February 1 2012

Weird Words

Have you ever had a moment where you’re chugging along reading an enjoyable novel when you suddenly hit a brick wall in the form of a weird word choice? Not a wrong word choice — a weird one. The sentence is structured properly and is perfectly coherent, but there’s just this one word that makes your brain go all wrinkly.

I don’t think I’ve had the experience before last night, at least not in a way that’s still bugging me today. I was reading along at a nice pace in a novel by one of my favorite mystery writers, when I got to a sentence that read:

He looks nothing like his picture, she thought irrelevantly.

Irrelevantly? Okay, I get it: a frivolous thought, not particularly germane to the character’s current predicament — but what an odd descriptor. A perfectly acceptable adverb, and yet somehow in context of the sentence it was just . . . off. Not wrong, but not right, either.

Perhaps it’s just me, but it made further reading for the evening difficult. I attempted to move ahead, but my eyes were continually drawn back to this bothersome little word while my brain continued to get that wrinkly feeling, like I’d seen something vaguely disturbing in my peripheral vision, but I couldn’t bring it into focus by staring at it directly. I just could not stop looking at it — the reader’s equivalent of pushing your tongue up against a sore tooth just to see if it still hurts.

Irrelevantly? I scanned the word often enough to the point where it ceased to resemble English.

It was weird word choice so disruptive that it was the first thought that popped into my head this morning.

No, the first thought was, “Dammit, my teenager missed the fucking school bus, again.” But that was followed almost immediately by, “Irrelevantly?”

Now, all too keenly aware of what poor word choice has done to my own addled brain today, I fear I’m going to be paranoid about my own rewrites for the time being. What lexical train wrecks have I steered into without paying attention?

As if rewriting weren’t painful enough. Beware the weird word choice.