Big Word Day — 2021

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.

I Have A Lover

I love language, and because English is the lover I grew up with, I love her best.  She’s subtle and sensible in slingback Louboutins and knee-torn Levis.  She can dance all night, gliding like a princess or grinding the stage burlesque or rustling between the trees like a black wind witch.  Because she is a witch — with conjures that — in magic — change her words to whatever she wants, whenever she wants them.  Yet she prefers straight talk — prepositions and modifiers that let you know exactly where and what and when — even if it isn’t now.

And my lover is a thief, stealing without remorse.  A freebooting pirate who, with cutlass in hand, takes the words she needs — and more — just because she can, gloried by the theft.

She’s an inventor.  Eagerly seduced, she will abandon herself to satisfy whatever necessity desires.

She is a mechanical engineer who fits strange words together with invisible nano-weld precision, producing new tools that exactly fit their employment.

But she’s also a glutton who dines at her sisters’ banquets, selecting the most delicate morsels to claim as her own, licking the tips of her fingers and never tiring of the feast.

Yet my lover remains lean and strong, hunting with the predators, hair flying, howling with the chase, sure-footed and agile.  

And she can be angry, too.  Her voice as fierce as cracked open thunder, her eyes black with homicide.

But she is always a flirt, tempting, enticing, inviting the wanton need to touch and hold and caress the words she speaks.

And she is always beautiful: sometimes drowsy as the sleeping mists of fog on the dawn forest floor; sometimes sad as a puppy’s tears, sometimes quiet as a spider’s abandoned threads and sometimes gauze angel white in the shimmering starlight.

But mostly, my lover loves me.  She laughs and sings and listens.  She speaks only truth (and the occasional lie.)  She stays with me even when I’m foul with blank page fury.  And when I have no words for her – when I’m on the edge of the wilderness, lost and alone, it is she who comes and finds me, and she takes my hand and whispers, “Let’s go home.”

Killing English

We are killing the English language.  I’m not talking about government euphemisms or corporation obfuscation.  No, this is ordinary people taking ordinary words and choking the life out of them.  Let me demonstrate.

Old — Where did all the old people go?  Apparently, they’ve all been rounded up and taken to an over-the-horizon retirement community where they’re enjoying senior living.  (I have no idea what this is BTW, but it seems to involve a lot of manicured lawns, plastic patio furniture and drugs.)  Then, one day, magically, they all become elderly and get carted off to an Elder Care Facility where … uh … I don’t know … we never hear from them again.  But old people?  No, our world doesn’t have any old people. 

Fat — Nobody’s fat these days, so unless you’re a supermodel, you have three choices — plus size, curvy and we’re not going to talk about it.  Apparently, the world believes that if we don’t actually say the word, people won’t know when their pants don’t fit anymore.

Brat — Let’s get real!  Not every obnoxious kid on this planet has a diagnosed illness.  Sometimes, they’re just brats, but if you want to get into a fistfight, mention the word.  It is amazing to me what lengths bad parents will go to, to avoid being called “bad parents” — including saddling their child with an incurable psychological disorder.

Stupid — “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.”  Think about this!  Of course there is, and they’re normally asked by stupid people.  The Law of Probability alone says half the population of this planet is stupider than the other half.  However, use the word to describe someone who is obviously in Group A and you’re liable to get lynched by a Twitter mob.

Ugly — I’m not even going to go there.

Died — When I was a kid, people died.  It was a harsh reality of life.  Then, suddenly, people quit dying and began passing away (like sugar dissolving in the rain.)  It’s a cute idea, but honestly, when someone goes headfirst through the windshield, “he passed away” doesn’t really describe it.  And, of course, these days, folks don’t even pass away anymore; they merely pass (as if it were a spelling test.)  The #1 preoccupation of literature, religion, philosophy and life itself, and we’ve reduced it to this bullshit?  How bland has our existence become?

This is the language of Shakespeare, Blake and Yeats — have some respect.  But the real problem is, as we continue to drown our language in mild, we’re starting to think that way and that scares the hell out of me.

Originally written January, 2016 and gently edited