A dull, listless, and generally uninspired manner of speech or writing.
A few years ago, I was in a play. It was a Shakespeare play, and so I was as intolerable as you might expect – bursting around the room in fits of empurpled monologuery.
One evening at rehearsal, the director and I we’re discussing a certain scene I shared with another actor. Now, there are two things that are important to know here:
1. I didn’t understand what was happening in the scene.
2. The other actor and I didn’t like each other.
The other actor didn’t like me because, well, you’d have to ask him. I assume it’s because he thought I was difficult and obnoxious… both of which are fair observations about my personality.
I didn’t like the other actor because (aside from being a dull, tiresome human being) he didn’t bother to actually understand the words he was saying. He didn’t care to know. In truth, he didn’t really even seem to like Shakespeare all that much. He just liked being looked at. He’d have been just as happy standing up and eating a ham sandwich… so long as he was doing it on stage. Now, that’s a totally understandable experience… to get a thrill out of acting and performance (being noticed by other people). But comeon, man. Show a bit of bloody respect for the author – if nothing else, he’s the one who’s allowing you to get on stage in the first place.
So I’m talking with the director… and I’m trying to work out what the hell is going on. And the other actor’s sitting across from us, rolling his eyes and checking his cellphone.
After a minute or two it all clicks, and I realize what the scene is about. “Oh!” I say, “It’s a farce! I get it now!”
And the director claps me on the back and says, “Yes! Exactly,” and we exchange a pleasantry or two and then he walks away to help someone else.
I turn back to my scene partner, apologizing for the delay… and he glares at me and sneers:
“Why do you have to use big words?”
“You. You use big words a lot. ‘Farce’ what’s that about?”
“But… the scene is a farce. Farce is the word you use to describe a farce…”
“It’s a big word.”
“It’s five letters long… how is that a big word?”
“I think you’re just being pompous.”
(and then I said something totally pompous)
“Well, no. I’m not. If you want to be technical… I was being pedantic. NOW I’m being pompous.”
Here’s the problem I have with this whole scenario:
Why is using a word… any word… a bad thing? How could that possibly be?
Why is an active and deliberate love of language, and more pointedly the use of a specific word anything other than wonderful? Words are always an opportunity. They can be anything – terse, clear, and simple… or something more florid… a overgrowth of phonemes and beautiful, wondrous syllabary. Words should be understood, studied, poked and prodded… and should always be celebrated. Anything else is a waste.
Or, to put it another way: Why am I pompous just because you don’t understand what I’m saying?
We are blessed to have our language. It’s the greatest invention – almost magical – how it takes even the most complex thought or idea, transmutes it into sound, wafts it through space and time and into your ear where it jangles an armature of impossibly tiny bones which sends crackles of energy through your nerves and into your brain where it’s molded back into an idea – all faster than you can think.
Words are thoughts suspended in glyph and song. They are magic. They are science. And with more words than any other language in the world, English itself is overwrought with bountiful opportunity. Lexicographically fecund one might (I might) say! Why don’t we dive in and swim and frolic and enjoy our language for its every syllable?
Shame on you for using the phrase as blank and odious as “big word” to diminish or deride.
Words are only big to people with small minds.