A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
What this planet needs is Big Word Day. One day a month (I suggest the first Monday) when we’re allowed to use those big godawful words that make us all sound like pompous asses. Then, at midnight, everybody has to go back to talking (and writing) like regular people. Big Word Day would not only clear the air of pretentious language, it would shorten business meetings, reduce government bullshit and keep corporations from drowning us in doublespeak policies, warranties, guarantees and disclaimers. (What’s the difference between a warranty and a guarantee, anyway?) I know big words are tempting and I’m as guilty as the next person, so I understand why we like to sound as if we just stepped off Oxford Common — but it’s getting out of hand. We don’t buy things anymore; we purchase them. We don’t help; we facilitate. We don’t think; we conceptualize. And — horror upon horrors — we don’t talk; we verbalize.
The big problem with big words is people don’t think that way. We think in broad abstractions that get translated into words when we speak (or write) so we can communicate meaning. For example, when I write “John saw a girl” unless you’re a Himalayan holy man who’s lived alone in a cave for 50 years, you see the girl, too. Your girl and John’s girl might not look the same, but the meaning is clear. This is because my words are a direct translation of my thoughts. However, when I write, “John observed a girl” things get a little muddled. Suddenly, because of nuance and connotation, John isn’t passive anymore. The girl is still the object of the sentence but John is definitely more involved. He’s deliberately doing something. Hey! Wait a minute! Who is this guy? What is he, some kind of stalker? You see, the meaning has changed. This might be a bit of an exaggeration (after all, I haven’t clarified whether John had binoculars or not) but my point is it’s more difficult to translate words into meaning when they’re carrying extra baggage. And big words all carry tons of baggage.
Don’t get me wrong; big words are important. English is a precise language with surgical accuracy, so I don’t want to get rid of big words altogether. I just think, these days, they’ve slipped the leash and I want to corner them and get them under control again. Big Word Day would do that. It would force us to quit utilizing big words all the time and only use them when they’re necessary. Plus, and this is the good bit, jerks with an intellectual chip on their shoulders would have to shut the hell up most of the time — and that alone would be worth it.