Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The abuse of "big" words

You can tell a good writer by many things. One is his or her judicious use of so-called "big" words. He or she sprinkles them carefully and with pleasure, like fine seasoning, into the writing that (ok, I'm sick of he-or-sheing everything -- we're going to assume our writer is a she for the rest of this entry) she creates. They are used only when a lesser word won't do or wouldn't be as much fun to play with. There's a time and a place for the likes of lachymorose, and a time for simple tears.

A poor writer dumps big words into her verbal stewpot like so much salt -- and impresses no one. A poor writer keeps a well-worn thesaurus by her side; a good writer rarely, if ever, touches the thing.

I hate jargon. I see it everyday in my job. Today I am editing some pretentious document on the subject of educational communications, which insists that all stakeholders in the division are to communicate clearly and effectively. This hopeful statement is buried deep within a swamp of awful jargon that no normal human being could possibly understand -- making it, what, laughable? Hypocritical?

The document writer even trotted out the word andragogy at one point. I assume, by breaking it up into its parts, that it must mean the teaching of humans. However, the giant dictionary in our office doesn't have the word listed, which means it's very likely the bonehead writer made it up from pedagogy, in an effort to sound Very Knowledgeable Indeed.

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