Can you use “skullduggery” in a sentence?

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“Eschew obfuscation.”

That’s one of my favorite bumper stickers, a common joke among writers, and great advice for writers everywhere. In fact, “Keep it simple” is about the best advice you can get as a writer. That doesn’t mean you should always use the simplest, shortest words. The meaning is the thing.

Gwyn Teatro and Paul Hebert are two of my favorite bloggers. Both recently used words in a post that most of us don’t use in everyday language and they did it well. Here’s how Gwyn used “skullduggery” in her post, “Keeping it Real.”

“The question is, in a world full of complexity, politics, big ideas and yes, even skullduggery, what can we do to ensure that we keep it real?”

And here’s Paul’s use of “ordure” in his post, “Hey Forbes – I Award You No Points And May God Have Mercy On Your Soul.”

“We should ALL be embarrassed this type of ordure is part of our business reading.”

If you’re considering using an uncommon or “fancy” word, these are good examples. Here’s why.

The words stand out in the post. The rest of the language is clear and straightforward, so the “fancy” word gets attention.

The words are used correctly. This isn’t “vocabulary on parade,” instead each writer uses the word to make a point. Meaning should always rule. If you know the word, you say to yourself, “Exactly!” and if you don’t you’ll look it up, which adds its own emphasis.

The words are used naturally. My guess is that neither writer had to look up the word they used. It came naturally and they kept it. That mimics my advice to clients.

Bottom Line

If you naturally use a “fancy” or uncommon word, try to take it out and replace it with simpler language. If nothing else works as well, though, keep the word and use it for emphasis.

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Gwyn Teatro   |   16 Apr 2012   |   Reply

Wally ~ Thank you for including me in this great post. I must admit to smiling when you said, ” my guess is that neither writer had to look up the word”.
I didn’t have to look up my word for meaning but I did look it up for spelling!
As with all your posts, your message is clear and simply put. In this, you shine.

I especially liked the point about putting “vocabulary on parade”. In my other life, I used to read a great many cover letters from job seekers eager to impress. So often, the big “expensive” words were paraded out. Sometimes, they were ill placed or badly chosen making it really hard for me to either understand the core message or take the application really seriously. Keeping it simple works.

Wally   |   17 Apr 2012   |   Reply

Thanks, Gwyn. if that sort of writing were confined to resumes, I wouldn’t feel so bad. But it pops up in blog posts, memos, email and about every kind of writing you can think of.