Know Your Audience; Choose Simple Words

Burdened by a burgeoning education, amid my sophomore year I elected English to be my principal field of study: As per this decision, I admit that I have been subject to a veritable smorgasbord of different words.

I recall endless uninterrupted nights when my pupils pored over pages and pages of palpable phrases of varying length, structure and significance, my irises performing that ancient hypnotic back-and-forth, as if my optic nerve were watching an exciting tennis match, my corneas locked into an orbit round the varying vernacular by the gravity of the exhilarating amelioration simmering in my skull.

The English language is an enigmatically fickle specimen. Of west Germanic origin, it is the third-most spoken native tongue on the planet, as pervasively present in the western world as it is notoriously aggravating to learn, with its indefatigably persistent irregularities and perverted vernacular.

When considering the maddeningly fickle components of an English sentence, I find it helpful to visualize them on a sort of planar scale, upon which each category of word is assigned to a different point. I like to think of each point as an urban center of sorts, a space where words function in a manner reflective of human society. The most plodding, specific, precise phrases of myriad components dwell in a realm that, for this discussion, I will refer to as “polysyllabia.” For example, this is a space where words such as “apotheosis,” “obstreperous,” and “phantasmagoria” make their home. The most all-encompassing of phrases reside in its bizarro realm, “Simpleville.” Don’t be fooled by the concision in its name, for it is a metropolis, teeming with nice, good, bad, fun, lit, fast, slow, boring, exciting, interesting, and all other stalwarts of “simple English.” For the purposes of this discussion I shall ignore the middle realm, as its inclusion needlessly complicates the discussion, as within it resides the remaining words that cannot be easily parsed into the two categories. Think of it as the word-city equivalent to Detroit.

I suppose the point is obvious now. A schism of sorts divides the two kinds of words in twain.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the grandest manner of speech inherently involves the most cumbersome of phrases. Phrases of the polysyllabic persuasion are infinitely richer in meaning, grander in implication, and lend a weighty level of character to one’s prose. I am an avid advocate for the enrichment of the vocabulary in all respects, even if it is only displayed in one’s written communications.

In the realm of the spoken however, long words have no place. Short, concise words are infinitely more practical. No one wants to be that guy spouting off big words in everyday conversation. The big-word-guy confuses people at times. He sometimes makes the speaker seem like they’re trying to come off as clever. It’s probably a good idea to give precedence to communicating like a normal human over trying to sound smart.

A useful rule of thumb would involve maintaining the notion of one’s audience in the mind’s eye. The advantages of the sesquipedalian know no bounds in the realm of the written word, yet spoken dialect calls for an indubitably subtler approach. True mastery of a tongue is measurable by the circumstances of one’s rhetorical decisions, not by the fanciness of their dialectal fluff.