If you have more than that, you’ll almost certainly lose the reader because they will not be able to keep track of the multiple new words.
What makes a word weird? Familiarity for the audience. If I’m writing for a monolingual French audience then they have my sympathies because my French is somewhere between appalling and non-existent and every English word is weird to them. Similarly, if I use a technical term, that term is weird for anyone outside that technical speciality.
If you wanted to ensure your audience is fully general (among English speakers) you could go full up goer five3 in the article, restricting yourself to only the thousand most common words in the English language. This is a useful exercise but I think it’s going a bit far.4. Use your judgement – it’s generally reasonable to assume that the reader is fairly literate, it’s generally not reasonable to assume they know what doxastic means5 6.
This is the real power of the trick: Because you cannot determine if a word is weird without knowing the audience, by following this rule you first have to decide who that audience is. This makes you think about the level of your writing, and what language it is appropriate for you to use and what you should avoid.
Once you’ve done that, the one weird word rule can be seen as a leniency rather than a restriction. It’s not that you’re only allowed one word your audience doesn’t know, it’s that it’s OK to use one word your audience doesn’t know. As long as you explain it well, a single article is about the right amount of text to get someone comfortable with a new word, and it’s fine to try to expand people’s vocabulary where it would be useful to do so, but if you try to do too many new words too fast your audience will quickly get lost, and your point will not come across well.
- A partial exemption is granted for pairs of words which are inextricably linked. For example I suggested the words relip and thamagar, and these have to be introduced together because they represent two ends of a spectrum. Although there are two words there at the semantic level, they introduce a unified concept. Even the two word exemption is pushing it. I know that article has given people some difficulties and I can’t help but feel that a single word would have been better.
- Or term. Longer phrases with specific meanings also fall under this heading, but One Weird Word sounds better.
- For those of you looking/waiting for it, upgoer five is ironically my one weird word for this article.
- UH OH! YOU HAVE USED NON-PERMITTED WORDS (USEFUL, EXERCISE)
- This doesn’t count. Use/mention distinction.
- I will grant however the “use/mention distinction” blew my one weird word budget.