m improving.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Haha, well, that’s all we can ask of ourselves, isn’t it? I’m impressed you don’t have a ‘permeate.’ I tend to enjoy that one. But ‘unnerved’ is my nirvana. If I’m not careful, I’ll pepper my manuscript with that one. It’s a great word to use in thrillers!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Carrie Rubin

      It’s always great to learn new things! E-readers are nice that way. If you don’t know what a word means, you can just highlight it and its definition pops up. Very handy.

      Like

  6. Jilanne Hoffmann

    Here’s the way I see it. The words a character uses in 1st person POV narration/dialogue should fit their education level, choice of occupation, view of life, whether they’re trying to impress, intimidate, disgust, or obfuscate. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.) It shouldn’t reflect what is or isn’t commonly used by “average” individuals. If that were the case, our characters would be bland average joes. Omniscient narrators have lots of leeway, but the words selected to tell the story (or what writers call “diction”) must always fit the narrative voice, the author’s intent, and the tone of the story. This is how writers like Cormac McCarthy gets away with using “big words” in settings that lie far from academia.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Absolutely. I agree. These ones just make me chuckle because I’ve never heard anyone actually use the word “nonplussed”in a spoken sentence. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jilanne Hoffmann

        It’s really funny that you mention that, because my husband corrected my use of “nonplussed” in a conversation many years ago when we first started dating. I had always thought it meant “unimpressed.” He told me it meant “surprised and confused.” That’s how I knew I’d met my true love. 😀

        Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      That’s awesome. As a big-word lover, I always love a fellow Frasier Crane. I just don’t say these particular words in conversation. Well, maybe I slip in a “permeate” or two. 🙂

      Like

  7. L. Marie

    This cracks me up, though I use permeate sometimes. 🙂 I don’t think I have ever used the word WAFT, though I see it in fiction all the time. That an MELLIFLUOUS and CANTILEVERED. Don’t think I’ve ever FURLED or UNFURLED either.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      “Cantilevered”–Ooh, that’s a new one for me. I’ll be on the lookout for it. But I have used “waft.” After all, there are only so many times a smell can “permeate” the air in a book. 😉

      Like

  8. valentinelogar

    Okay, I must be the strange one in the bunch. Carrie, I actually use some of the words. I like words, not just to write them but to actually hear them rolling around in conversation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carrie Rubin

      I love words too. And I’ve been known to be a Frasier Crane in speech and in writing. But I laugh every time I see one of these words, because it seems they always end up in novels, no matter the genre. “Nonplussed.” Makes me chuckle every time.

      Like

  9. A @ moylomenterprises

    Too busy Laughing out Loud at the one where you’re angry, shaking and fall to the floor to think of any movie scenes to add here right now but I know there are many.

    I remember David Letterman always used “tremendous” profusely. I always had a laugh when I heard it

    This is hilarious!!! 😂

    Like

  10. susielindau

    Reading is so different than speaking. I enjoy books that use all kinds of different words to describe setting, feeling, etc., as long as I don’t need a dictionary every five minutes.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I agree–the more vocabulary the better. And these aren’t really difficult words; it’s just that I always seem to notice them. Who says “nonplussed” in the real world? And yet authors wield that word as if it were no less common than “cheese” or “eggs.” 🙂

      Like

      • susielindau

        Are you talking about conversation in books or description?
        Everyone has words that grate on them, but there’s nothing wrong with using them in description. The more unusual the word, the more they will glare if used more than once or twice in a book. The same is true of metaphor or simile. They can only be used once or the reader is thrown out.

        Conversation is a completely different animal. It has to sound natural. The average person doesn’t use those words, but if your character is a college professor, like in POSSESSION, an author can plunk down a few $5.00 words and get away with it.

        Like

  11. pegoleg

    I’ve never noticed one word used more than another – good sleuthing! I need to read more with an eye toward the craft than the story if I’m ever going to learn enough to finish writing my own novel.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      It was kind of scary how quickly these words came to mind. Shows how much I’ve noticed them in books. And in my own writing…

      Are you writing a novel or were you kidding? If so, best of luck with it!

      Like

      • pegoleg

        Me and most bloggers on the interwebz, right? I figured it was time to get going on it, so thanks – I can use all the luck I can get.

        Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      That’s a perfectly acceptable word to use. That being said, I’m not sure I’ve used it in a book yet. Must get on that…

      Like

  12. Let's CUT the Crap!

    I’ve seen ‘obfuscate’ and ‘obdurate’ and lot in novels lately. Feels to be gaining popularity, but I’d rather not see them anymore. Can you imagine using them in daily conversation? 😆 Not me.
    An eye-opening post. *giggles*

    Like

      • Let's CUT the Crap!

        They seem to have sprouted roots in novels I’m managed to read this year. Can’t recall their titles at the moment. 😦 I don’t believe I know how to pronounce them either and had to look them UP.

        Liked by 1 person

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