Pretentious Words/Long Words

6900515_sSince the attorney I work with attended Haaar…., excuse me, Harvard, he has a subscription to the magazine. Reading an article the other day entitled Word-upmanship reminded me of my first serious attempt at writing. Now, since Lexiphanicism – what the article spoke of – is an early 20th Century word, I found it strange I couldn’t locate it in my 1999 dictionary. Funnier still, when I Googled it, what happened? It took me to the article in the magazine, LOL. Okay honestly, I searched lexiphane, which took me there. As I read the piece, each paragraph took me deeper and deeper into the past. Suddenly, I had the impression of being sucked in through a time warp to that first critique session where my partial tough hide, received its second layer. My advice; leave sesquipedalianism to the literary writers. Now, you may not find these two terms listed together in a dictionary or thesaurus, since basically they do not mean the same thing. Although, they kind of do. Lexiphanic: Pretentious words, bombastic. Sesquipedalian: Use of long words, or many syllables.

Here’s a good sentence: The puissant myrmidon of the King fossilized his foes, but his lady, from the first day she set eyes on him, had only recognized his mellifluousness.

Translation: The mighty unquestioning follower of the King terrorized his foes, but his lady, from the first day she set eyes on him, only knew him as sweet and charming.

Now, I don’t write or read historical, so don’t ask me where that sentence came from. Probably the expression, myrmidon. In any event you get what I mean. I read somewhere that Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway were the best at this, but they were excellent because they used more concise language. In my own defense, I’d like to blame two of my teachers for this trait. I had to stop, run the idea through my mind and remember, of all the books I’ve read they just were not written that way. I understand Hemingway referred to them as “ten-dollar” words. You have to think of your reader, though – after awhile they’re going to get tired of running to the dictionary to look up every fourth word. Believe me, they’ll put down that book, and once they do, it’s all over. Not only that, I would say they will hesitate to pull another one of them with your name on it from the shelf.

I have been known to list my writing tools as my laptop, and iPod. However, you know a writer also mandatorily needs a dictionary and that forbidden thesaurus. If you’ve been writing for any amount of time, you know how fancy you want to make a sentence. The rule is, though, less is more; a directive I’m still trying to remember whenever I set out to write something. I don’t know how I picked this up, I’m certain it’s just my style of writing – my voice. At any rate, I get caught up in parallelism, which has nothing to do with the topic of this post, but can throw the “less is more” rule right out of the window. For the novice writer, parallelism is the repetition of a sentence structure for dramatic effect. Here is a great website with examples. I’ve also heard instructors tell you, keeping it simple means for instance:

Write use, and not utilize; start not commence, or big not immense.

Although, I agree with keeping it simple, if you’re writing a piece and get hung up searching synonyms for start, it’s perfectly fine to expand your vocabulary to begin and/or commence. I believe commence, utilize, and immense are simple enough in their own right.

I must say it took me quite awhile to get this right. All this time later, however, at times, I continue to have the urge to go with the pretentious word. It is just one of my habits that is so very difficult to break. I think the simplest rule here though, would easily be – do not forget the reader. What are your thoughts?

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Information courtesy of Harvard Magazine and



13 thoughts on “Pretentious Words/Long Words

  1. I agree: do not forget your reader. The audience greatly influences the terms I use to get my message across.

    I think parallelism stems from the poetry found in the Old Testament. Instead of words that rhymed, the concepts “rhymed” by being restated using different words. Those who study the Bible can pick this up quite unconsciously. Preachers imitate it in their orations. This method in writing takes on an authoritative feel because of that conditioning. It even feels spiritual to some. Both of these attributes are persuasive to a reader, or can be. Since writers want to invite their readers, they choose methods that are familiar and persuasive to do that. I mean, I’ll use what works to get my point across. We all do, right?

    • You know, I didn’t even realize I wrote this way until one day I was reading Proverbs, and it hit me over the head. Maybe I picked it up from some author I liked reading from as far back as 19whenever, as in maybe 1975. We do that, you know. But, that I can’t change, it comes so natural. Thanks for stopping by, Rilla.!end

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