This is topic Indicative Words in forum Open Discussions About Writing at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

To visit this topic, use this URL:;f=1;t=006118

Posted by TaoArtGuy (Member # 8857) on :
I ran across an interesting article about Indicative Words - "keywords that are found almost exclusively within the texts of one particular genre." It contains one of my favorite horror words that I would never use - squamous.

Feel free to add your own words in a reply!


Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
They put "Old Ones" in "horror"---but it's used in "Stranger in a Strange Land," which certainly is SF and not horror.

I'm thinking of how many SF things have "space-" as a prefix or attached-but-separate word---"spaceship," "spaceport," and so on. I'm thinking the ones who'll have to live with them will think "ship" and "port," and maybe attach "ocean-" or "sea-" to the kind we're familiar with.

This was brought into focus for me a few years ago by a stretch of dialog on the show "NewsRadio," that went something like this..."But your space pod is so drafty!" "All right, I'll get a space heater."

Posted by billawaboy (Member # 8182) on :
I'm not sure how accurate that site is. Squamous is probably a common word in medical science fiction. I know it's very common in my textbooks.

Squamous is an scientific term in histology (study of microscopic structure of the human body) and is used to describe the cells that are flat (squamous means flat in latin or greek) - typically epithelial cells. If you were discussing, say, cancer in your fiction you could have a doctor say "I'm sorry - you have squamous cell carcinoma. We're going to have to cut off your lips." or something.

So squamous I think is something that can reasonable be found in almost any genre where the character can potentially get epithelial cancers.

In horror it's probably used to describes scales of some dark beast - anything flat and disc-shaped in arrays or layers...


Posted by Posie70 (Member # 9036) on :
I thought squamos was a kind of cancer? yes, no? It's a good, creepy word though.
Posted by billawaboy (Member # 8182) on :
It's not cancer, but a type of cell which can become cancerous.

Squamous cells, e,g, skin cells, or esophageal cells, etc., line the parts of your body that are exposed to the outside world (like parts of your digestive tract; or your urinary tract, vaginal or cervical surfaces, inside of your nose and mouth, the surface of you eyes, etc.)Since food and dirt and fluids are abrasive, possibly infectious, the cells are flat to allow minimum friction and form many layers to protect the tissues and organs underneath.This means the top cells often get rubbed off by mechanical stress, like when you scratch your skin, which takes off the top few layers of skin usually.

Thus these stratified (layered) squamous (flat) cells have to be rapidly dividing to make up for the loss of cells and maintain the barrier. The replication process is not perfect and over decades genetic errors creep in to some of the cells. Some of these errors cause problems in how the cell normally divides and replicates dna. It messes with the controls of mitotic division. The cell then has becomes cancerous and grows wildly and uncontrollably creating an abnormal growth - called a carcinoma. Hence the term "squamous cell carcinoma" - or cancer of the squamous cells. Once started, the new cancerous lose more control of their own genetic machinery and introduce more and more errors going down a bad path. It's not unusual to find hair, bone, teeth, or any other kind of cell in a malignant cancer tumor becuase the dna is so messed up it doesn't know what kind of cell it should be.

Thus this is why there can't really be a cure for cancer - it is an intrinsic flaw in duplication process of all human cells. There will always be errors creeping in since nothing is perfectly copied every time. But the errors are tiny, and only have an effect as they accumulate over the years. The cells you have now are, genetically, slightly different version of the ones you had as a child. Not necessarily bad, just different. But one day it could be bad. The next variation will be slightly different, but may be different in a key way to make it go completely mad...

How 'bout that for a horror story...?

[This message has been edited by billawaboy (edited March 13, 2010).]

Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
My word processor doesn't have "squamous" in its spell checking dictionary...I think its use in SF / horror probably comes from somewhere in H. P. Lovecraft, maybe "The Colour Out of Space."
Posted by TaoArtGuy (Member # 8857) on :
Squamous will always be associated with Lovecraft in my mind since that is where I first encountered the word. The second place I ran into it was the dictionary, since I had to go look it up to see what it meant.

I think I even inflicted it on my friends for a week or so. "Dude, that is so squamous." Yes, I was, and am, kind of weird that way.

Unless I was doing some sort of pastiche I can't see myself seriously using the word in a story. It just has a weighted history for me, if that makes sense. Funny how words can have that effect on us.

Edited to delete double word

[This message has been edited by TaoArtGuy (edited March 15, 2010).]

Posted by billawaboy (Member # 8182) on :
Did Lovecraft have a profession in the health side. I know his father was commited to an asylum when he was young. But What did he have as a profession or education in addition to being a writer?
Posted by TaoArtGuy (Member # 8857) on :
Not much of a formal education, actually. He didn't even receive his high school diploma because of health issues although he maintained that he graduated. He was a voracious reader from a young age and wanted to become an astronomer, although he had issues mastering the necessary mathematics.

Copyright © 2008 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2