Eschew Obfuscation

Sometimes words drive me crazy. Why do we have to overcomplicate things? Don’t get me wrong, I love words. I have a (I think) pretty large vocabulary. I can understand most anything I read without having to look words up. I also manage to communicate with fourteen and fifteen year olds without confusing them too much. There is a proper time and place for different levels of vocabulary.

However. As I pursue my Master’s degree in Education, I am reading more and more authors who seem to work hard to use odd, rare, or unnecessary words. My feeling is that they are working hard to “sound smart.”  Is it really necessary to use these words so often?  My problem is this:  Not everyone who pursues as Master’s does so with a strong language background.  A grade school teacher pursuing this degree has to be a master of many trades and spends most of her time working with young people with very low vocabulary.  I would wager that she knows more about math and science than some of these writers do, but they are expecting her to struggle through redundant and overly difficult phrases to figure out meaning.

Many of my colleagues do not read “scholarly” work for this same reason.  They have to work hard for understanding.  If the purpose of these authors is actually to help people understand the world and make it a better place, shouldn’t they adjust their vocabulary?

The problem, of course, is the worry that if we keep “dumbing down” our language, we’ll be a society of verbal idiots.

Am I just so used to conversing with teenagers that my vocabulary has diminished, or do I have a point?  I’d appreciate your input.

I am the language lover and these are my thoughts. 

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3 Comments

  1. Julia said,

    January 21, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    Speaking as one of those teenagers who use big words, I don’t think there is any danger of English getting “dumbed down.” If the more esoteric words in our language fall out of usage, new words will be coined to make up for the lack. When it comes to language, I ruthlessly advocate survival of the fittest and usage-makes-right. It’s not like we’re talking about morality, after all.

    I also think authors who deliberately use confusing diction and syntax are perhaps trying too hard to make up for a lack of content.

  2. renaissanceguy said,

    January 23, 2008 at 5:10 am

    I agree with Julia. The most brilliant writers that I know write clearly and simply. They use “difficult” words only when they are needed to make their writing precise, and then they often make the meaning of those words clear through context.

    I know the sort of writing you are talking about. We poked fun at it in my graduate level composition course. Very often it ends up actually saying nothing.

  3. Mr. Queasy said,

    January 25, 2008 at 1:06 am

    Blaise Pascal once said:

    ‘Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parceque je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.’ [along the lines of ‘Sorry this letter is so long, but I did not have the time to make it shorter’]

    I do agree that, at times, writers indeed attempt to make up for the lack of content with big fancy words. But some other times, I believe that the words a writer picks must be the proper words to match the content and the exact idea they intend to communicate.

    At times I find myself using more fancy words than I should to convey my thoughts to the everyman, but dubbing them down would mean to deprecate the thought.

    That said, I am a language lover as well.


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