Monday, March 7, 2011

Why use a big word when a little one will do?

When I was a young man growing up, I knew a lot of very smart people. Most of the people that I knew worked as skilled laborers. Either in the woods, the sawmills or in ranching. Most of the old timers had a “homestead” a lot like Old MacDonald’s farm. They built their own houses and grew their own food. Most of them thought that was the way it was supposed to be. When something needed to be done they did it themselves. If they needed a gate hinge or a latch, they found a scrap of iron and heated and pounded on it until it was a hinge or a latch. They probably would have preferred to just buy one, but they thought that was a frivolous waste of money, so they made most of the things that they needed out of the scrap pile. If you visit any of the old ranches around here, you will still find a lot of old hand forged iron laying around, or still in use.

Most of the old timers never had a chance to finish school, but most of them had some kind of a rudimentary education, so they could read and write. The more valuable things that they knew were taught to them by their ancestors. The most remarkable thing that you would readily notice is that they were very adept at the things that they did. What they lacked in education, they more than made up for in skill.

A remarkable thing about them is that they could talk about very complicated tasks that they were performing, and teach you how to do it with great ease. It always amazed me how they used simple words to explain the most detailed task. Most of the old-timers used lots of hand gestures and detailed “show and tell.” It was always plainly obvious what they were detailing.

As kids will do from time to time I would use a word a little to “big” for them. They would admonish me that I shouldn’t use words that I couldn’t spell, and ask me to say it some other way that made more sense. Sometimes they would know the word that I was using, but they were wise enough to know that if there was big word that somebody might not understand that it wasn’t fair to use them, especially when a few simple word will serve as well. Every time that I arrogantly think of using big words, I think of those wise old timers, the wisest people that I ever knew, and chose to use simpler phraseology. I normally would have ended that sentence with “wording” in the place of “phraseology”. See how easy it is to use simple words.

So, I gained a habit of avoiding confusing words whenever I can. I get a lot better results. Plus, I have the added benefit  of having people understand what I’m trying to say. Well… sometimes.

But, just between you and me I like a few big words, ones that explain things better than all the little words that you could ever conjure. Words like “esoteric”, which means: “restricted to initiates: intended for or understood by only an initiated few” See my little pun? But, I know that is a word that would never have been heard around my people. Most people today readily understand that word, but I would imagine that there are a few people today that wouldn’t.

“Euphemistically” is another common word that would leave a few people out of the conversation. It means: “to avoid saying or writing something direct, harsh, unpleasant, or offensive by using milder or more indirect language ”, The word “nicely” would work nicely in it’s place. A euphemism is just a nice way of saying things.

When somebody starts using a lot of big words around me, I immediately start sensing a snow job and listen very carefully. I read a lot, and knowing the big words helps you to understand some writers, and it helps you to follow most conversations, but it seems to me that people that use the biggest words are using their higher education to cover the fact that they don’t know diddly-poop. See? All my folks know diddly-poop, I don’t have to explain that!

Most of the folks that I grew up around never used the word “were”. The word “was” was used for were and was. A kid could have been snickered out of town for using a word like “whom”. Who the heck did a person think they were use high-fallutin” words like “whom”.

So, just for grins, what’s your favorite “Big words” that should be banned from the English language? Or better yet, What words should be words that aren’t? I run into those all the time.
Like the inverse of the word “inverse” should be outverse Right?

30 comments:

omr said...

Ernie, I would like to say more but my pneumonaultramicroscopicsilicovolcaniconiosis is acting up today...cough, cough.

omr said...

even Wordpress don't like big words!
that wuz pneumonaultramicroscopic-
silicovolcaniconiosis.

Anonymous said...

omr, I did pick up on the "sili" part of that word.

Oregon

charlie two crows said...

Omr..........Is that something you catch at the Cottontail or Angel's Ladies?

Ernie Branscomb said...

Omr
Just stay away from volcanic ash clouds and it should clear up.

Ernie Branscomb said...

I was just complaining about the dictionary function on my word processer program. The kid that works here wanted to know why I would need a dictionary. I explained that it was just in case somebody used a word here that I didn't know, like a "big word". his reply was: "Well, those are all just 'old people' words anyway, nobody in their right mind uses them".

Just in case any of you wondered, my languge is now obsolete....

Robin Shelley said...

Yippee yi-o ki-a,
Riding around your way,
Here comes Quick Draw McGraw.
The high-falutin'est,
Fastest shootin'est,
Cowboy you ever saw.
That's Quick Draw McGraw.

This has little to do with what you're asking us to do, Ernie, but you used the word "highfalutin" & that is a great word. It reminded me of Quick Draw.

Anonymous said...

Folks just can't help but love Robin:-)

Oregon

Ernie Branscomb said...

Darn, I'm out working and I wanted to be here for the fun. Give me you best words and I'll figger um out fer ya.

