On the occasion of my book launch at Powell's City of Books, I read an excerpt from Froelich's Ladder. I'd already rehearsed in front of friends to identify any tricky sections of text (for example, try saying "tricky sections of text" aloud). But as I stood in front of 60+ people, with a sweaty forehead and a dry mouth, I thought, Holy shit. I've never said this word before.
The word in question was "respite." Yes, I know what it means; I was reading a sentence from my own damn book. But it was possible I'd never used it in conversation before, since it's not something one normally says. "After a brief respite, wanna see the new Ghostbusters movie?" No, that's dumb.
I frequently run into this problem. I've got a good vocabulary; I'm also fairly well-read. Many of the words I use reach me via the printed word, and that's where they remain: I'll later spit them out to narrative effect. Occasionally my stupid brain, in conjunction with my stupid mouth, will think, Hey -- how about that big word? The one Atwood used? Let's use it right now! But never before had I mispronounced a word while standing in arguably the most famous independent bookstore in America, representing a novel I wrote. I may be mistaken, but I think hearing an author butcher a word -- happily! casually! -- disqualifies that author FOREVER. It's like hearing your doctor used the medical term "thingy."
So, what did I do? I cheated: I substituted the word "rest." Crisis averted, I finished the excerpt and made an "x" in the margin to alert my future self. But I need to ensure it doesn't happen again -- or, if it does, that the audience is sufficiently distracted not to notice. Thus, I'm going to deliver all future readings with my fly unzipped. That's better, right?