“Don’t use a big word when a singularly unloquacious and diminutive linguistic expression will satisfactorily accomplish the contemporary necessity.”
Every time I read this, and I know it’s true, and a very necessary part of writing, but I can never help reminiscing about an incident, which happened in sixth grade.
It all started when the teacher changed the sitting arrangement, placing my seat between two boys who were close friends, and they couldn’t stop discussing all sorts of things over and around me, while the teacher was instructing the class, making it impossible to hear her.
For several days, I tried without fail to ask them to stop talking, but my request seemingly fell on deaf ears. So by the time the weekend came, I totally frustrated, and searching for some way to get it across they’re thick skulls to be quiet during class, and my big sister, Jacki, came up with the answer. (Her nickname isn’t Dictionary for nothing.) She wrote out a twenty-five word sentence of singularly loquacious words, which frankly I wish I could remember today, but back then, Jacki spent the whole weekend coaching me to memorize the phrase.
The following Monday, at the first opportunity, I spewed forth this enormous sentence and, just as Jacki had promised, it stunned both the pains into jaws hanging open, stunned stares, silence. A fact that caught the attention of the teacher who asked what was going on.
Both boys pointed at me and said, “You should hear what she just said!” making it sound as if I’d broken the rule against foul language. The teacher asked me to repeat it, so I did. Now, the only ones in the room that didn’t have their jaws hanging up were Konnie and my best friend Sherrie, who had helped me learn the sentence.
The teacher stared at me for at least a minute before she finally said, “Do you even know what it mean?”
“Yeah, it means, ‘Shut up!’ They keep talking and I can’t hear you!”
She moved the boys in question across the room from each other. Problem solved. And I learned a valuable lesson about big words. Sometime you need them. Then again, sometimes you can go overboard.
Years after that sixth grade experience, I entered college and signed up for a class title “Concise Writing” in which I think I was little ahead of my fellow classmates.
On like our second or third class, we entered to find the teacher had written a particularly long quote on the blackboard. It was a rather easily recognized quote from the ever-loquacious Howard Cosell, and, per his usual, four paragraphs long.
As class started, the teacher said we could form groups and work together to cut the quote down to as concise a form as possible.
So, while all my classmates busied themselves with moving into groups and dividing up who would look up words, I remained in my spot and read through it a couple times. In previous lessons, the teacher had instructed us to never use two words, which mean essentially the same thing, and having grown up under the tutelage of the aforementioned Dictionary, I knew quite a few words, enough to know all the words utilized in the subject quote.
So, while my classmates discussed which words they needed to cut, I simply wrote down my concise version. Then sat there twiddling my thumbs until the teacher decided the class had had enough time. Then the fun began.
He asked for a show of hands on how many cut the quote down to two paragraphs or less. Everyone raised their hands. Then he asked for a show of hands on how many cut it down to just one paragraph or less. Most of those hands dropped.
Then he asked for a show of hands of those who got it down to two or fewer sentences. More hands fell. Then he asked for those who had a single sentence, of sixteen or fewer words. Still more hands fell. So he asked for ten or fewer words, and eventually six or fewer words.
By that time, there was only one group, and me, with our hands still up. He asked the group how many words were in their sentence. They had exactly six. He asked me how many words I had. I had four. He stared at me and asked what my sentence was.
Now, today, I can’t remember what dang team Cosell had been talking about, but I’m sure anyone who knows who his favorite team was can fill in the blank, but here it is:
“The (insert team name here) are good.”
All my classmates erupted in protests because Cosell had most decidedly not used the singularly unloquacious word “good” in his rather pompous soliloquy, but the teacher had never said we had to use the exact words, only that we needed to attempt to make it as concise as possible. I nailed it.
After all, if twenty-five words boils down to just two words, then four long paragraphs can boil down to just four words, which, as this post shows, is something I learned in sixth grade thanks to Dictionary. J
Happy writing everyone! J