This week I am going to focus on words. I love words. And language. And grammar. So it makes me very sad (genuinely) that children's vocabulary seems rather limited. This is despite one article claiming that (in their native language) 8-year olds "have a vocabulary size of about 10,000 words." That's a lot of words! So why is so much of children's writing composed of the same bland vocabulary choices? These choices tend to focus around the extremes of adjectives. If something can't be 'big' then it is often 'colossal' or 'gigantic' or even 'ginormous.' If something can't be small then it is either 'tiny', 'teeny-tiny' or, brace yourself, 'very small.' This lack of lexical diversity is sad. I'm not going to be all doomful and say 'worrying' - it's not, for reasons I shall go into later - but it is sad.
I've had a conversation with a child agonising over the best reporting verb to use, only to end up suggesting that, perhaps, if the character didn't whisper, murmur, utter, declare, question, shout, boom or command, then maybe, just maybe, they simply said it. The child looked at me horrified and asked if she was allowed to use 'said' because her previous teacher had banned it. How much time had been spent on this exchange? Time that could have been used writing more, or editing. All because a perfectly good word (there's another outlaw word, good) had been demonised. It is thinking like this that led to quite a number of children using 'quoted' as a reporting verb. "I have to agree," she quoted, "I don't like it." What the actual heck?! We went into the etymology of that one; spent a whole lesson on why it is not a synonym for 'said' (unless you are actually quoting someone, obviously).
The grizzled gentleman donned a coat as long as a winding river. He had a gargantuan hat and a deathly gun belt. On his feet were a pair of ancient leather boots that clinked when he walked because of the metal spurs on the heels. Although he had previously broken the law, he had to return to town to deal with his adversary.
The cowboy was an outlaw in these parts but he didn't care. He had a score to settle.