The Difference Between the Lightning Bug and…a Firefly?

Or, What Happens When Two SAT Vocabulary Words Collide

I had a word fail moment today, and it got me thinking about the expectations of the audience with respect to an author’s diction. 

I was writing a one-off description line about two women who are rivals and have been for a long time and who do it by rote at this point in their lives (which is not to say that they do not still passionately dislike one another).  Here is the sentence in question:

Next to her was Miss X, whom she had hated since her debut and who returned the dislike with equal assiduity*.   

*Assiduity is the key word here which gave me these difficulties. 

I originally wrote “assuetude,” because that was the word my mind supplied.  I sat back and tried to define the word to myself, could not, and had to verify its meaning (basically, usual; habitual).  This happens to me sometimes, when I will write what my subconscious supplies next and then have to double-check.  Sometimes it is the exact word I wanted, possibly even more exact than I consciously realized based on some nuance of the definition I did not previously know.  Other times it is all wrong, and I can only assume that I either mistook its meaning based on misinterpreting the context in which I learned it, or that I was reaching for a similar word.

In this case, assuetude was in essence what I was reaching for, because it is a habit of behavior between these two women to dislike one another. 

The problem arose when I considered this:  assuetude is not a common word, and it is close to “assiduity,” which is a much more common high-vocabulary word.  Too close for my comfort, in fact, because I had the feeling that the context would not necessarily yield the idea of habit over enthusiasm, and thus that readers would think I had misused assuetude and meant assiduity. 

I felt it best to change the word.  Ironically, given my conversation with myself on the matter, I went with assiduity, since enthusiastic dislike did also fit their relationship, and “assiduity” has more punch than “habit.” 

Was I wrong?  Did I misjudge my readers, or, in a wishy-washy context where one meaning might make sense but another meaning might be more obvious, was I correct to remove the word which relied on prior knowledge to impart the correct relationship? 

What choice do you make in those sitations, fellow writers?  Do you go with the more common word instead of the punchy word, or do you change the aspect of the relathionship you meant to emphasize?  Do you reword the sentence so that your special word’s meaning is more clear from the context, or do you make a point to use the similar word close by in the text to imply you do know it and did not mean it?  Or maybe you just smash them together–assiduous assuetude?


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