15 One-Word Writing Prompts (with Definitions)

"Alphabet Antique Character Equipment Key" by PublicDomainPictures is dedicated to the public domain under CC0.

“Alphabet Antique Character Equipment Key” by PublicDomainPictures is dedicated to the public domain under CC0.

A lot of non-creative people believe that being an artist is the easiest, most natural job in the world. After all, writers, painters, and musicians must all have some sort of innate genius, right? And tapping into that genius—penning the words, brushing the strokes, strumming the chords—takes no effort at all, right? I mean, if you’re good at it. It’s easy to fall into these pitfalls of ignorant thought, where we automatically assume that we are the only ones working hard, but the truth is that we all get creatively constipated sometimes.

When something like this happens, we’re forced to wait on inspiration to strike. True, we seek out muses, but the fact of the matter is that sometimes nothing helps. One person may get writer’s block every week and have it fixed in twenty-four hours because something on the Internet struck his fancy. Another might not write for close to a decade, until suddenly she sees a tiny bonsai tree in a garden store and the creative deluge comes flowing back. Long story short: inspiration is finicky like that.

The following is a list of fifteen words I hope may jump start your creative process. I don’t own any of them, and you don’t owe me for using them. That being said, I’d love to know if they help you out.

Aegis: /ˈiːdʒɪs/ n. Lit: a Greek symbol of protection and power associated with Zeus and Athena. Fig: protection or guidance; sponsorship or endorsement.
Ex. “This meeting will be conducted under the aegis of the vice chairman.”

Cattywampus/ˌvætiˈwɒmpəs/ adj. disorderly or askew; fierce or destructive; along a diagonal.
Ex. “The post office is cattywampus from the library.”

Cavil: /ˈkæv.əl/ n. an objection or criticism made for petty or frivolous reasons.
Ex. “The client’s cavil regarding the use of quotation marks on page 3 pushed us right up to the publishing deadline.”

Comestible: /kəˈmɛstɪbl̩/ adj. edible.
Ex. “They say the food in the caff is comestible, but I’m just not buying it. Have you tried the cole slaw?”

Daedal: /ˈdiːdəl/ adj. skillfull or cunning.
Ex. “His daedal storytelling gripped me until the very last page.”

Ichthyarchy: /ɪθiːɑrːki/ n. rule of and by fishes.
Ex. “The Whale Revolution began when marine mammals became fed up with the ruling ichthyarchy.”

Kludge: /klʌdʒ/ n. a functional and crudely-built prototype; a quick, temporary fix for a persistent problem.
Ex. “The secretary’s new organizational system is a kludge. She just replaced all those stacks of loose-leaf paper with stacks of manila folders!”

Lachrymose: /ˈlæk.rɪˈmoʊs/ adj. pertaining to or causing crying.
Ex. “This is the most lachrymose film I have ever seen.”

Laconic: /ləˈkɒnɪk/ adj. as brief as possible.
Ex. “Cormac McCarthy and Ernest Hemingway are both known for their laconic styles.”

Phobophobia: /ˈfoʊ.boʊˈfoʊ.biːə/ n. the fear of having or developing a phobia.
Ex. “That’s what you call ‘ironic.'”

Pyrrhic: /pɪɹ.ɪk/ n. achieved at great loss.
Ex. “The guilty verdict was a Pyrrhic victory for the victim’s family.”

Sable: /ˈseɪbəl/ n. a carnivorous weasel, valued for its dark pelt. adj. a grey-black color; dark or somber.
Ex. “She considered the sable, but it seemed wrong to wear so fine a fur in mourning.”

Shibboleth: /ˈʃɪbəlɛθ/ n. Lit: an ear of corn (Hebrew). Fig: a word that is difficult for non-native speakers to pronounce; an obsolete platitude.
Ex. “The English word, ‘squirrel,’ is a shibboleth for German speakers.”

Syzygy: /ˈsɪz.ɪdʒ.i/ n. the alignment of three celestial bodies, as in an eclipse; the pairing of opposites in allegorical use.
Ex. “Although many men would not like to admit they have a nurturing side, the syzygy of their conscious masculinity and unconscious femininity is part of what makes them whole beings.”

Zephyr: /zɛfɹ/ n. a light breeze, particularly from the west; something of delicate quality, especially fabric.
Ex. “The zephyr that rippled the pond and frightened away the little fish rejuvenated her.”


Did this list help you with your artistic expression of choice? Let me know in the comments!

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