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I am a lover of words. I do not struggle learning a new word or retaining its meaning, but when I try to write, only small or simple words come to my mind. Do I need to work on associating complex words with the smaller words that I frequently abuse? I hope some people can help me. I want my writing to be effective, but I think it could also look more presentable.
 
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Picture of Kalleh
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Welcome, inevitable! You also should check your private messages (PMs).

I think the best advice is to read...voraciously!
 
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Picture of Richard English
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Take a tip from one of my compatriots - acknowledged by most as one of the finest communicators the world has ever seen:

"Short words are best and the old words when short are best of all."

Winston Churchill


Richard English
 
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Big words don't necessarily mean big thoughts.


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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Picture of BobHale
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The important thing isn't the length of the words it's something called "register".

If you want to borrow money from me you might say

"Hey, Bob, lend's a tenner till Tuesday."

but you would never go to your bank manager and say

"Hey, Bob, lend's a hundred thousand quid till 2098."

There is a perception that long words somehow equate to a formal register and mark the speaker as a very erudite and educated fellow. To some extent this can be true but it ain't necessarily so.

To give some suggestions for your specific query though, I'd start by investing in a good thesaurus but with the important proviso that you don't just make one for one substitutions from it. A good thesaurus in combination with a good dictionary is the best way to develop vocabulary selection in writing. Use the thesaurus to find suggestions and then a good (OED, Webster etc) dictionary to check that the new word has precisely the usage and meaning you intend.
 
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I purposely used the adjective, complex, instead of the word big because I wasn't necessarily looking for a longer word to replace a shorter word. Just a stronger word if that makes sense. I am somewhat turned off by people making conjectures about sophisticated language not being a sign of intelligence. I think that's one reason I really enjoy classic literature.
 
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As a language teacher I have to say that, while some may disagree, it is far more than simple conjecture that sophisticated language is not a sign of intelligence. The ability to use appropriate language is far more important. I would argue that although virtually identical in meaning the following sentences would not be interchangeable in their circumstances of use and treating them as if they were would certainly be a sign of lack of a particular type of intelligence (well judgement anyway).

He likes to bet on the horse races.

He has an affinity for indulging in wagers in the field of equine competition.

Using the latter in everyday conversation wouldn't indicate intelligence. It would, at best, indicate pomposity. This is what I meant by register. Of course, you should always choose the best word for the job but the best word isn't necessarily the most complex one.

Frequently, complex words fall within the area of specific jargon. No one but a lawyer would refer to a home as "a domicile", though the words mean the same thing. There is nothing wrong with the phrase "pro tem" but if I were talking about leaving files on my desk for a couple of days I'd rather use "for the time being". And so on.

Of course there are lots of weak words that a good stylist would avoid overusing: nice, get, stuff, fine and so on. But the key word is "overusing".

As an aside, a very well-renowned book that I absolutely hated was Captain Corelli's Mandolin. I confess that I couldn't even finish it because the author's habit of never using a simple word where he had a sesquipedalean one to hand just annoyed the hell out of me.
 
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quote:
He has an affinity for indulging in wagers in the field of equine competition.


Yes, but that's rather a silly and barbaric example. I would venture on even calling it an awkward sentence. I would still argue that using a word like affinity is a better way of expressing one's interest.
 
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Your words must be chosen to have an affinity with your audience.


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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quote:
Of course, you should always choose the best word for the job but the best word isn't necessarily the most complex one.

I agree with Bob here. And would add that the best word might not be the longest one, or the most unusual one, or the most difficult one to pronounce. But there again, it might be.

I was writing, on the CAMRA forum, about Bottle Conditioned Ales (BCAs) for the benefit of someone who didn't know about them. Having finished a description of the process that creates BCAs and explaining that CAMRA calls these "Real Ale in a Bottle", I then finished my sentence with the phrase, "...and only bottled beers made in this way can be thus entitled".

On re-reading I realised that this might be considered a somewhat pompous construction, but decided to leave it as it said exactly what I wanted it to say, economically and unambigiously. To finish the sentence in any other way would probably have meant repeating the "Real Ale in a Bottle" descriptor or recasting the sentence entirely.

So, my suggestion, which echoes Bob's, is to use the most appropriate words and style and don't worry whether they are simple or complex; be concerned that they do the job you want them to do.


Richard English
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Winston Churchill:
"Short words are best and the old words when short are best of all."


Hwæt we gar dena in gear dagum, etc etc.
 
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And I would argue that, to make the example less extreme,

He likes to bet on the horse races.

is a better, clearer sentence than

He has an affinity for betting on the horse races.

I intentionally couched my example as an overstated and ludicrous one to demonstrate the point more fully. Given a full arsenal of weapons I would choose a knife rather than a lance to carve my steak. Given a full arsenal of words I would equally try (endeavour) to choose (select) the most appropriate (apt) tool.

Be it long or short, complex or simple.
 
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While all the advice here is laudable, in all fairness, I am not sure that those giving the advice actually take it. And that is meant as a compliment.

Like anything else, in moderation a few complex words add a little spice to our communication lives. Wink

[Recall, "epicaricacy" is my favorite word!]
 
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Writing is about communicating. If we use complex words when a simpler would do, I believe we have failed.
 
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Originally posted by memnon80:
Writing is about communicating. If we use complex words when a simpler would do, I believe we have failed.


I don't think that follows at all. If we can communicate by using complex words, then we haven't failed.
 
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Right. A scientist, say, discussing his work with another scientist would probably use complex words. If he were explaining his work to a non-scientist he would use simpler words.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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<Asa Lovejoy>
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There are few William F. Buckleys in this world. Indeed, now that he's dead, there are NO William F. Buckleys! Some people have a great grasp of language that allows profound ideas to be transmitted using short, simple words, whereas the Buckleys of the world have a knack for using less common terms. Addressing one's audience on their terms is what's important, IMHO.
 
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