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?