Sunday, November 14, 2010

Expunge your vocabulary

(Sorry, no art today. Just introspeciton.)

When I was younger, I was constantly trying to learn bigger and bigger words. I figured the more words I knew, the better, and it was often the case that I'd learn a word, and realize something I had said incorrectly at some point in the past, had been incorrect simply because what I was trying to say was something I didn't know the word for yet. I used these aforementioned "big words" copiously, to the extent of being indiscriminate (kind of like I'm doing in this sentence). I figured if I had learned them, being just a kid, the reader had to have learned them too, especially if they were older, right?

I didn't realize that I wasn't right until I changed schools.

The fact is, when I changed schools I discovered that:
  • Not all schools have spelling tests (often, the words I had to learn for my spelling tests were words I didn't previously know)
  • Not all schools motivate children to read (reading is where you're "supposed" to pick up new words from)
  • Not all schools give children the chance to practice free writing (and if you don't write, where are you going use the words you know?)
  • Some schools actually encourage plagiarism (usually indirectly, but if you're that okay with using other people's work, you're not writing, and hence cannot have your writing checked to see if you're using the words you've learned correctly)
"Oh, come on!" you probably say. "You can't spend your life traumatized because you had to move!" Actually, it's not a trauma. This taught me how the world works and why it is in the shape it's in. "Round?" Quiet.
The point is, I realized that if I wanted to be understood, no matter who I was to talk to, I needed to avoid using the "big words". I needed to stick to the "short", colloquial words everybody knew. There are some exceptions, of course, such as when the "big word" word is the only thing that's appropriate (suppose I had used "credible" or "believable" instead of "verisimilar" in this post; it goes from positive feedback to borderline harsh criticism!)

I acknowledge that I have judged wrongly when to "dumb down" my word choice (and have even been told so direclty) but I believe it's easier to get your point across when you don't have to send your interlocutor to the dictionary (like I probably just did with you).
"Hey, I know perfectly 'interlocutor' is just a short way to say 'the person you're talking to'!" Didn't I tell you to keep quiet? "Uh... no?"

What you're probably wondering– "I'm not–" What the rest of you are probably wondering, is why I'm posting about this. Did I just, out of the blue, decide to take a swipe at my old school? Well, no, nothing like that. I just feel I lost it for amoment when I posted the following:
Despite your quabbling about your bad spelling, this is actually the first time I’ve found a spelling mistake ... Perhaps the problem is not orthographical, but grammatical ...
"Quabbling"? "Orthographical"? I haven't heard –let alone used– those words in three to eight years. Why didn't I think twice before putting them down there? Why did I do that, especially after having used "verisimilar" in the same week?

Medically speaking, I haven't been sleeping right due to my coursework, so maybe my brain's inhibi-- (I'm doing it again, aren't I?) restra-- (...) the parts of my brain that tell me when to hold back, weren't working properly. However, there's another thing behind them: In those comments, I was speaking directly to the author and I knew it. I also knew (albeit subconsciously) that the author must know those words, especially if they are authors.

"So... publish and you automatically become smarter." Wha--? No, that's not how it works!


  1. I was all poised to say "This taught me how the world works; I guess God knows what he's doing." But, as you can concievably percieve, I was gratuitously interrupted by a hypothetical conception.

  2. Luckily I'm a writer, and that has smartened me up good. Seriously, though, we need more thinkers, not less. Despite all our technology and advances, we seem to be getting dumber every year.

  3. There's still hope. Mary Ann Belliveau, director of health for Google, has said, "For a long time, people were doing one or two word queries, but now we're getting more sophisticated."

    If people are learning to search, it isn't too much of a stretch to think that they're also learning to think. I guess my preocupation is that there may be a communication barrier between the upcoming thinkers, and the existing ones.

  4. Uh, the fashion (ton) of getting into (intro) species?

    Good eye.