A "good enough" mom muses about alpha moms, adoption, computers, the State Of The World, Internet quirkiness, and the Kosmik All
Miz Language Person: Eschew sesquipidalianism
Somewhere in OmegaMom's collection of boxes which have been schlepped from house to home to cottage to apartment to the current Big Pile of Logs (thanks, GrrlTravels, for the nickname!), there is a yellowed, aged clipping from the Wall Street Journal. It is one from a series of ads for a product, service or company that I can't remember, but the ad--that I remember very well (though I had to get the exact wording from Anthony Huey).
Keep it Simple. Strike three. Get your hand off my knee. You're overdrawn. Your horse won. Yes. No. You have the account. Walk. Don't walk. Mother's dead. Basic events require simple language. Idiosyncratically euphemistic eccentricities are the promulgators of triturable obfuscation. What did you do last night? Enter into a meaningful romantic involvement, or fall in love? What did you have for breakfast this morning? The upper part of a hog's hind leg with two oval bodies encased in a shell laid by a female bird, or ham and eggs? David Belasco, the great American theatrical producer, once said: "If you can't write your idea on the back of my calling card, you don't have a clear idea."
As I was growing up, OmegaGranny, a journalist by trade, regularly shared with me the philosophy that if there are two words that can be used in one sentence, the shorter the word, the better. It was a case of "Germanic words" versus "Roman words"; in a fight between "gut" and "abdomen", she said, go with your gut. Some people use a variety of words simply because they love words and playing with words, the sounds, the rhythms, the subtle shadings that different words bring--and that attitude comes through. But then, there are some people who can't write without tossing in long words or unusual synonyms as a code for "Hey! Look at me! I'm educated! I know lots of big words!" I read their writing and grit my teeth; most of the words I know, but the phrasing feels forced and awkward. A former copy-editor, I find myself mentally gripping a red pen, savagely crossing out "sagacious" and replacing it with "wise", "savvy" or "observant" taking the place of "perspicacious". I come away from their writing impressed by their snobbery, not by their writing. Many years ago, I stumbled across a fantasy series by Stephen R. Donaldson, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever. Now, I know lots of words--some would say too many. But even I had to read Donaldson's books with a dictionary nearby, looking up at least one word per page, which had the unfortunate byproduct of making the narrative choppy and hard to follow. How can you keep the thread and rhythm of the story when you have to stop, re-read the word, haul out the Big Dic (a little dic wouldn't do because the words were never in there; it had to be the OED), look up the word, then go back and re-read the sentence with the meaning in mind? Fer the love of God and little kittens, why use "clinquant" when "gleaming" or "glistening" are perfectly good words and mean the same thing?? A really rip-roaring good read was turned into drudgery by Donaldson's use of obscure words. Folks, a word of wisdom. If you are thinking of pursuing writing as a career, keep your customer (the reader) in mind. The best way to see if a big word will work is to read your paragraph out loud. If you stumble across that big word, or it sounds clunky in the midst of your sentence, or if you find yourself losing your breath halfway through, stop. Dig out your thesaurus, look up your big word, and go backwards. Look for the smallest words that mean the same thing and have the same shadings of meaning (not just any of the synonyms will do!). Plop them into the paragraph, and re-read it. Remember that if you stumble, your readers are more than likely to stumble, too, and that takes away from the effect you're trying to create. If you're trying to communicate something, showing off your lexicon is the wrong way. The reader doesn't want to know how sagacious and perspicacious you are--the reader wants to be swept away into another world for a while, a world where ringing phones go unanswered, the dishes can wait to be washed, the unpaid bills are ignored, and the book gets carried into the laundry room for one last paragraph before the dryer gets unloaded and the wets go into the dryer. Coming soon: Presenters who read their notes, word-for-word. Argh.
Mr. OmegaMom likes the cut, but says he can't see anything different. My boss, on the other hand, when I snuck back into the presentation rooms to sit in on another session, said, "Oh my Gawd!! I love it! It's red, but it's subtle!" Male versus female.
posted by Kate @ 4/22/2006 09:14:00 AM  
  • At 4/22/2006 01:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anocat said…

    Hey, I wanna see the cut! Where are the pictures? As for presenters who read their entire paper; they are boring, dull, tedious, unexciting, flat, irksome, stodgy, wearisome, insipid, monotonous... I always start by saying, "I'm assuming that you have all read the paper, so..." which gets a laugh if nothing else!


  • At 4/23/2006 03:31:00 AM, Blogger Miss Cellania said…

    I agree. A little dic just won't do.

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About Me
Name: OmegaMom
Home: Southwest
About Me: Middle-aged mom of a 4-year-old adopted from China. Love science, debate, good SF and fantasy, hiking, music of almost every style. Lousy housekeeper. "Good enough" mom.
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