Frances Hardinge’s five favourite words

Frances Hardinge’s five favourite words

Frances Hardinge was brought up in a sequence of small, sinister English villages, and spent a number of formative years living in a Gothic-looking, mouse-infested hilltop house in Kent. She studied English Language and Literature at Oxford, fell in love with the city’s crazed archaic beauty, and lived there for many years.

Whilst working full time as a technical author for a software company she started writing her first children’s novel, Fly by Night, and was with difficulty persuaded by a good friend to submit the manuscript to Macmillan. She has now written eight books for children and young adults, including Cuckoo Song, which won the Robert Holdstock award for Best Fantasy Novel at the British Fantasy Awards, and The Lie Tree, which won the Costa Book of the Year 2015. Her most recent book is A Skinful of Shadows.

Frances, who is seldom seen without her hat and is addicted to volcanoes, has shared with us her five favourite words in honour of the OED‘s 90th birthday:


There are many words that I love for their music and rhythm, and because they’re satisfying to say. This is one of them, but I also like the way it describes itself. It’s a needlessly wordy term for needless wordiness.

See the OED entry for sesquipedalian.


The word is soft, dusty, and fragile, like the creature it describes. It’s simple, dowdy, and light as a breath.

See the OED entry for moth.


Old insults have more panache. You can’t call someone a scoundrel, blackguard, jackanapes, or rapscallion without making them sound rather swashbuckling.

See the OED entry for rapscallion.


I came across this word while studying Beowulf at university. It means to ‘grow dark’ or ‘become murky’, and it’s used to describe the way the air itself dims and darkens over the sinister waters that conceal the sunken hall of Grendel’s mother. The word sounds just as ominous, melancholy, and atmospheric as it should.


This word sounds soft, spreadable, and delicious. When I was very young, someone told me that marmalade was first made for Mary Queen of Scots when she was ill, and nicknamed ‘Marie est malade’ as a result. This tale wasn’t true, of course. However, it showed me that ordinary words could have hidden stories within them, some false and some true.

See the OED entry for marmalade.

Image credit: David Levenson

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