Using “Big” Words June 8, 2010

On the Use of “Big” Words

Often wordsmiths, (my sister refers to me as a wordsculptor), those regular users of words who have acquired a varied and mature vocabulary come under fire for the use of certain words that may not be in ‘regular’ use in the vulgate of the vulgus. (Vulgate and vulgus, two words, themselves likely to cause incensed reaction as well as arched and scratched brows.)  Words have always held beauty for me, whether it was aural or visual.  I have the strange facility to use words, in context, which I may never have even attempted to spell.  This can obviously cause me to rush to the dictionary to make sure of the spelling as well as make sure of usage… and parenthetically, I will often find there ‘new’ words to add to my vocabulary.

So it is that as I write, I often use words that have a specific meaning and use, though they are, unfortunately, no longer common to some people.  This is the usual instance when those unfamiliar with the word, will often, to disguise their own less full vocabulary, make fun of the speaker or writer for using “big” words.  True, to ask for the definition of a word can be embarrassing, but moreover it is enlightening.  The question I always ask myself when ‘challenged’ for using a “big” word is whether the challenger is scared of being embarrassed or being enlightened.  If their bravado is to put me down for using a word they are not familiar with, I know where they stand.  Enlightenment is not their path.  If you possess a light, you may have a duty to hold up that lamp.  However, you can only hold the lamp up in the darkness; you can make others either come to the light or follow you as you walk.

Now, on the other hand, if I or someone else is using “big” words for supercilious or spurious purposes, just to make themselves sound ‘grand’, then they may deserve some comeuppance.   I am about expression, about describing the babbling of a brook, the murmuring of a stream, or the plaintiveness of a far off train whistle.  If you know the meanings of sibilant and susurrant, few other words could better describe the sounds made by the gentle rustling of leaves or the whisper of wind through the trees.   As a poet, a large pallet of words increases the poet’s ability to paint beautiful and varied pictures.  Rather than limiting my vocabulary, I have striven to increase it and make use of it.

In general, I use the same rule of thumb in novels.  I use language suitable and true to individual characters, but I do not dumb-down my character’s vocabulary just to make sure that I, the author, do not offend those easily embarrassed by words they haven’t seen before, as if they are scared of the dark.  If it’s dark where you are, find a light or find someone who has a light.  To me, the dictionary is the flashlight of the mind.

Some years ago, as you can see by the dates below, I interacted with a critique group of poets and true to their nature one critic among them was critical of my choice of words, in particular the use of ‘big’ words, or so it seemed. When I read, “Letter Postmarked Paris”, he ‘famously’ said of my use of “erubescent” after I explained that it means, in one sense, reddish, “why don’t you just use red!”  When I read “Caribbean Aunt”, I was chastened for my use of the word “languid”.  Again after I defined the word and explained the word was also a metaphor, he huffed and said something to the affect of, ‘use a more common word’.  As and example he said, “Like ‘embrace’, why don’t you just say hold?  I’d change embrace to hold or holding.”

By way of further example, I wrote: “Seven Faces of a Languid Shore”.  Its inner message, regarding word use, went unnoticed.  Ditto, the poem “On the difference: holding and embracing”.

If it sounds as though I am setting myself above, then you misinterpret my passion for words, for writing and how I feel it is accessible to all those who will apply themselves.  If, on the other hand, you have no passion to write I suspect you will find my attitude haughty, if not downright high and mighty.  (How’s that for mixing metaphorical directions.)

To See Attachments, click on the link below which you takes to its page, then click on the active link there to read the pdf.

letter postmarked Paris [r] 2columns

Caribbean Aunt -

seven faces of a languid shore

On the difference – holding and embracing


 

On the Use of “Big” Words

Often wordsmiths, (my sister refers to me as a wordsculptor) regular users of words, who have acquired a varied and mature vocabulary come under fire for the use of certain words that may not be in ‘regular’ use in the vulgate of the vulgus. (Vulgate and vulgus, two words, themselves likely to cause incensed reaction as well as arched and scratched brows.) Words have always held beauty for me, whether it was aural or visual. I have the strange facility to use words, in context, which I may never have even attempted to spell. This can obviously cause me to rush to the dictionary to make sure of the spelling as well as make sure of usage.

So it is that as I write, I often use words that have a specific meaning and use, though they are, unfortunately, no longer common to some people. This is the usual instance when those unfamiliar with the word, will often, to disguise their own less full vocabulary, make fun of the speaker or writer for using “big” words. True, to ask for the definition of a word can be embarrassing, but moreover it is enlightening. The question I always ask myself when ‘challenged’ for using a “big” word is whether the challenger is scared of being embarrassed or being enlightened. If their bravado is to put me down for using a word they are not familiar with, I know where they stand. Enlightenment is not their path. If you possess a light, you may have a duty to hold up that lamp. However, you can only hold the lamp up in the darkness; you can make others either come to the light or follow you as you walk.

Now, on the other hand, if I or someone else is using “big” words for supercilious or spurious purposes, just to make themselves sound ‘grand’, then they may deserve some comeuppance. I am about expression, about describing the babbling of a brook, the murmuring of a stream, or the plaintiveness of a far off train whistle. If you know the meanings of sibilant and susurrant, few other words could better describe the sounds made by the gentle rustling of leaves or the whisper of wind through the trees. As a poet, a large pallet of words increases the poet’s ability to paint beautiful and varied pictures. Rather than limiting my vocabulary, I have always striven to increase it and make use of it.

