What does timorously mean?

Word count: 226 words

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

If you increase your vocabulary you’ll not only help your reading, you’ll also make your writing more precise. Here is my word of the week, timorously.

One of my readers recommended to me the novel The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff. I really enjoyed the book (thanks, Charlie!)  and appreciated that it also gave me my word of the week. Here is the sentence in which it appeared:

It was one of those strange purple dawns that color July there, when the bowl made by the hills fills with a thick fog and even the songbirds sing timorously, unsure of day or night.

I had always thought “timorously” meant “quietly” but, in fact, it means, “timidly.” The word dates back to the 1530s and come from the Latin meticulosus meaning “fearful, timid.” So why would a writer ignore the more common, more easily understood “timidly” and replace it with a less common, harder to understand word?

I think she chose “timorously” because the rhythm of a four-syllable word works better in this sentence. I also catch a whisper of birdsong in the sibilance of timorous. Good choice, I think!

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