I was asked this week to read over a short story by a fellow writer. It was a very affecting story of love and loss - all the good bits - in which he had used 'quizzical' not once, but twice. And I didn't hesitate a second before running my pen through both of them. Didn't even explain why - just left a comment in the margin after the second one: 'Aaaaargh! Here it is again!'
Don't worry, we're good enough friends that he didn't take offence at such unhelpful censoring. But he did defend his use of the word. 'What's wrong with it? It perfectly describes the look she (his main character) had.' I have to concede he's right. According to the old ACOD (Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary):
'quizzical adj. 1 expressing or done with mild or amused perplexity. 2 strange; comical.'
The situation in his story definitely demanded a mildly perplexed look from his MC. So I was forced to confront my prejudice against the word. It wasn't because it was inappropriate or misused. It was a little bit because it reminds me of Enid Blyton books,* but mostly it's because it's such an ugly word!
Yes, as far as quizzical is concerned, it's a question of form over function. It sticks out like a sore thumb. Those two 'z's combined with the 'q'. Awful. Outside of a game of Scrabble, I never want to see them in any word in front of me.
But is that reason enough to scribble it out? Surely it's hard enough choosing the best word to use without worrying about whether its physical form is going to be off-putting to sensitive readers like me.
I'm inclined to think with words like 'quizzical', using it once is ok (Oh, if you must) but any more than that is distracting. And I mean once in a whole novel. Ok, maybe twice.
*I love Enid Blyton's books, but her prose isn't quite suited to contemporary Australian short stories!
The NBN is supposed to be "fast"
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