In general, I use the same rule of thumb in novels. I use language suitable and true to individual characters, but I do not dumb-down my character’s vocabulary just to make sure that I, the author, do not offend those easily embarrassed by words they haven’t seen before, as if they are scared of the dark. If it’s dark where you are, find a light or find someone who has a light. To me, the dictionary is the flashlight of the mind.

Some years ago, as you can see by the dates below, I interacted with a critique group of poets and true to their nature one critic among them was critical of my choice of words, in particular the use of ‘big’ words, or so it seemed. When I read, “Letter Postmarked Paris”, he ‘famously’ said of my use of “erubescent” after I explained that it means, in one sense, reddish, “why don’t you just use red!” Then a week or so later when I read “Caribbean Aunt”, he chastised me for my use of the word “languid”. Again after I defined the word for him, and explained the word was also a metaphor, he huffed and said something to the affect of, ‘use a more common word’. As and example he said, “Like ‘embrace’, why don’t you just say hold? I’d change embrace to hold or holding.”

By way of example, the next week I wrote and brought in to read: “Seven Faces of a Languid Shore”. It’s inner message regarding word use went unnoticed. As did my poem “On the difference: holding and embracing”.

If it sounds as though I am setting myself above, then you misinterpret my passion for writing and how I feel it is accessible to all those who will apply themselves. If, on the other hand, you have no passion to write I suspect you will find my attitude haughty, if not downright high and mighty. (How’s that for mixing metaphorical directions.)

See below:

letter postmarked Paris (excerpt)

Caribbean Aunt

seven faces of a languid shore

On the difference: holding and embracing

letter postmarked Paris [r]

the river ran chocolate with the loam

of cornfields not yet sprouted

[no telling how many of its seeds

will germinate on Planter’s Bar

down river]

the rains have just this moment ceased

the weary, cloying clouds wrung clean,

still cling closely overhead

holding to the tips of trees like a halo

like wet fingers holding cotton-candy

my footprints stagger backwards across

the black skin of the field

each step a further sticky-coating

on my Wellington’s

which now stand frozen-in-place where

I stepped out of them

to climb the ladder to my old tree-house

once a freshly painted childhood refuge

now a very wrinkled face

that looks down and over a usually quiet

and erubescent river

Caribbean Aunt

when I would go down to the beach

to play, you would bear me upon your

shoulders and when I tired…

I could sit beside you all day long

[you were such good company]

I could tell you anything

and you would talk to me,

[as few grown-ups would]

at bedtime you would lull me to sleep

and comfort me, should I awake;

the ever-present nanny

whose voice calmed me to my core

then I moved far away from you

away from your languid shores

to the whine of emergency vehicles

to the purr and rattle of city streets

some nights, atop cliffs of city roofs

I turn toward, where I think you’ll be

and listen for the slap of your arms

against the side of your sandy thighs

sometimes I can almost see your white

foamy hair reaching out to embrace me

[wearing that brooch

of emerald green and blue]

as I yearn to once again snuggle

in that bosom of the sea.

I miss you Auntie Caribe.

©rjs 4/15/99

seven faces of a languid shore:

apathetic, inert, listless, sleepy, slow, weak, weary

when I moved away from your languid shores,

I had forgotten:

how apathetic your approaching waters

how inert you seemed

how often listless you felt,

barely moving on and off the beach

a sleepy version of your deeper self

then I remembered:

a personality slow to anger

replete with weakness,

a weary baby’s breath of spittle

changing, churning

with dropping pressures

into hurricanes of histrionics

©rjs 4/23/99

On the difference: holding and embracing

[or - why don’t you change embrace to hold]

My dear I am asked these questions,

by your father and knavish older brother:

did I hold you, or did I embrace you

on this night last?

Would that I knew their answer’s need,

to praise or to rail me, of these questions

I will ask; what say you?

Did I clasp your hand and lift it to my lips?

Yes you did.

Did I put my arm around your waist and draw

you near?

Why, yes you did.

Did I offer to convey you in my arms away?

With swoon, it is the truth.

Did my eyes set upon you, greedily feasting,

till your reluctant maiden’s eyes, looked away?

By account of mine own blush, you did.

Did I encircle you within my passion’s need?

I was so surrounded.

Did I grip you so that you might not escape?

Well, no you did not.

Did I restrain you in any way.

My love, you did most certainly not!

Did I by brawn’s wit compel or control you?

No, I surrendered most willingly.

Did I by wit’s brawn alter your mental state?

No, I love thee of mine own free will.

Did we, among the blanket’s smooth glade,

this night last, come to know each other?

Yes, we were as two swans entwined.

Did I offer you my love and all its sustenance?

Oh yes, my love, more than once!

Then my love, I must honestly inform your father

and advise your scoundrel brother

That I did never hold you on this night last…

but did most abandon-ly embrace you!

©rjs 4/23/99


 

faces, a metaphor for levels

One Response to “Using “Big” Words”

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