Monday, 5 April 2010

"Auroric" versus "auroral"

One of the things I enjoy most about the publishing process is the batting to and fro of words and phrases between editor and writer during the pre-publication phase, when the book is basically in the bag but requires a polish.

The editor (usually right in my experience) simply wants to arrive at the best book possible, consistent with the fact that it is, ultimately, someone else's book: a line which requires more or less tact and professionalism to tread, depending on several factors but mainly the author's ego.

I once spent far too much time arguing with my editor over the word 'auroric'. This is the context (from The Blue Cabin):-

"I could see that Lynn was burning candles because a faint auroric flicker was coming from the archway into the kitchen. The smell was amazing: turf smoke was doing battle with the bacon, and winning. We ate in front of the wood burner in the living room, and then settled down to read. To maximise light we sat together on the sofa and arranged the oil lamps in two little clusters, one on each side. I'm not sure who started it, but as the room slowly filled with acrid black smoke and our eyes began to stream, we got the giggles and were forced to abandon this first attempt at the simple life, and head for bed. Some of the lamps would have to go..."

My editor said that as the word auroric doesn't exist, it should be excised. I tried the argument that Cormac McCarthy invents words all the time, and she replied, with some justification: 'That's Cormac McCarthy'.

I also tried her on the idea that most readers wouldn't know whether the word existed or not, and that therefore it wasn't an issue as long as it sounded right. No deal.

My editor came up with auroral as a suggestion, and that's what we went for in the end: a prettier, rounder word anyway I must admit: "Lynn was burning candles because a faint auroral flicker was coming from the archway..."

Three years later I happened to mention the word to a friend of mine - word-guru and classical scholar Dr.Chris Carter - and he emailed me at the weekend with this:-

"Finally, you'll remember "auroric", whose existence your editor questioned - and cyber-spellcheck doesn't recognise, but that's no guide.  It does exist in fact, but has to be dug out of the OED, The Oxford English Dicker, the real Big One. It's a rare adjective referring specifically to the aurora borealis, not to "dawn", the original, earlier meaning of aurora.  There's only the one citation of auroric in the OED:- Auroric lights have been faint and scarce of late... quoted from an article in Nature, vol.XXIII, p.350, written by someone called Kinahan and published in 1881.  So..... There's also an interesting additional note about the shift in the meaning of the single, unqualified word aurora in English, namely that aurora, meaning the aurora borealis, "has become the ordinary prose meaning of [the word], the preceding sense of "aurora" meaning "dawn" being only poetical".

As the word auroric is obviously archaic, I suppose it doesn't settle the argument in my favour, but it makes me feel better.
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