Words, Words, Words by Heather Haven

Being a writer and author of 14 books and counting, I like to think I know a thing or two about words. However, I am constantly reminded that such is not always the case. I am reminded of this often by my hubby who is a walking dictionary. Truly. I’ve never known the man not to know the meaning of a word in the 41 years we’ve been together. He and Daniel Webster have a lot in common, only hubby is cuter. Sometimes when I run across a word I’ve never seen before and often don’t even know how to pronounce, I will look it up, get the meaning, and then turn to hubby with a quiz. If he doesn’t know the exact meaning immediately, he knows the roundabout. You know, a glimmer of it, enough to use it in a sentence and not make a total jackass of himself. This is where I hee-haw.

The other day I wrote to my doctor asking if it was okay to use melatonin on the rare occasion when I can’t sleep. I have sleep apnea, use a CPAP, and try to be very careful not to impinge my breathing at night. I got a message back from her that dumbfounded me: Answering your question:
Melatonin is not contraindicated with sleep apnea. Having said this is very important to treat sleep apnea with CPAP machine.
Please let me know if you need anything else I will try my best to help!

Okay. I had never seen the word contraindicated before and had no idea what it meant. In fact, I pronounced it con – train- (as in choo-choo train) -di-cated. I was at a loss and turned to hubby. He knew the word, pronounced it correctly, but wanted us to look it up to be sure he had it right. After all, my health was at stake here. So we did. Here’s what I found online:

con·tra·in·di·cate/ˌkäntrəˈindəˌkāt/verbMEDICINEpast tense: contraindicated; past participle: contraindicated (of a condition or circumstance) suggest or indicate that (a particular technique or drug) should not be used in the case in question. “surgery may also be contraindicated for more general reasons of increased operative risk”

I still had no idea whether I could use melatonin with my sleep apnea or not. Hubby was a little flummoxed, as well. So I called my heart sister, who was a medical assistant. I had to read her the message twice, especially the phrase Melatonin is not contraindicated with sleep apnea. Apparently, it was the double negative in the sentence that was confusing, at least once you knew what the word meant. Not contraindicated meant it was okay to use.

This was another reminder to me to watch how how I phrase things. The doctor could have said, Yes, melatonin is fine, Toots, and be sure to use your CPAP. I don’t think we even needed contraindicated in the sentence although now that I know the word I simply love it. Besides, broadening your horizons means learning a new word here and there. And using them. As a wordsmith, I should know that. It’s my bread and butter. But sometimes things that are contraindicated are counterintuitive.

8 thoughts on “Words, Words, Words by Heather Haven

  1. Hi Susan! I left a reply when I first read your comment and it went I know not where. In any event, I had to play the word game with hubby. He didn’t know off the top of his head what circumambulate meant but offered the word ‘around’ as a possible description. Sometimes breaking down a word helps! I wonder if we should continue to use wonderful words like that in our stories or if by throwing the reader out of the story, we do ourselves a disservice? Still mulling that one over!

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  2. We’re the opposite in our house. My hubby is a writer too. I define the words (not in your hubby’s league though) and he spells way better than I do. Funny the things you learn about each other when you write.

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    1. Funny the things you learn about each other as you go through the years! Thanks for your comment.

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  3. Great post! I love stumbling across new words and learning their meaning. Having worked a short time in the medical field (receptionist) I knew the word. What a fun post about it and finding new words.

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  4. I loved this piece. I worked in social services for a group with medical issues so I used to hear “contraindicated” every other day. A few years ago I had a similar experience to yours. I used the term “circumambulate” in a story set in India, where the word is commonly in use to describe the practice of walking around the temple in a full circle. A beta reader didn’t recognize the word, didn’t find it in a dictionary, and wanted me to change it. I like coming across new words in whatever I read, and I hope other writers do too.

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    1. Yes, I worry that unusual vocabulary will turn off a reader but on the other hand I like to find new words in what I read. I don’t want to read on a sixth-grade level all day long. Again, mystery readers are usually pretty brainy people and they like to be challenged and to learn things. I don’t know what the ultimate answer is, but I keep writing what feels right. So far nothing in my experience has contraindicated the use of unusual words in mysteries. ;-))

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