“I do not often use a thesaurus”
I do not often use a thesaurus. If I don’t know a word without looking it up, I figure I have no business using it. But at a crucial moment in the narrative, I like to surprise a reader with a word, or with the use of a word. In an early draft of The Amorgos Conspiracy, I found the word minauderie in the Thesaurus and used it to describe Mylonas’s antics under the cliff.
Webster’s defines minauderie as: a coquettish air —usually used in pl. <the minauderies of the young ladies in the ballrooms — W.M.Thackeray>
In that earlier draft, I wrote: “Whatever this was, (M’s antics) I had no time for it. Parlor minauderie was what I had been escaping. I didn’t expect to find it waiting for me here.”
I reckon at a time like that, under the cliff with the outboard motor running, the reader doesn’t have time to worry what minauderie means, and he will take it on faith that it is used appropriately. William Faulkner uses this technique a lot, showering the reader with unknown words with uses that are unclear and surround the intended meaning like buck-shot. A reader unused to Faulkner may despair and never pick up that author again, but with a little reassurance he can decide to enjoy the sound and the cadence of the words and not worry about their meanings. Without wishing to compare myself to Faulkner, I prefer the meaning to be exactly relevant, and I like to use one or two such words at the most.
With minauderie, I was gratified when one attentive reader of that draft, Carly Rogers, asked me what minauderie meant. Carly has a large vocabulary and is an avid reader of all kinds of fiction, especially mysteries. I was pleased that I had stumped Carly with a word and gleefully explained that it meant coquettishness, from the French minauder, to simper—an unexpected way to describe the affectations of a resistance hero by likening them to the simulacrum of a debutante. Coming to the end of this final draft of The Amorgos Conspiracy, which in effect felt like another book, I had no time for such minauderies, either in deed or word; but when I came to Chapter Thirty-One, The Dark I felt the urge to find another such surprise.
The sentence that invited my quest was the one where I explained the mistake that led me to the second floor of the Hotel Artemis, standing in the dark, when a Turkish client of the hotel suddenly flung his door open and trotted across the hall to the bathroom.
The sentence I started was: “Henrik (the Swedish diplomat) had phoned her (Maria) and told her where he was staying, and in her Greek mind, it was the Alikarnassos, the hotel that began with A. Maria had probably never even heard of the Hotel Artemis, where I had strayed and made my way to the second floor, to——- so dangerously in the dark.” The word I was looking for should fill in the blank.
I started along the same tack as minauderie, going for a French word, one the Normans might have used and brought to England with them at the time of the Conquest. The meaning I wanted was to stray, to err, and the word I came up with was divagate, from the French divaguer, to go off course.
That meaning would have been precise, but divagate sounded a little self-conscious as though I had found it in a Thesaurus, and the consonants were too sharp and sounded jarring together.
But divagate led me back to the English digress, from the Latin disgressus. Digress is a familiar word, here used in an unfamiliar setting which creates another kind of surprise. Digress usually means to ramble in conversation as in, “but I digress.” Here it is used in its original, precise meaning, to go off course. The meter is good and the repetition of three D’s is strong. Digress it was.
“She had never heard of the Hotel Artemis, where I had strayed and made my way to the second floor, digressing so dangerously in the dark.”
I must add that one should give such attention to a single word only when finishing a book, not when starting one.