Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A sesquipedalian manifesto

The first place I saw this thingamabob—

was at philosophy professor Rob's blog, and he clocked in at genius reading level. How many levels are there between high school and genius? I don't know. I need to jack my vocabulary up, way up, to find out. At least I'm not at the junior high or elementary school level. That would make me sad. Not that there's anything wrong with blogs that are, apparently, easier to read—I enjoy 'em, after all.

Somebody—maybe Strunk and White, maybe a high-school English teacher—advised me to use a simpler, shorter word whenever possible. Why say gargantuan when big will do? Well, because sometimes gargantuan is what we mean, and big can't always embrace the level of meaning that's intended.

Erin McKean of Dictionary Evangelist wrote about the worth of using le mot juste when it's the sort of unusual word that your reader will be delighted to make the acquaintance of. Erin linked to writer James Meek's article in the Guardian, "From albedo to zugunruhe." Meek made a point of jotting down unfamiliar words he encountered in his reading and learning their meanings. Now, you may well need to look up five or ten (or thirty-five) of the words Meek mentions, but your vocabulary will be richer for it.

I'm always enchanted to find a word I don't know (unless, say, it's during the crossword tournament and said word is killing me), especially if it's in a friend's blog or e-mail. "Wow!" I muse. "She knows how to wield this word and I don't. She must be frightfully bright and well-read." I love learning that about someone, and I appreciate the opportunity to add to my vocabulary.

It's also fun to impress someone with an aptly chosen word, isn't it?


Narya said...

It also had a noticeable effect on the stepson. His paternal aunt and father and I all used big words all the time, defining them if needed, and I think it made him less afraid of them.

The Absent Minded Housewife said...

I don't have to scan my blog. I already know it's at the level of 13 year old boy.

I will never be done telling fart jokes. Ahem, flatulence is funny. Methane is droll.

Psycho Kitty said...

I have been teased for years over using "audible" during regular conversation. How I suffer.

And yo, lady! Edit out that sneaky addware from your label up there! :)

(P.S. I got rid of the squirrels for you.)

Orange said...

PK, what adware? I already did edit out the obvious chunk of advertising that followed the reading level box. What label?? Thank you for jettisoning your squirrels, dear. Also? "Audible" is like visible or edible—a plain and simple word. What, they want you to say "um, y'know, like, it's loud enough that you can hear it? Like that" instead of "audible"?

bitchphd said...

I'm elementary....

Psycho Kitty said...

Actually, yes, I think they did. Perhaps they just found it entertaining that I used it in reference to a fart.

I totally agree with your word-recognition theory, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Oh, thank G-d. I was so embarrased to be at elementary-school level, and then I saw that the incredibly brilliant BitchPhD is there, too. So I'll reclassify the two of us as "brilliantly accessible."

What English degree?

E. said...

Yeah, my blog's elementary-school too level, too. And I have a damn Ph.D. in English (like the estimable Dr. B).

It might just be that no matter how big your vocabulary is, if you use the word "poop" enough times on your blog, you'll be classified as grade school material. And if that's the case, I may never make it to ninth grade.