Americans have become lazy with language. So many have bought into the dumbing down concept that to rise above implies snobbery.
Well, if snobbery is the eternal spark of creativity, I say long live the snobs.
Up with the hoidy toidy.
Long live the linguist! Vote for the viceroy of vocabulary, the dictator of diction, the czar of communication.
Someone with enough lingual force to speak to our hearts and minds with originality, with a vision to carry our speech to new heights, up from the gutter where the majority languish, swimming in the dumbed-down, shallow pool of thought. No one giving any consideration to climbing up onto the diving board, the possibility of a double half-twist somersault.
Or moving out of the kiddie pool to a deeper one, with a lush waterfall, towels at the ready, a floating bar. Only steps from the hot tub, full of bubbles that tingle and effervesce on the surface.
Excites the imagination, doesn’t it?
That says it all. One well-chosen word packs more of a wallop than an ill-thought, fast-flung string of phrases.
Consider, for example, curse words.
In the written word, expletives are fairly common in literature. Yes, they have shock value, and are instant attention-getters. But their zing fizzles out in the air like fireworks, black dust sprinkling to the ground after the dazzle and pop.
An insult has so much more depth and meaning when driven home using appropriate descriptors – verbs with punch, adjectives with sting.
Any fool can sling an f*** that, f*** you. That fool is indistinguishable from any other. Such language drags us all down to a common denominator, the common masses, the hoi polloi. It leaves no lasting impression – like the aforementioned fireworks, there’s the in-the-moment ooh and ahhh, but one fireworks display does not stand out from another. We gather up our lawn chairs, and walk home discussing what’s in the fridge, what movies we’d like to see, what the weather might be like tomorrow.
Consider Mark Twain, whose insults were multi-dimensional. Not only did Mr. Twain embarrass the target of his sarcasm, he did it in such a light-hearted, witty way that it amused the masses and enlightened them at the same time.
Ah! Now zingers of that ilk will remain embedded in the collective consciousness, to be told again and again with fervor and appreciation approaching awe. The zing resonates indefinitely, shimmering like the aurora borealis, suspended in the atmosphere like no mere firework could ever hope to do.
It always amazes me that so-called writing coaches advise authors not to use any “million dollar” words in stories. Well why not? Isn’t writing referred to as a craft? Isn’t the challenge of any craft to use the most exquisite means to achieve the final work of art? Why use the language of a fifth-grader when another word will better fit the context, and ultimately, enhance the meaning, of whatever the writer is attempting to convey? As Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”
So why not fortify a story with a few well-chosen “million dollar” words that will make readers think? After all, isn’t that the point of any writing? To zap their readers’ brains with those bolts of literary lightning?
Words of quality get inside you, become part of you. Sometimes they shimmer and zing around and ignite new sparks of thought, new inspiration, begging to be reshaped into a new string of language, fortified with a few lightning bolts of its own.
Which is only right, of course – for anyone who dips from the writerly well of thought must then replenish it, keep the flow eternal to prevent stagnation – the first slide back toward shallow waters, breeding boredom and unoriginality.
I believe that language is an art too precious to be lost.
So do not languish. Climb out of the kiddie pool.
The diving board awaits.
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