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Kelly asked in Arts & HumanitiesBooks & Authors · 1 decade ago

Big words are good, or no?

"Never use a long word where a short one will do."

-George Orwell

People got pretty pissed about Stephanie Meyer and her raping the thesaurus. It's actually been made into a really big deal, and some of the first advice that people give to young writers is to-- as Orwell put-- never use long words when you can use a short one.

However, I think it's pretty obvious to anyone who's read anything by Orwell that he didn't follow that rule very well himself. Actually, most classic authors don't follow that rule.

Why should we have to dumb ourselves down so that society can understand us?

I'm just curious and in no way am I defending S. Meyer. I'm just wondering where writers should draw the line between having a good vocabulary and "raping the thesaurus".


You see just recently I wrote an essay for English class, and for some dumb reason, my English had me and two other kids in the class stand up and read it out loud because apparently our papers were best of all. (Speaking for myself, I think that the rest of the class must have had some pretty horrible papers if mine was considered one of the best.)

Anyway, when I was finished reading the paper, one kid said "She sure used enough big words...."

I was kinda shocked, since the longest word I used was "unabridged".

So I was wondering if perhaps I should have replaced "unabridged" with "full version" so that perhaps my paper would be understandable.


Update 2:

@Goldfish- You'd think that at least. But sadly no. Though maybe it wasn't "unabridged" he was referring to.... "Deliberately" maybe? As I said, we shouldn't have to dumb ourselves down so that society can better understand us. (Because we're using such difficult-to-understand words....)

Update 3:

Oops, I just realized I skipped the word "teacher" in my additional details. Sorry!

18 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    Generally speaking, using big words makes writing seem forced and/or cheesy. (In Meyer's case it was both.) You shouldn't use big words just to try and seem like a better writer than you really are.

    Just so you know, it doesn't sound like you used the sort of big words that people usually discourage writers from using. "Unabridged" and "deliberately" are not big- they are sophisticated. If I'm right, you're either a sophomore or junior. That vocabulary is appropriate for someone your age. That kid in your class must not be very bright :p

    You know, it's mostly the *overuse* of big words that's discouraged. I'm working on college application essays right now and in class, we had to peer edit our essays and someone wrote as a comment "be careful of big words." I asked her to point out where I used big words (I had no idea I used any at all) and she pointed out "affinity" and "flamboyant." This question is open to everybody- are those big words? Because I don't think they are. Even if they were, I don't see the harm in using two in one essay. Not a big deal.

    The difference between your essay and, say, Meyer's writing is that her writing was majorly, properly flowery. She "raped" the thesaurus by using so many unnecessary adjectives and big words. It's as if she thought that being a good writer means that you have a wide vocabulary, which isn't really true. Your essay, on the other hand, used sophisticated words where appropriate. It *would not* have been better to say "full version" rather than unabridged. From the examples of "big words" that you gave, it seems like you didn't use any at all. Make sense?

    And, lastly, what Orwell meant. I think he meant that you should be concise in your writing. Just get to the point. Don't dance around what someone's doing or what something looks like.

    Or else it could just be that his idea of big words and your idea of big words is different. He *was* more educated than you are now when he said that. Do you get what I mean? His vocabulary was wider than yours is, so he could have thought that certain words weren't big. Like how I think "affinity" and "flamboyant" aren't big, but that girl apparently does.

    Also, I don't think we should have to dumb ourselves down. And I don't think not using big words (in excess) *is* dumbing ourselves down. It's just being concise.

    I do know what you mean, though.

    If I want to use "affinity," I will! So there!

    @Goldfish: Why, thank you! I've seen "affinity" around a lot. Somehow it's always used in AP Bio. So I started to use it a little :)

    @Leigh: Haha, thanks :) I love the word "flamboyant"! I got it from Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynn Jones. Which is a great book that everybody should read, by the way.

    @Eich: Conundrum?! That's ridiculous! Everyone I know knows what it means!

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  • 1 decade ago

    I don't mind people using big words as long as it doesn't feel forced. Sometimes I wonder if people don't just sit down with a dictionary until they find a word that looks big and pretentious enough and then script a sentence to showcase their fancy new word. And you can tell when some authors are doing this because they've found a whole section they like and they're running through it in alphabetical order.

