How does elated differ from happy? Discourse from chat? Asymmetric from different? I grant you, there are some subtle differences but, at the most basic level, the words have the same meaning. Something I have noticed recently is that literature can be split between ‘highbrow’ and ‘lowbrow’ (although some call it ‘midbrow’ and that doesn’t even make sense!). Typically absurd expressions that would indicate that you were either an Erudite or Neanderthal. Anyone seen any of those around recently?
Personally, I blame the academics. This is where I become a hypocrite as, although you may not believe it, I am or can be classed as an academic. I have a diploma in Procrastination and believe me, it was a complete waste of time! But there again we have a long word where a short one would suffice.
However, I digress. I believe that academics need to use those rarely used, multi-syllable words in order to impress how clever and well read they are. The chances are that most of the listeners only pretend to understand what is being said, sagely nodding their heads in a pseudo-intellectual manner before heading toward the nearest dictionary and hoping that their phonetic spelling of the few words they remembered will be adequate in finding said words just to find out what the sesquipedalian loquaciousness wannabe was talking about!
I confess that I am occasionally guilty of using some obscure multi-syllable words when a few short words would work equally well and would probably make the sentence easier to digest. The words I do tend to use, however, are far removed from some of the words used in some of the ‘highbrow’ literature of today.
One evening, just before my daily dose of mind bending drugs, I was listening to Radio 4 (when did I stop listening to Radio 1 and move to Radio 4??) and the author Will Self was on ‘A Point of View‘ and his subject was ‘In defence of obscure words’. I admit, I was fascinated. I had never heard of Will Self before and listening to him talk about the fact that our children are ‘afflicted by falling standards’ in their education.
Having been in an instructional post I have seen the dismal state of literacy amongst those who have attained higher levels of ‘education’. Their lack of literacy and their understanding of the English language in its fullest capacity was shocking and I would never have believed it unless I had seen it myself. This, however, is where Mr. Self and I differ.
I have no problem with authors writing books or articles, such as that on ‘A Point of View’, where they use the more obscure words in the English language. As Mr. Self points out “English, being a mishmash of several different languages, had a large and exciting vocabulary, and it seemed a shame not to use it – especially given that it went on growing all the time, spawning argot and specialist terminology as freely as an oyster does its milt”.
I won’t point out the grammatical errors in that quote (probably the fault of the BBC anyway) but I have no idea how or what an oyster milting is. I know they taste good, if that’s any help? It is fair that authors can utilise the fullest capacity of the English language if that is what they want to do but I doubt that many of our current crop of ‘intellectuals’ would be prepared to sit with one book let alone two, one the book they are reading and the other a dictionary!
Mr. Self did fail to point out that some of the words our ever expanding language has introduced have raped, mutilated and disfigured the spoken word with the introduction of words such as 2morrow, OMG, LOL and ROFL to name but a few. Todays batch of chicklets are tearing apart the language we once knew and introduced one that is much easier to use.
I can’t criticise or condone as I was using those expressions before the current generation was even considered let alone spawned. The internet began the trend and mobile communication has allowed it to propagate like a virus that mutates and integrates into modern literacy.
Personally, I can understand the use of ‘easy’ english in order to teach. If you constantly throw in some obscure and unpronounceable word, it only makes the teaching and learning that much harder. I know it’s a feeble excuse but it’s true, nonetheless. Teaching is hard enough without someone constantly asking for something to be explained in a language they can understand. Dictionaries are akin to the dinosaurs. People know about them but didn’t they exist millions of years ago and then became extinct?
The only way we can expand our vocabulary and be excited learning new and interesting words is to read. Read and read and read. I had a voracious appetite for reading and I like to considered myself fairly well versed in the more obscure vocabulary that our language can offer. Reading is a matter of choice. You can try and force someone to read and I wish you the best of luck because if they are not interested you would have more luck pulling a golden egg out of your backside! Todays generation are too busy killing pixels in imaginary worlds or watching the latest reality television. Reading takes time and many would consider that time wasted.
So, after digressing more than usual, I’ll return to my original intent.
Yes, there is a difference between elated and happy, discourse from chat. The difference is how they are used and what they can infer. We could keep all our literature simple but what’s the fun in that? Using some of the more obscure words can enrich a sentence and make the experience of reading more enjoyable.
Mind you, if you don’t like long words, there are always comics or Harry Potter!!
As a footnote, I feel that I should explain two of the more obscure words I have used in my article.
Sesquipedalian basically means a lover of obscure words.
Loquaciousness basically means talkative.
Sometimes highbrow can just be plain stupid!