Words We Don’t Use: Meretricious

Have you ever heard the word meretricious before? It’s not a completely obsolete word, but try using it in a game of Scrabble and see how many people call for a dictionary! Meretricious is definitely not a word you run across every day.

One possible root of the word meretricious, meretricius, is a Latin word meaning prostitute. Another possible origin is mereo, meaning to earn something. Either way, meretricious first entered the English language in the 1600’s as a word to describe a “lady of the night.”

From that meaning it is easy to see how the meaning of meretricious changed into something that is flashy, tasteless, or cheap—all qualities that we associate with prostitutes. Their clothes are cheap, their makeup is overdone, and they constantly advertise their wares in a tasteless way. Thus anything that gave an appearance of being expensive or high class but was actually of poor quality was called meretricious. This is the primary meaning of meretricious today.

It’s a word Jane Austen should definitely have used while she was writing Pride and Prejudice. She could easily have used it to make a play on words with our favorite bad girl, Lydia Bennet. Remember this quote?

“To be sure, it would have been more for the advantage of conversation, had Miss Lydia Bennet come upon the town; or, as the happiest alternative, been secluded from the world in some distant farm house.”

To come upon the town was a figure of speech in Austen’s day, and it meant to make a living in the oldest profession in the world. Austen could have just as easily written, “Had Miss Lydia Bennet come upon the town, or ended up in some other meretricious setting.”

Austen could also have used “meretricious” many times in her juvenile novel Lady Susan. Come to think of it, Lady Susan was pretty much the epitome of meretricious!

A secondary meaning of meretricious comes from the legal field, where it means an unlawful sexual connection. Again, it’s not hard to see how this goes back to the root word for prostitute.

In researching this word I came upon an interesting web site, www.meretriciousman.com, which describes itself as a blog “for the secretly mediocre.” Isn’t it ironic that it takes an unusually educated person today to know the meaning of the word?

What do you think? Are there any other places in Austen novels where she might have used this word?

New 5 Star Review for Duty Demands!

“Completely enjoyable” 

Great plot, very well captured, it makes for a really good read.
The characters are well developed taking into account the change in circumstances, but respecting the traits of each of them.
Highly recommended!

Thank you to T. Garcia Ruy Sanchez for the wonderful review!

New Feature: Words We Don’t Use

Do you ever have the feeling that people today don’t know as many words as they used to? Have you noticed that we don’t seem to communicate as easily and fluently as people did in the past?

It’s not your imagination. Because of the popularity of electronic devices, today it is often easier to type messages other people than to speak to them. We email our bosses instead of picking up the phone and calling them. We text plans for the weekend to our friends. We message each other on Facebook. We tweet our thoughts in 140 characters or less and  include hashtags to save everyone the trouble of figuring out what we’re talking about. And many times, our messages include emojis to show emotions or actions we just don’t feel like spelling out longhand.

We’ve even developed a growing list of acronyms to use for common phrases. LOL has been used to the point of losing its effectiveness, but there are other acronyms we have come to recognize and dash off whenever the mood hits: AFAIK, IMHO, SWAK, LMBO, etc.

Just a few out of hundreds out there!

I recently read an article that talked about the effect of all these electronic devices on our vocabularies. The conclusion: it’s not good. When people stop talking and start writing in emojis and acronyms instead, they miss out on words that express subtlety and shades of meaning. They stop writing out complete sentences, and they lose the ability to comprehend lengthy phrases, sentences and paragraphs.

My little blog won’t be able to stop this slide into linguistic inanity. Changes in language reflect changes in culture, and  electronic devices are here to stay. But I can at least highlight unusual or obsolete words in our English language and encourage some people, at least, to grow their vocabulary, not let it be dumbed down over time. To do this, we’ll be looking at a new word every month.

The first word I’d like to look at is one that passed out of general usage in English quite some time ago.

Martin lucubrated over his homework until his eyes were too tired to continue.

Like so many of our English words, lucubrate has its origin in Latin. The word “luc” meant light, and “lucubrate” came to mean studying at night, especially studying hard. (“Luc” is also the root word for lucid, elucidate, and transluscent, all of which have to do with light, being able to see through, and being clear or easy to understand.)

Over time the word lucubrate evolved in meaning. After all, if you study at night, you have to be able to see at least a little bit, so lucubrate acquired a secondary meaning of studying or writing by candlelight.

Abraham Lincoln is famous for his habits of lucubration.

And if you continued to lucubrate you would increase your understanding of whatever it was you were studying, improving and expanding on the ideas in it.

The science professor accepted the new theory after much lucubration.

Finally, lucubrate came to mean to clarify the meaning of something and write about it in a scholarly way.

Stephen Hawkings lucubrates the “theory of everything” in his book, The Universe In A Nutshell.

I think you’ll agree that lucubrate is an excellent word to know, full of meaning and history. Sadly, it is now considered an obsolete word in the English language. Let’s hope we can find a way to bring it and other disappearing words back into people’s spoken vocabularies.

Please be sure to let me know if there is a word you would like to see profiled in this new feature! I look forward to hearing from you.



New Review for Duty Demands!

From Elin on Amazon.com:

This was a thrilling read. The tension was nigh on unbearable at times but then there was a respite, making this book a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I must commend the build up of this book, very cleverly designed. 

