I like big words, and I cannot lie…okay, I can’t rap to save my life so I will end my parody of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” right there! However, the truth remains that I love big words; I think they add spice to a message. I am a sesquipedalianist and I think it hysterical that "abbreviated" is eleven letters long.
Once upon a time “50-cent words”, as English teachers tend to call them, were used as a sign that someone was highly educated – or at least erudite, so as to hide the fact that the speaker lacked a formal education. Using large words was a way to impress people, to make them think twice before trying to cheat you. Unfortunately, as with all good things, the use of big words has been abused over the years and has led to their use to appear more like parody than serious business. How many of us have received an office memo laden with the use of polysyllabic words that could have just as easily been written without a bouquet of flowery language? In fact, cutting out the attempts at sophistication would result in an easier to understand message. In the end, isn’t that the purpose of communication – to get your point across to someone in a way that is easily understood?
Sadly, in the downward spiral that education has taken overthe last several years, the use of the dictionary has also waned; simple definitions that were once commonly known are now foreign to many, hindering proper communication. This begs the question, who is responsible for rectifying the situation, the Communicator or the Recipient? Since starting Ask Tazi! I have been party to both sides of essaying – as a reader and as a Writer/Editor. I have learned much from my readers, but I am still unable to answer this one nagging question: If an Essayist writes an article using a word or concept that a reader does not understand, does that make the essay less worthy of attention or the dictionary more worthy of it? In order to combat ignorance, is it the author’s obligation to define the concept or the reader’s obligation to learn? How much are people be expected to know? How much should they be expected to know?
Obviously, every article has an audience, so let me rephrase my last question: How much should general audiences be expected to know, and how much should an essayist need to define for them? Some words, like pusillanimous, tend to sound like their meaning (as one man so genteelly defined this word, it means “not a real man”).
|What did you just call me?|
On the other end of the spectrum are words like “phlegmatic”, which sounds like a coughing fit but actually means “calm, not easily excited”. Why not just use the word “calm”? I, for one, never want anyone to tell me that I am looking particularly phlegmatic today!
While one should not be expected to remember all their SAT words [Ed. Note: I remember pusillanimous, but I had to look up phlegmatic] there should be a certain standard to which the average person must strive to reach! Yes, I said must, lest communication devolve into a series of grunts and hand gestures reminiscent of your ancestral past as cave-people. Yes, I said “your”, not “our”. I am a cat, and we cats have an advanced method of communication involving tail-twitching, purring, hissing, and of course our famous facial expressions:
|I'm grumpy and I know it...and now you know, too!|
Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with a Bachelors of Arts in Communications. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.