Tuesday, August 18, 2009


I've heard of Alcoholics Anonymous. I've even heard of Over Eaters Anonymous. But there's another kind of abuse that I think requires its own Anonymous group. These abusers make every appreciator of writing cringe - or ought to. If they don't make you cringe, perhaps you should attend a meeting of the newly formed Sesquipedalians Anonymous.

These are the Thesaurus Abusers. They write sentences such as this one:

"The abundance of his leonine mane and the floppiness of his silk cloth conspire to create a sort of vaporous tutu, causing the gentleman to forfeit his customary virility." - The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Hey, I gotta cite my sources.)

Or this:

"Since then, I have gone every day to the butcher's to buy a slice of ham or some calf's liver, which I slip into my net bag between my packet of noodles and my bunch of carrots. I then obligingly flaunt these pauper's victuals - now much improved by the noteworthy fact that they do not smell - because I am a pauper in a house full of rich people and this display nourishes both the consensual cliche and my cat Leo, who has become rather large by virtue of these meals that should have been mine, and who stuffs himself liberally and noisily with macaroni and butter, and pork from the delicatessen, while I am free - without any olfactory disturbances or anyone suspecting a thing - to indulge my own culinary proclivities." - ibid

Of course, there's always this:

"Moreover, a concierge who reads Marx must be contemplating subversion, must have sold her soul to that devil, the trade union. That she might simply be reading Marx to elevate her mind is so incongruous a conceit that no member of the bourgeoisie could ever entertain it.

'Say hello to your mother,' I murmur as I close the door in his face, hoping that the complete dissonance between my two sentences will be veiled by the might of millennial prejudice." - ibid

I don't know about dissonance between her sentences, but I'm pretty sure there's some dissonance between what she's trying to say and the decorative cloak she's throwing over it. It doesn't even work as a piece of irony, unless she's trying to be so ironic that she overdid herself and ended up sounding like a college freshman trying to impress her English Comp. teacher.

As a professor in Stern once said:

"Don't write: the conflagration consumed the edifice. Do write: the house burned down."

The professor then left the class with this bit of advice: "Eschew the sesquipedalian."

So I encourage all of us to eschew our own inner sesquipedalian. Realize that mastering the English language does not mean using its fanciest words at every given opportunity. It means understanding how to use simple words to convey your sophisticated (or not so sophisticated) ideas aptly and precisely.

Thank you.


SJ said...

Or, see this exchange of insults between two great writers:

"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."
William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)

"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"
Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)

I think Hemingway got the best of that one.

harry-er than them all said...

it may depend on what the writer is trying to achieve...

on the GREs they suggest using 'brevity' on the essays

Ezzie said...

I love the Hemingway line.

Ezzie said...

Though SAT creators side with Faulkner.

Erachet said...

I love the Hemingway line, too. I feel like I saw that exchange somewhere recently. Maybe on a website with fun quotes. Dunno.