Thank you, Elin! Read the full review here.

Fund Raising for Hurricane Harvey

***ANNOUNCEMENT*** A large group of Jane Austen writers have joined forces to raise money for flood relief. For the next week (now until 9/5), profits from the sales of any of my five books will be donated to the American Red Cross. Please check out this link! This is a good time to get a good book and do a good deed at the same time.


How Do Authors Get Paid?

Recently a question related to author’s pay came up on the Facebook Austen Authors page. Somebody asked how authors decide on a price for their books. It’s an excellent question, and I am copying my reply on that page below. Then I’d like to talk about how authors make money in general.

To price my books I look at what other JAFF writers are charging for their comparable works, to get a good sense of what the “going rate” is. I also look at what Amazon has to say about it. When an author first publishes on Amazon they receive a suggested price based on data collected by Amazon, which tries to maximize the sale price without losing too many potential customers. (They almost always suggest $2.99.) I put those two figures together and then make a gut call.

If an author decides to make their books available in Kindle Unlimited, so that a reader can download and read them without buying them, then the author also has to agree to sell that book exclusively through Amazon. No “going wide” through other sales channels like Barnes & Noble, Kobo, or Smashwords. In return the writer will receive a small payment for every page read through KU, so the writer has to decide if that additional payment will be worth the loss of the potential sales through non-Amazon channels. A crystal ball would be good here!

(Yes, Amazon knows how much you have read in a book that you borrowed. They know what page you left off on, remember? It’s all stored in the cloud.)

To make it more complicated, the KU payment amount changes every month, and you don’t know what it will be for this month until the middle of next month. Amazon starts with a big pie of money, somewhere in the vicinity of $18 million, which I guess they derive from KU subscriptions and maybe advertising. Then they decide how to allocate that big pie amongst all the pages that were read on KU the month prior. Typically this amount ends up around $.0045/page.

That leaves paperback sales. How does an author set the price of a paperback, and why is it so much more expensive than an ebook?

To begin with, a paperback is much more complicated to produce than an ebook. The pages have to be numbered, which is a tricky process, and the book cover has to have not just a front but also  a back and a spine. The sales price also has to be at least high enough to pay for the actual printing of the physical book itself, which is not something an author worries about with an ebook.  So the author has to set their sale price higher if they want to recover their investment.

To give you an idea what all this looks like in real life, take a look at Mr. Darcy’s Persistent Pursuit, my first book. I wrote it in about four months and posted it on fanfiction.net chapter by chapter, so everyone who read it there got to read it for free (a model I still follow). Figuring out how to publish it and then actually going through the publishing process took another couple of weeks, and I followed Amazon’s suggestion and priced the ebook version at $2.99.  Two months later, following a steep learning curve, I managed to publish the paperback version.

Profit from ebook version: $2.02

Profit if someone reads the whole book on Kindle Unlimited: $1.71

Profit from paperback version: $1.58

Was the work worth it? Would I do it all again? Absolutely! My only regret is that I didn’t start doing this years ago!



I look forward to hearing any comments or questions you may have on this topic. In my next post I’ll talk about fanfiction sites–why authors use them and a survey of some of the better-known fanfic sites out there.


New Review for Mr. Darcy’s Persistent Pursuit!

From a reader name Crystal Dark:

Mr. Darcy’s Persistent Pursuit is the first book I have read by Elaine Owen and I am definitely planning on reading more by this author. The plot was really fun and I loved seeing how everything unfolded and came together. I also found the solution for Lydia’s behavior a really interesting idea and plan on reading this books sequel Love’s Fool: The Taming of Lydia Bennet: What Happened After Mr. Darcy’s Persistent Pursuit (Longbourn Unexpected Book 2) to see how that develops and turns out. Overall this was a really fun and entertaining read that I am sure to read again.

Thank you, Crystal Dark! For the third and final installment in the Longbourn Unexpected series, you can check out my work in progress, An Unexpected Turn of Events, now being posted on darcyandlizzy.com.

Announcing The Winners of A New Look and a Giveaway!

Six people either commented on the blog or left a review on my review page, and I decided one winner was just not good enough. Instead I picked two! Congratulations to Vesper and to Luthien84! Please contact me at elaineowen@writeme.com to claim your prize. A HUGE thank you to everyone who participated!

A New Look and a Giveaway!

Welcome to my brand new web site! I will begin regular postings soon, but for now, I would like to launch the new site with a giveaway!

On July 10th, Duty Demands, my fifth book, was re-released by Kindle Press. I am proud and happy to be published by such a large publishing house (part of Amazon). Duty Demands was a #1 best seller when it was first published last year, and sales have been strong again for this second edition.

As part of the re-publishing process the book was given a new cover and had a little bit of new material added to the original text. But the story is still the same: what happens when Elizabeth completely misunderstands why Darcy wants to marry her? This is a high-angst story with lots of drama, suspense, and romance, and it can be yours for FREE!

To win your own free Kindle version of Duty Demands, just leave a comment about any of my books by going to the reviews page. Or just tell me what you think about the new web site! I’m happy to hear any feedback you want to leave. But be sure to leave a comment by midnight EST on Friday, August 4th. One winner will be chosen at random for every five entries, so be sure to get your name in there! Only one entry per IP address, please! Good luck to everyone!