    Not everyone is like this. Some authors genuinely have a broad vocabulary and it couldn't be suppressed without smothering the story. Whether adding words or taking them away, writing is all about finding your own voice, so what good does it do if you're trying to change it?

    Sometimes simplicity works. It worked for Hemingway. But a lot of great authors had a great education so it's only normal that they should use long words.

    Don't pay any attention to the other kids hon. Maybe they thought you were doing it on purpose to show off, but since there's no way you could know you'd be reading it in front of the whole class then it's really their problem. I suppose this same kid wrote a Dick and Jane paper with sentences like 'Dick likes Jane. Jane likes Peter. Peter has a ball.' Blah blah blah...

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  • 1 decade ago

    I think big words are awesome. When used sparingly. People say that Smeyer "raped the thesaurus" because every other word was something flowery, long, and overly descriptive.

    Using longer words can really be awesome. But if you over-use them, their intended affect is kind of nullified. I mean what if I wrote this sentence: "Beautifully angelic Mary-Sue was so amazingly wonderful and talented that the most renowned school in the world accepted her fascinating essay for superior publication."

    Whoa there, bucko! Tone it down a bit. We all get it: you're in love with your character. Awesome.

    All of those words (whether they really make sense in that order or bad, my bad) are just too much. In reference to Twilight and the following novels, Smeyer's writing is eerily similar to that. It's annoying.

    Use big, descriptive and advanced words less often and you can have a bigger impact on the reader. If you can cut to the chase and make your statements as accurate and non-fluffy as possible, there are situations where that's better. Too much huge vocabulary makes it seem like you're trying too hard to sound smart.

    Edit: I just rememberd this cool quote that's similar to the one you used: "The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do." It's basically the same thing (almost exact) but you know..whatever. **Thomas Jefferson**

    Edit Numero Dos: Dude. That's kind of dumb. Unabridged is a very common word (so is deliberately). In that case, I think you're just fine. This kid probably doesn't know his left hand from his right. Writing to the best of your ability is what all people should do. It's not your fault if someone else doesn't understand. I don't think you should be replacing any words. Your paper was better than his for a reason.

    @ Apple Frost: You changed your picture and I totally just got confused.

    @ Apple Frost: Ha no worries I'm just slow (I just spelled 'slow' wrong three times before I could get it right...) I like your new avatar :)

    @ Lyra: "affinity" and "flamboyant"? Big words? In a college essay? No way, Jose. I see those words floating around the halls of my high school and people don't get all fussy about it. Plus..affinity is an awesome word (flamboyant freaks me out...don't know why? Flamboyant-a-phobia?)

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  • 1 decade ago

    Big words are fine when you use them correctly and they fit in with the rest of your writing. I actually don't believe in dumbing yourself down so society can understand you. I think you should write as well as you can. No one's going to pick up and read your book if they didn't understand what you said on the first page. Now, if your writing is completely different ten pages in, then that's a problem on the author's part. As for the issue with Stephenie Meyer, said it. It has been made into a big deal.

    By the way, writing as well as you can doesn't mean forcing yourself to be or sound like someone you're not. i.e. don't try to sound like Jane Austen when you sound like Margaret Peterson Haddix. You'll just screw yourself over. And I think you can use big words without sounding flowery.

    **No, I don't think you should've. Unabridged isn't a hard word. At least I've never considered it a big word, but even if it is considered a big word, wouldn't the context it was in give your classmates some sort of idea as to what it means?

    I'll put this bluntly: The kid doesn't sound too bright.

    Lyra: "Affinity" and "flamboyant" aren't big words. I was just using "flamboyant" the other day with my younger siblings and they understood what I was saying. I'll admit I don't use "affinity" in my day-to-day vocabulary, though. But I loved your answer, you were spot-on! :)

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  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Would you rather me say you're a pompous, pontificating jackass or should I dumb it down to say you're a stuck-up jackass?

    Example only. Don't worry. I like you Kelly so I would never really say such a thing.

    When you know how to use big words properly and in moderation then it is okay. When you rape the thesaurus and cram in big word after big word, it's excessive and just makes the writer look like they're trying too hard.

