Big Bad Words

Dictionary

Recently I have had the urge to use a few big words in my writing. Words I do not normally use like pantheon, peripatetic, truculent, paucity, exacerbate, etc. Words I would never use in normal conversation. I am sure this desire is because of what I have been reading lately online and in newspapers and magazines. When you see others using these words, you begin to think it’s okay for you to use them.

I have resisted. Because I have also been sent to the dictionary several times recently to look up words I encountered whose meanings I did not know! (By “dictionary” I mean Google.) I do not want someone who reads my writing to have to do that. (By “my writing” I mean media releases, pitches, marketing emails, social media posts, blog posts, movie reviews, etc.)

How can I know who will read what I have written? How well educated are the people on my clients’ email lists? Will my clients’ followers be impressed or confused by a multisyllabic adjective in a Facebook post (especially when a simpler term would have almost the same meaning)? Will the news producer or editor (or intern) who opens newsroom emails know what peripatetic means?

Do you remember sportscaster Howard Cosell? As a lawyer turned broadcaster, Cosell attempted to impress viewers with his vocabulary. Often, his word choices were spot on. Other times, he came off as a pompous ass. Occasionally, after Cosell had pontificated employing his would-be literary style, a broadcast partner such as Don Meredith would put Cosell’s flowery prose into simple-to-understand language. It was entertaining stuff.

There are appropriate times and places for these big words. But in most cases, the simpler, more common word will do just as well. I am hoping my urge will not be exacerbated.

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