The Poetry Question

Discovering the Relevance of Words

I <3 sesquipedalianism

When you’re writing for pleasure and/or publication, how important is vocabulary? Are sesquipedalian writers what we should all strive to be? For those of you currently looking that word up, it’s ok. I wrote this piece and I had to look it up in order to refresh my brain as to its full meaning. I only remembered “sesquip-something” and the fact that it had something to do with the use of words with a lot of syllables. For those of you who didn’t have to look it up at all, even as a refresher, you’re a superhero and I commend you.

What does vocabulary say about you? Some people believe that a large vocabulary conveys intelligence. Others believe that it shows only the ability to memorize and regurgitate. Then there are others that would respond to that by arguing that the ability to memorize and regurgitate is what makes a person intelligent.

I find myself remembering the old trick from elementary school: open the book to the first full-page and read it out loud; if you find five words that you can’t pronounce or do not know the definition of than the book is too difficult for you. Imagine if we still read books that way. I never would have passed any of my college science courses and much of “classic” literature would be completely off-limits to the general public.

I often come across a piece of writing that could use a few more polysyllabic words. Likewise, it seems like I come across many pieces of writing that could use a few less. Is it important that every reader understands what we are saying or should writers refuse to cater to their readers? It seems to me a very easy task, looking up the meaning to a word that you don’t understand; especially with a Google search bar close at hand, Bing on every device, and all kinds of apps that can easily define words, but many readers still refuse to look up words that they don’t understand.

I don’t believe it’s necessary to use words with a lot of syllables in order to express yourself. In fact, I believe that a thesaurus does more damage to the average person’s writing than aids it. Every synonym for a word has its own separate definition and its own appropriate use. One of my college professors refused to use the word “synonym.” Even the definition of the word is an example of why you should be careful when choosing synonyms. Just because a word means “nearly” the same thing doesn’t mean that it’s the right word for the sentence; it is often a “small” word that works perfectly. However, I do believe that it’s important to use words that possess a certain level of difficulty, that showcase a certain level of understanding, if that’s the goal of the piece or it’s the word that best describes what you’re trying to say.

Taylor Mali (teacher, slam poet, author, and friend/contributor to The Poetry Question website) in his poem titled “I Could Be A Poet” says:

And the words, the vocabulary words—
Glaconian, distemic, irrepscenteelia—
Thrown in to remind you
“I am a writer! Eat my Verbal dust!”

Do we do this as writers? Do we occasionally use “big” words just for the thrill of knowing something that someone else doesn’t? If we do, we’re certainly not the only ones. How many historians do you know that name drop famous leaders, spout dates of important historical events, and regurgitate facts that we “should know”? There is a certain amount of pride that an individual must take in their chosen profession and an effective way for writers to do that is to make readers “Eat (our) Verbal dust!”

Write using the words that best convey your message, always. But most importantly, WRITE! Now, go ye forth unto the land and promulgate my words!

One comment on “I <3 sesquipedalianism

  1. kiwiskan
    February 5, 2014

    Oh, I do love this. I had to read it just to find out what sesquipedalianism meant! I like writing short forms like haiku so tend to stick to small words anyway. I do have a thesaurus that gives you the ability to look at all the nuances – the latest Roget’s thesaurus is very good.

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This entry was posted on February 5, 2014 by in COMMENTARY and tagged , , , , , , , .

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