    I can write with an extensive vocabulary but I prefer not to not because I feel the need to dumb my work down, more that I would rather my writing appeal to a larger audience than just a small group of people who can understand what I am saying without pulling out their dictionaries.

    To me, it's not so much about dumbing down as it is to simply appealing to a wide audience over a small one. Plus, in journalism I was taught to write at a 5th grade level (not that I did but you get the idea) because more people understand it than just the upper crust group of readers.

    Source(s): Writer
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  • 1 decade ago

    Hm... Good question! I think that using a big word is fine, but only if it belongs there. To me, writing is like poetry (man, I sound like a loser). Poetry is all about words and where to place them.

    But sometimes people prefer to read books with "smaller words," because it's easier to read. I don't mind these kind of books; they're usually quick, fun reads. Others prefer books with "bigger words." Personally, I prefer the former, just because I don't want to spend precious reading time looking a word in the dictionary, but some writers (like Rowling) throw in larger words every so often, just to embellish the writing, not make themselves seem smarter.

    That's what I think the difference between raping a thesaurus and embellishing is. When you rape a thesaurus, you use all kinds of fancy-shmancy words, to make your writing seem more complex. If you're enhancing your writing with big words, you're adding in some more mature words, but not overdoing it.

    Great thought-provoking question!

    Star for you :)

    TO YOUR ADDITIONAL DETAILS: The person thought that "unabridged" was a big words? They probably said that because they didn't know what it meant. I think that "unabridged" sounds much better than "full version". It seems more mature.

    @Leigh: Oops! Sorry. I decided I wanted a change of avatar. New school year, new avatar. (That's my logic) :D

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  • 1 decade ago

    Orwell was basically right. In writing, less is more - in most cases.

    The reason being, if your reader can't understand what you're writing, they're going to stop reading. If no one reads your books, publishers stop buying them from you. If publishers stop buying them from you, there goes your career.

    For instance, why would you say - He masticated his meatloaf. - when you could just say - He chewed his meatloaf?

    Everyone knows what chewed means. A lot of people would have to look up masticated. If you're reading a book and you have to stop reading every other paragraph to look words up, it kills your enjoyment of the book.

    If, however, one of your characters was a pretentious bore, then saying he masticated his meatloaf would work, because it shows characterization.

    If you're using big words because they're part of your everyday vocabulary (and nine times out of ten, they're not) then I wouldn't worry about it. If you find yourself constantly flipping through a thesaurus, you're probably writing crap. You don't use big words just to use big words, you use big words (or any other word) because it's the right word.

    And that's the real yardstick to measure by, IMO. Use the word that says what you mean. If you mean blue, say blue, not Sapphire, or azure. All three are different shades of blue, and each brings a different image to mind. Use the one that says what you mean.

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  • Kelly, I applaud you and fully agree with you.

    I once used the word "conundrum" in a college class and was told by the instructor not to do that again because other people wouldn't understand! Excuse me but what the heck? I'm there for an education as are the other students.

    God forbid a person should strive to better themselves and if that means learn a new word each day then - Oh Well!!!!!!!!

    True story!

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  • 1 decade ago

    I tend to use "big" words in my work, but only because it comes naturally. I hate dumbing myself or my audience down for the benefit of those simple minded people. Not to mention, some words just lack flavor or spark, and a more intelligent or longer word is a perfect substitute.

    I think the problem with Meyer's writing, was that her work didn't flow well in between the constant plain words and the intelligent and unusual ones. Look at it like a row of white blouses laid out on a bed, occasionally there'll be a pink one that stands out oddly. But if there's an array of colors laid out that gently flow into one and other, then it's more pleasing and appealing to the eye.

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  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Well, I hate books that have been written just like the author has gone and gotten every word in the thesaurus and worked it iinto the boko somehow.

    Big words are okay occasionally,as long as you (and by you I mean the writer, I am not sure if you write or not) know that other people will understand. If no one will know what the word is, or if it is very hard to pronounce then scrap it, I say.

    I hate coming across impossible words, it siatracts me from the story.

    But then again I like new words too, it improves my vocab and my own writing ability - the thing is most new words that I use are not long ones.

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