If there is already a word like abundant to describe a more-than-adequate supply of objects, why would you then revert to the use of the word rife? It’s an Old English word which means the same thing, but is used so obscurely that many people would not be aware of its meaning. Yet it is a word that is used in many articles, reports, books, and other means of communication.
An example would be an article about higher education, when an author of the article might say:
In a nation which is rife with opportunities for college and other higher education opportunities, why is it that so few young people take that step?
There is no great mystery about the meaning of the word in this context. The reader is immediately aware of the writer’s intent. But if asked, out of context, about the word, a person might plead ignorance. So why use it?
That is an issue which writers face all the time. There is a clever word which strikes the fancy of the writer, but the question emerges immediately: Is the reader going to know what I mean by this? It is possible that in the desire to be clever the writer has lost the reader, at least for this moment. But this moment may be enough to cause the reader to close the book (or close down the electronic ‘book’) and move on to something else.
The writer’s task is to make that evaluation and feel secure in the answer.
The primary purpose of writing is to communicate. If that purpose gets skewed by one’s ego into being an exercise in the demonstration of cleverness the project can be doomed.
I read Stephen King’s book, 11-22-63, recently. It was my first King book, as I’m not terribly excited by science fiction and graphic fantasy. It was wonderful, however. Throughout the book I found myself confronted with numerous examples of words which were unfamiliar to me. Some I actually had to stop and pull up my online dictionary in order to be sure I fully understood the meaning. However, the book was so well written (as I imagine most of King’s books are) that the exposure to new language became part of the thrill of reading it. The language challenge was laced through the plot, which could be complicated at times. Had the book been written in a less competent manner I might easily have become discouraged. I wasn’t.
But that’s the risk. In this case, I embrace the use of the word rife, believing it to be easily understood because of its place in context. Numerous examples of other words which might be more of a stumbling block to the reader come to mind however, and it is important for me to remember that when waxing eloquent.
Photo Credit: Sheri Gundry