Blog Excerpts

"Language Junkies" Go the Sesquipedalian Route

Is it possible to take vocabulary expansion too far? In a piece in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Elizabeth Bernstein points out the situations where word-knowledge can work against you, making the point that "language junkies" might want to be careful lest they alienate people they're trying to impress, or just render themselves incomprehensible.

She quotes Ellen Jovin, co-founder of Syntaxis, a communication-skills training firm in New York, saying: 

"When choosing your words...it's important to consider your motivation. If you are using $50 words to show off, and you know people will not understand them, then that is unkind and annoying, and they have a reason to react negatively." …

Be absolutely sure of the definition. "Misuse of big words is a disaster," she says. "You are not only a phony but you are bad at being a phony."

Just for fun, we've rounded up the potentially alienating words quoted in the Journal piece into a List for "Language Junkies." Whether you relish these words or think of them as ones to avoid, it's fun to look them over. Let us know if you love a word that, like a tuxedo, you can only get to use on extremely special occasions.


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Comments from our users:

Wednesday March 26th, 8:01 AM
Comment by: William H. (Severn, MD)
The author makes a good point, but the WSJ has never been an authoritative source of knowledge of anything useful, including language. While “sesquipedalian” is one of those words best left to specialists, other words on the list are common in books and periodicals (other than the WSJ) read by educated people. The article, as described, may in fact show a bias against education that has become common among certain groups in our society.
Saturday March 29th, 12:08 PM
Comment by: Joann Z. (Rockford, IL)
@William H.
"
but the WSJ has never been an authoritative source of knowledge of anything useful, including language"

MR. H., this statement reveals lots about you. The WSJ is the single highest revenue online/print publication today. Apparently, others are willing to pay for its content. Your dissing of it, reveals an ideological bias.

Cognitive thinkers today must read both righty and lefty publications. I get my righty info. from WSJ and Fox News. I get my lefty info. from NPR. I'm interested in where you get your righty information.
Saturday April 26th, 9:34 AM
Comment by: Wendy K.
A friend showed me copy for an ad she was writing: "Be the penultimate housewife!"

When I asked if she knew what penultimate meant she answered, "No, but it sounds good."

It's a reminder to me to confirm before completing.

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