Ernie Branscomb said...

This is for OMR

He and I were talking the other day and I was showing him a “screed” that I was using to top level a concrete floor. He looked confused and said that he thought that a "screed" was a long and boring dissertation. I looked confused and I said that I thought it was a board to level concrete with. It turns out that we were both right.

screed [skreed]
(plural screeds)
n
1. lengthy piece of writing: a long and often tedious piece of writing or speech

2. construction guide for plastering: a strip of plaster, wood, or other material placed on a surface as a guide to the correct thickness of plaster or concrete to be applied there

3. construction board for leveling: a board or tool used to level a layer of concrete, sand, or other loose material

4. construction top layer: a smooth top layer on a concrete floor or other surface

[14th century. Variant of shred "torn strip"]

Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Why is it that there is a “proclivity” a “declivity“, but no “inclivity?” There is a "decline" amd and "incline" but no "procline". Foul! Those are all words that I would use someday if they were words.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Define the word “ Of” without using “of”.

Hey, I'm on a roll here. It's obvious that i'm th eonly one having fun with this so, keep checking. The English languge has always facinated and annoyed me.

Like, if somebody knows what you mean to say or should have said, why do they need to correct you???

Ernie Branscomb said...

Yeah, I know. The typos were my little joke!

charlie two crows said...

Ernie.......Did you have a bull float?

Ernie Branscomb said...

Nope, I don't have one, but I've used the heck out of one. They have long handles to push why out in the middle of the concrete pour. They are used to work the rock down and bring the "cream" to the top. The smaller hand held version is called a "Darbie". The little chunks of concrete that are wired to the rebar to hold them up into the pour are also called "darbies" go figur.

charlie two crows said...

Ernie.....Have you ever used (Fibermesh) instead of Hogwire? Now there's a word. My. Porta-gee friends call them Doebies.

olmanriver said...

Contumely is a word I wish people wouldn't use so much. A "contumely lass".... terrible adjective for women. Jane Russell was very contumely... but I can think of better words to describe her.

Anonymous said...

Dang-it omr, I had to look up "adjective".

Oregon

laura said...

I'm sure i'm guilty of using big words, because i love language and get a real thrill out of using the most fitting terms i can find. Sometimes fancy words just keep showing up, and eventually people take them on and start using them. But there is one thing i despise: when writers use some kind of online thesaurus to vary their vocabulary and, i guess, to impress us; using words that nobody (probably not even the thesaurus authors) has ever used. So you have to use a dictionary to read them. Just ridiculous.

Oh, i do have a pet peeve in journalism: the use of the word "temblor" to relieve overuse of "earthquake." Don't even get me started on the stupidity of that word which i have never in my life heard spoken in normal conversation.

laura said...

Just noticed that to stay in the plain-speaking style i kept with the simple word "use", employing some form of it eight times in that last post. Overuse of use. OK with youse? :-)

Robin Shelley said...

One of my favorite sayings is: If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull.

Ekovox said...

Ernie, did you ever get your "comeupins" when you were growing up?

I'm guessing these newcomers probably won't be "horngswaggling" you anytime soon.

And, did you ever replace that "catawampus" wheel on your wheelbarrow?

(omr) said...

pssst. Charlie... they are all gone from the thread... give me an address for your 10:06 comment and I will do some research and get back to you on that.

o(leaginous)manriver said...

It just stultifies my mind that people don't wany hear big words.
Would it be infelicitous of me to continue to extravasate blandishments both prurient and concupescent in a puissant conatus to bring opprobrium to my tatterdemalion sobriquet?
I expect no oblations, calumny will be heaped, we may have a fratching, you may never again throw a blog chari vari for me ... but I, the pusillanimous rhetor, shall never abjure bloviating ordure in words as turgent as they are fulsome!

...is that what you were talking about Robin?

olmanriver said...

wany is not a word, don't let this guy BS you... he must have meant "want".

Robin Shelley said...

OLEO, that is exactly what I am talking about. I don't understand a word of what you said but I believe every word because you say it with such, ah, authority. I am dazzled by your vocabulary & your command of the language.

OMAR, "wany" is a word used in certain dialects prevalent in the southern part of this country. It's a bastardization of "wanna".
I am baffled as to why you rushed to correct your alter ego when,in fact, he wasn't wrong at all. Hmmmm.

omr said...

I do owe my altered ego an apology it would seem Robin, thanks for pointing that out.

I'll do it in person though, and not online.

My old newspaper gleanings are a rich trove of out of use words and phrases... which I can't resist learning.

Robin Shelley said...

"It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like 'What about lunch?' "
- Winnie the Pooh

charlie two crows said...

OMR......brothelangelsladies.com This is the Psstttt.site you requested. They have a natural hot spring and good ice tea.

olmanriver said...

I could use a good hotsprings C2C, but am way too popular here at the resthome to ever have to uh, enter there.