I’ve been a lifelong, avid reader. I devour both fiction and nonfiction, and I read on a variety of subjects. One of the things reading affords you with is the exposure to the rich and varied tapestry that is the English language. As a result, I have always scored very highly on any assessment of my verbal skills, and I have an above-average vocabulary. I can talk to most people with ease, and I can translate complex ideas into easy-to-understand language.
And yet, I am often accused of being elitist, based upon my word choice. Just recently, I was informed that “admonish” and “apoplectic” are words that most people don’t know. This was a pivotal moment for me. You see, I regularly counsel people that they need to use plain, simple English on their resumes and in their professional communications. No one wants to read about your proactive synergies or your ability to get traction in the market and move the needle. To me, this is a no-brainer. But words that I consider common, like “admonish” or “apoplectic”? Doesn’t everyone know what those mean?
Apparently not. As I chewed on this idea, I realized a sad fact: most people do not read. And if you don’t read, you have a limited vocabulary. A client just informed me that personal lines insurance policies must be written at a certain reading level, ostensibly (uh-oh) because individuals are not necessarily going to have their policies vetted by an attorney, while a company probably is. In other words, your auto insurance policy needs to be able to be understood by gen pop. In most jurisdictions, that means that policy language needs to be written at a standard sixth-grade level. The same is true of the interpretive statements that appear on voting ballots.
I get that there are some people out there who like to use big words to make themselves appear smart. But there are also those of us who love and appreciate the diversity and nuances of language. Why must we suffer because a few decide to hijack our lexicon?!?!
The sad fact that I need to face is this: using words that are out of the ordinary can be perceived as elitist and condescending. And because I can’t give everyone a book and make them read, I should be the one who changes.
But I’m not going to do that. I love big words. I love polysyllabic expressions. I enjoy a common Latin root. I will not be deterred. I will continue with my 50 cent words, and I encourage you all to do so, too! In fact, I urge my fellow Lovers of Big Words to do the same. Do not be dissuaded by those who don’t understand us. Let us continue our commitment to experiencing all the textures and hues that the language has. Some things are good in black and white. Language isn’t one of them.