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When I get mad at my father, when we fight, my vocabulary gets bigger.  I use bigger words, words that I know he can’t understand, words that he can’t define.  Sometimes, when I’m really super-fly pissed I can rattle off an entire sentence of which only a fair few English majors can actually follow.

I do this because I know he can’t understand what I’m saying.  I do this because it belittles his intelligence, or at least his vocabulary & that’s the aspect of his personality that I can draw real blood from.  I don’t have to raise my voice to make a point with dad, all I have to do is smarten up my vocabulary.  When people fight, especially family that loves & cherishes one another, you tend to not pull your punches.  My family is harder on their relatives than we are on our enemies.  It’s just the way things work, at least in this family.

I feel guilty about it afterwards.  Partially because I use big words to belittle my father & that’s just wrong, but partly because I used big words.

When I was in my first year of college & dating an Art Major, I had an extremely large & physically fit vocabulary.  I would never use a small word when I could throw in ten cent word & impress the hell out of someone.  I have a lot of ten cent words stored away, it comes from reading a lot as a child & even more as an adult.

Back in the day, back when I was dating the art major, I used a lot of them.  She hung out with a very faux bohemian crowd & they all used very big words.  They also had mommy & daddy paying for college & their off campus apartments.  I sort of wanted to fit in.

A couple of years later, however, I was listening to one of them talk & thought “this guy is a pretentious asshole.”  That hit me pretty hard.  I spoke like him, I wrote like him.  I was a pretentious asshole just as much as he was, the only difference was I was a pretentious asshole in a pair of denim jeans that were faded & torn from time & work & he was a pretentious asshole in a pair of denim jeans that he brought because they were torn & faded.

There is a big difference between someone that wears a pair of jeans until they look like hell & someone that buys a pair of jeans that it looks like I’ve owned for years.  That difference starts with ten cent words, at least that’s where it starts when you are both attending college.

I took a hard 180 & I’ve been extremely stubborn about it ever since.  I’ve been stubborn enough about the use of big words to NOT be intransigent about it.  Sure, I’ll drop a big word in every here in there, but it’s always the heat of the moment sort of thing & generally either when I’m pissed at my father, or it’s the first word that pops into mind & don’t want to take the time to find another.

I’m also a big advocate of using the first words that pop into your head.  That’s why I say “fuck” so often.   Fuck is a great word.  Fuck is such a great word that they made a fucking documentary about it.

I came to the conclusion that that captain pretentious, who by the way my art major ex would be dating in two years, had a limited audience.  He had an audience that was so limited that only the people that could understand him could tolerate him.  He & my father would never mix in the same social circles, in fact, he & a lot of my friends would never mix in the same social circles.  Some of my friends would likely kick his ass.

I came to the conclusion that there was no point in using words that people like my father couldn’t understand.  Dad’s a pretty good guy, he’s also a pretty savvy guy despite his limited vocabulary.  Why should I say or write something that isn’t accessible to him & people like him?

Who does that serve, honestly?  I think I have a pretty solid point here.  Not to say that ten-cent words don’t have their place, if your Thomas Hobbes you can use ten-cent words.  Check that, if your Thomas Hobbes you have to use ten cent words, he was defending a rule by absolute sovereign.  When you’re making that argument the less people that can understand you the better off you are.   Big words make you sound as intelligent as they make you sound pretentious & if you are writing the Leviathan you need to sound intelligent & you need to use very big words.  The less people understand you & the smarter they think you are the better you can convince them that an aristocracy is a good idea.

The same goes with people like Nietzsche, people like him have to dazzle you with bull shit & big words are great for that little trick.

But then, if you get to people like Marx, people that have a point & actively want everyone to understand them, ten cent words become a liability.  If they use big words they are alienating the base & distancing themselves from the people they actually want & need to reach.  The same goes for Mill & Paine.  They have to use smaller words even if it means longer sentences.  Their message can’t afford to be lost to a single reader.

In my year teaching I’ve seen pretty smart kids throw away some pretty good shit because Hamilton was too dense to realize that big words wouldn’t win him the argument, at least not among the common people.  And those are the people you want to reach, right?

If you are writing something, if you are giving a speech, if you are arguing in class, if you are bull shitting at a bar, you want everyone to be able to follow what you’re saying.  A lawyer can’t expect to win a case if he uses words that the jury can’t understand, they’ll feel alienated & when they go to deliberation, they’ll probably find the client guilty.

Why risk it?  Why take the pains to use verbiage that can only be appreciated by a few select individuals, it leaves them befuddled & makes you sound pretentious.   Bring your vocabulary down to the LCD, most of the big words out there are out-of-date, language evolves, & this is the English language we are talking about here.  Sure, French might be pure, if by pure you mean a bastard language with and Germanic father and a Latin mother, but who knows how many fucking languages you are reading right know.

You know the first rule of genetics?  Spread the genes apart.  The same works for languages.  English might be a fucked up & difficult language to learn because it’s genes are so spread out, but on the other hand it also makes English the most adaptable and expressive language on the face of the earth.  We add & subtract words more often than any other, we are the most adaptable language in the world, our language is warped to fit the people that speak it.  Look at Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Be like Buffy, use a language that everyone can understand.

Be like Buffy.

Be like Buffy.

Be like Buffy,

 

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