X – eXploring your vocabulary

Today’s post is courtesy of Susanne Matthews, author of All for Love.


What can a writer learn from X?

Among the many titles I’ve been given since I began writing novels is the pseudonym of wordsmith. Loosely taken, a wordsmith is someone skilled in the use of words. The Urban Dictionary defines a wordsmith as someone with the ability to effortlessly string together words, no matter their actual meaning, in an instance and in such a way that it brings a smile to the faces of those who read or hear them.

I don’t know about you, but I see that as an awesome responsibility. To me, it means I have to constantly work on expanding my vocabulary and learning to use whatever words I may come across in the best way that I can.

When I volunteered to take the letter X, I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to approach this excellent letter. The letter X isn’t exactly the most popular guy in the alphabet, especially when he has to start words. Lexicographer Dr. Samuel Johnson published his Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, and included this disclaimer at the bottom of page 2308: “X is a letter which though found in Saxon words, begins no word in the English language.” Okay. That sounded rather definitive, but fifty years later in 1806, when Noah Webster published his Compendious Dictionary he included one single x word, xebec, which is a small three-masted boat used on the Mediterranean Sea. That number grew to thirteen when Webster released his American Dictionary in 1828. Today, .02 percent of all the words in the dictionary start with X.

So how can this help you as a writer? For one thing, by reading this post, you’ve learned a little more about poor little X, for another, here are some X words you may actually be able to use in a book someday. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, but everyone has to start someplace.

Many of the X words come from the Greek xenos, meaning stranger, foreigner, alien or even extraterrestrial, and if you study them, then you would do so using xenology or xenobiology. The opposite of xenophobia, the fear of strangers is xenomania or xenophilia, an intense fondness for anything or anyone foreign.

Other X words come from the Greek word xulus, which means wood. Thus xylography is the art of engraving on wood, and a xylographer is the one who does it.

Finally, for some reason the scientific community has taken a shine to the letter X and have used it to coin many of their words. Xanthic, for example means yellowish. If you’re xanthocomic, you have yellow hair; if you’re xanthocroic you have fair hair and pale skin; and if you’re xanthodontous, you have yellow teeth. I can’t wait to hear that one in the next commercial for tooth-whitening toothpaste or strips. Another interesting scientific word is xiphoid, which means sword-shaped, as in swordfish.

Probably the most popular X word by far is X. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the letter on its own is a verb meaning to “cross out a single letter of type.” It can be used as a noun, as in X marks the spot, and as a modifier. I don’t think I need to tell you what it means if something is X rated.

What other X words do I have that could actually be used?

Well, let’s see. A XENAGOGUE is a tour guide. XENAGOGY is a guide book. You can be considered XENIAL if you have friendly relationships with others, such as a host and his guests, or diplomats representing different countries. Hate going to visit the doctor? Perhaps you suffer from XENIATROPHOBIA. Not happy with the current state of affairs? Perhaps you’d prefer a XENOCRACY where the government is formed by outsiders. Do you pick up languages quickly? Then you may have XENOGLOSSY, the ability to speak a language you’ve never learned.

How often do you lick your lips? The term for dry lips is XEROCHILIA, a dry mouth is XEROSTOMIA. XILINOUS describes something that looks or feels like cotton.

So, let me leave you with a tagline for a possible story.

Can the shrewish Xanthippe become xenial enough to stop Xerxes or will Greece become a Xenocracy?

There you have it. I hope you enjoyed learning more about poor little X.



S. Matthews 2016Susanne Matthews lives in Cornwall, Ontario, a small Canadian city on the Canada/U.S. border. This French-Canadian author and her husband met at Carleton University. They have three children and five grandchildren.

Susanne spent more than thirty years as an educator, primarily as an English teacher with Special Education responsibilities, although she did teach French as well. After retirement, she decided to make her dream of being an author a reality. Her first novel, Fire Angel, was published in 2013.

Today, Susanne continues to let her imagination soar. She is constantly on the hunt for new characters and ideas. Refusing to be categorized, Susanne writes in a number of genres including, suspense, contemporary, historical, paranormal, fantasy, YA, and sci-fi, always with a touch of romance and a happy ending. Her characters come to life for the readers in her rich descriptive voice.

When she isn’t writing, Susanne enjoys reading novels and writing reviews for those she truly enjoys, traveling, summer camping, and quiet winter evenings in front of the fire.

You can follow Susanne on her website, blog, Facebook, Amazon, Goodreads, and Twitter.


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