When Big Words Blur

“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don't know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”
—Ernest Hemingway

The oldest trick in the book when it comes to writing is also the most trite and transparent. One thing I’ve learned throughout the years as I’ve evolved and matured as a writer is that writing is effective only when the author has something to say and says it concisely. This demands the use of carefully-selected words to paint as precise a picture as possible. In the digital realm especially, being pithy is the rule of thumb.

Long-winded copy is a surefire sign that the person who penned it had little to nothing to say, and simply wants to impress or confuse his or her audience. This is especially true when a so-called scribe moans unimaginatively on and on without vigor or focus. Talk about smoke and mirrors!

For a light-hearted jest at clotted writing, check out this automatic online complaint letter generator, courtesy of my friend alf. To use it, simply populate the fields with the name and info of anyone whom you wish to bitch about and hit “Complain.” The tool will instantly generate a meandering complaint letter that says absolutely nothing of substance but does so in perfect grammar and “impressive” English. Check out a snippet of the missive I generated for myself:

“Juan is lacking in the social graces. In reaching that conclusion, I have made the usual assumption that I strive to be consistent in my arguments. I can't say that I'm 100% true to this but Juan's frequent vacillating leads me to believe that his older taradiddles were unpleasant enough.”

Wha? I’m flippant and socially ungraceful? Who knows. Who cares! At least I know that today, I don’t have to resort to the kind of writing trick that leaves readers spinning and scratching their heads.


Mus said...

Self-indulgent. Mealymouthed. Lascivious. In case you can't tell, I'm making a direct reference to Sr. Juan. It is requisite, even in this summary sketch, to go back a few years to see how I have a tendency to report the more sensational things that Juan is up to, the more shocking things, things like how he wants to exploit the feelings of charity and guilt that many people have over the plight of the homeless. And I realize the difficulty that the average person has in coming to grips with that, but his arguments would be a lot more effective if they were at least accurate or intelligent, not just a load of bull for the sake of being controversial. Let me move now from the abstract to the concrete. That is, let me give you a (mercifully) few examples of his outrageous ineptitude. For starters, every time Juan utters or writes a statement that supports statism -- even indirectly -- it sends a message that granting Juan complete control over our lives is as important as breathing air. I clearly claim we mustn't let him make such statements, partly because I'm oversimplifying things a little here, but primarily because he is off his trolley. What's my problem, then? Allow me to present it in the form of a question: How much longer can we tolerate his unbridled, hidebound shenanigans before the whole country collectively throws up? To rephrase that question, why doesn't he point a critical finger at himself for a change? In classic sophist fashion, I ask another question in reply: Is his lack of intelligence genetic or the result of too much time spent with aberrant schmoes? He doesn't want you to know the answer to that question; he wants to ensure you don't improve the living conditions of the most vulnerable in our society -- the sick, the old, the disabled, the unemployed, and our youth -- all of whose lives are made miserable by Juan. I would like to end on a heartfelt note. Sr. Juan hides behind the carefully managed prevarication that coercion in the name of liberty is a valid use of state power.

Rosalia said...

Big words only work for people that are insecure, philosophers or who do not live in the real business world. If you approach your boss, your employees or even your friends with these kind of nonsense you will not find support or solve anything. Go simple... learn how to be succinct and have an impact on your audience.

alf said...

That said, let me merely point out that by any objective standard, Juan Pastor's squibs are totally rambunctious.

Natalia said...

Again: Life is too complicated, I am sitting here inside a very weird and out of context internet cafe waiting for mom to get out so we can have raw-fish-based lunch(sushi), thinking how cold I am right now and completely hating this set-up-in-Spanish keyboard tnat I am unable to control by myself... you got it right there...sometimes it is mixed up even overwhelming but wonderful still. Anyway finding the simplest and most beautiful in everyday rubbish I find exciting... just by the pleasure and the risk involved. SometimesI do like Faulkner better than Mr. H (too many mojitos and Cuban overdose). Going out... my favorite is Joyce. Simple and super extra ultra complicated at the same time.

Luis said...

Maybe I'm wrong, but I feel big words have more acceptance among the general public when writing in Spanish. Long, complicated sentences are the norm, even in the most popular newspapers... If something we should learn from the English language, is to value simplicity... unfortunately it's easier said than done!