Do you use fingerprint words?

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a Slate article on fingerprint words...

Have you ever heard the term “fingerprint word?” It refers to a slightly unusual word that you use all the time.

I’m sure I have some fingerprint words myself although I can’t tell you what they are. Like thieves, such words break into our vocabularies, leaving small but indelible marks visible only to others.

In an amusing article in the online magazine Slate, Mathew J.X Malady (surely, that can’t be his real name although his credentials appear impressively legit), Malady confesses that his fingerprint word is iteration. Here’s what he has to say about it:

I asked my wife if there were any weird, fingerprint-type words I used often.

“You mean like iteration?” she said, without the slightest pause. Then the floodgates opened. “You also say tangential all the time. Oh, antiquated, too! And you’re always talking about the extent to which someone did this or that.”

She kept going. Turns out I have an affinity for anachronism and maintain a close connection with cognizant.  

Malady is not only a lawyer, but a lawyer who can write colloquially, which is an unusual combination. I enjoyed his piece a great deal and urge you to read it as well. As for me, I’ll be keeping an open eye for my own fingerprint words from now on.

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