Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Long Live the $10 Word or Dumbing Down Authors

All over the media, be it in hard copy or on the Internet, you see stories about the eminent demise of traditional publishing. With the ever-growing popularity of e-book readers like the Nook and even the iPad (yes, I, too, lust after one), people are saying that the print media is dying if not already dead. I don’t know about that, I do know that publishing is changing. What I lament is the dumbing down of books regardless of how they’re put into my hands.

I long for the days when writers were not only allowed to, but were expected to use the English language to its full potential. I read a blog the other day that speaks to this very issue. The blogger was saying that authors “should always” use a short word rather than a long word. He also asked why use a $10.00 word when a .05 cent word will do? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because not all of us want to write to the lowest common denominator. Maybe because most of us still believe that readers aren’t dumb.

When I was a youngster, I was told that if I use “big” words, no one would understand them. Why not? I asked. I was told that no one wanted to have to look words up in a dictionary. Why not? I again asked.

I thought everyone kept a list (mine is on my iPhone) of words that we have come across that we didn’t know the meaning of and have to look them up. Words like “crepuscular” (an adjective meaning relating to or resembling twilight) or “refulgence” (a noun meaning a radiant or resplendent quality or state, i.e., brilliance).

Granted, we probably might not want to use either crepuscular or refulgence, but the author of the blog post mentioned above suggested we not use the words, “accommodations” for rooms,“purchase” for buy, or “utilize” for use. The author went so far as to say these “big” words constituted “bad” writing and that they “muddled” prose. Oh my.

I’ve always thought that authors whether they’re writing fiction, non-fiction, blogs, tweets, or Facebook entries should strive to use the English language to its, and our readers, fullest potential. Apparently, I’m wrong. The blogger says that we authors should prefer the familiar word to the “fancy” word. What if the fancy word is the familiar word to us? His advice to dumb down is one I’ve heard before. I for one reject his advice. Long live $10 words!

If I believed that the blogger was speaking for the publishing world, I’d be lamenting its death with all the other naysayers.

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