A good word: Couth

A friend relayed an incident that occurred recently as she stood in line to place her lunch order. A well-dressed couple walked up, stepped in front of her, and proceeded to place their orders. They didn’t even look at her.

My friend went on to say how this incident showed no couth on the part of the rude couple. Besides sharing my sympathy, I marveled at her use of an unusual word.

****

Couth. When was the last time you used or heard that word? Its use is rare, which could be a good thing for your particular story or poem. Do you need a word for a scene or a character description that will cause the reader to stop and think or consider or wonder? Couth might be the word you want to use.

Here’s the definition:

  • As an adjective: Having good manners, sophistication, polish, cultured. To wait their turn in line would have been a couth response from Ferguson and Millicent.
  • As a noun: polish, refinement. Jennifer was the hostess at the extravagant event, but her table manners lacked couth.

Uncouth is the opposite of couth and was most likely the first of the two words to appear in the English language.

I’m always on the lookout for ways to make my writing more interesting. Sometimes I will throw in a word that is rarely used. A word like couth could cause a reader to do a double-take and linger over the sentence that holds it, just as you planned. For some readers, though, that double-take might kill the flow of the story, especially if the reader doesn’t know the word’s meaning. Yet, I can hear my mother say, as she sent me off to read, “If you don’t know what a word means, look it up.”  Touché.

I’m impressed by writers who can take an unusual word and make it useful in their work. I want to hone that skill, too. And I’m all for introducing good words to my readers. Couth will be one of them.

Question: Would you use couth in your writing today or do you think it’s too old-fashioned?


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