The Critics Respond, Part Forty-One

I like this analogy — the five-dollar word — because it can easily be extended to demonstrate a depressing, but absolutely inarguable, point. Samuel Clemens wrote his most popular work between 1880 and 1890. According to this inflation calculator, five bucks in 1890 is equivalent to about $130 today. Looked at another way, five dollars in 2017 has the spending power of nineteen cents in 1890.

So let’s take a look at the “home-equity loan” paragraph referred to by the above commenter and see what effect the inflation of illiteracy, which has proceeded in lockstep with the inflation of the currency, has done to make my relatively prosaic prose so precociously pricey.


This is the offensive paragraph, taken from the beginning of R&T’s PCOTY test:

The sun has become staccato, a stippled Dopplering twinkle through a fast-forward canopy of trees, accelerated from a single scene into a 24-frame-per-second motion picture by the Porsche 911 Turbo S and the politely muted howl of its 580-hp twin-turbo flat-six.

Certainly this is a paragraph written for effect, but the effect is mostly rhythmic, not pedagogic. There’s nothing in that paragraph that strikes me as terribly recherche. Let’s assume for a moment, however, that I’m not a reliable source for judging the obscurity of my own writing. Let’s go to Wiktionary, which publishes a list of the ten thousand most commonly used words. Supposedly, these words account for ninety-seven percent of movie scripts, or something like that. I am reliably told by the Internet that high school students know about 12,000 “word families” and college graduates know about 17,000 “word families”, so if you are in the top 10,000 you should be readable by any adult with even a casual or interrupted education.

The following words in my paragraph do not appear in the common 10,000:

staccato stippled Dopplering Porsche turbo

“Porsche” and “turbo” can be considered common knowledge to anybody who would pick up a car magazine, so let’s focus on the others.

staccato: If you took a grade-school music class you should know what this means. Even if you don’t, the vaguely onomatopoeic nature of the word should allow you to cruise past it. Sta-ca-to!

stippled: I think that most adults should know what “stippled” means. It’s used widely across disciplines.

Dopplering: If you are reading a magazine about cars, you should have an idea of what the Doppler effect is. They teach the word in fifth grade and it’s on every television news station: “Let’s Go To The Triple Doppler Chopper Radar!”

I find it personally hard to believe that anybody who might be even peripherally in the market for a $100,000 performance car would have genuine trouble reading that paragraph. Honestly, you can argue that what follows a little bit afterwards requires a higher standard of vocabulary:

Distant in my mirrors I see the Lotus Evora, its gaping maw hunting creases on the broken pavement under braking, then lifting just a bit as it finds grip at corner exit. There are rules we follow on these drives, and one of the rules is that you maintain visual contact with the car behind you. So far, I have followed the spirit of the law, if not its letter. But the teenager in me, the afternoon-detention troublemaker who surreptitiously thumbed through the pages of this magazine when he was supposed to be paying attention in his high-school literature class, chafes at this and every other rubric laid upon me by entities as diverse as the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and Newton himself.

Wordsworth tells us that the child is father of the man. So how can I reject the demands of that careless, causeless 16-year-old rebel whose ancestral decisions set me on the path to being behind the wheel of this very car at this very moment? With the flick of a left-hand paddle, I snag third gear, pin the throttle to the stop, and let the Turbo’s locomotive torque complete the jump to hyperspace. Goodbye, Evora. Goodbye, rules.

Here, surely, is a tar pit to entwine the saurian imbecile: “maw”, “surreptitiously”, “rubric”, “entities”, “Wordsworth”, “ancestral”, “locomotive”, “hyperspace”. But if you are merely uneducated, rather than stupid by genetic inheritance, I think you can figure out most of this without knowing the meaning of all the words. These are not really “five-dollar words” by Mark Twain’s measurement.

For comparison, here’s a paragraph from a Mark Twain essay:

Thus we have infinite trouble in solving man-made mysteries; it is only when we set out to discover the secret of God that our difficulties disappear. It was always so. In antique Roman times it was the custom of the Deity to try to conceal His intentions in the entrails of birds, and this was patiently and hopefully continued century after century, although the attempted concealment never succeeded, in a single recorded instance. The augurs could read entrails as easily as a modern child can read coarse print. Roman history is full of the marvels of interpretation which these extraordinary men performed. These strange and wonderful achievements move our awe and compel our admiration. Those men could pierce to the marrow of a mystery instantly. If the Rosetta-stone idea had been introduced it would have defeated them, but entrails had no embarrassments for them. Entrails have gone out, now—entrails and dreams. It was at last found out that as hiding-places for the divine intentions they were inadequate.

You will search in vain through the Wiktionary Top Ten Thousand for: “entrails”, “augurs”, “marrow”, and “Rosetta-stone”. In other words, Mark Twain’s work was roughly as hard to read as mine is, particularly when he was writing to an adult audience rather than the tween-agers who might be expected to go nuts over “Tom Sawyer”.

You might think that all of the above amounts to a severe overreaction on my part to an off-handed online remark. Perhaps it is, but I can easily explain my ardor in this cause. There are plenty of writers who try to impress their readers with their vocabulary. I am not one of them. For better or worse, I grew up reading, and speaking, a dialect that was thickly clotted with the polysyllabic and obscure. I learned a long time ago never to speak my truest mind to anybody; if you are having a conversation with me, you are being actively filtered to what I think you can understand.

Which is not to say that I think I am smarter than everybody else. I just had a wider and deeper exposure to the written English word. If I am speaking to a materials engineer or a mathematician about something in his speciality, I expect him to filter for me and I do not feel diminished by that. The conversational flow in my head is a torrent of associated metaphor, poetry, quotes from antiquity, rap lyrics, and other flotsam that wouldn’t make sense to anybody but me. What you get is the regulated, docile stream at the cloaca of a massive hydroelectric dam. It’s better for both of us that way.

To my immense sorrow, I’m already seeing the same thing happen to my son. He asks, “Would you like to hear about how I learned X, Y, and Z?” He’s already learned that most people don’t want to hear what is in his head, all his logical deductions and inferences, his eleven-steps-to-checkmate understanding of things. He asks first. I want to tell him that he does not have to ask his own father before he speaks about something that interests him, but I also know the effort of will and sum of misery that it cost him to put that filter in to begin with.

I use several defined subsets of my personal vocabulary for different audiences. If you are reading this webpage, you are getting the most complicated and extensive set of words that I provide anywhere, because the vast majority of Riverside Green readers are educated, intellectually active men. (Yes, it’s almost always men.) TTAC readers get a simplified version of this vocabulary. When I choose words for R&T, I rarely use anything that a reasonably intelligent high-school senior could not be expected to know. In the case of my PCOTY article, this score page says it is “Grade 11.70”.

Still, I understand why the Jalopnik reader in the quote that opens this article is upset and/or offended by what I write. Here’s Jonny Lieberman, writing last week about the Chevrolet SS:

I’d choose the SS over ATS-V and M3 any day. The new Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, well, that’s very close to being better than the SS. I have no doubt that the 505-hp Italian is more capable than the SS­—I won’t even bother with all the numbers, just trust me here—but capability is not the same thing as driving pleasure. This concept trips people up. Just because something can catapult itself to 60 mph quicker than something else doesn’t mean it is the better car. It just means it’s quicker. Having spent plenty of time with both machines, there’s a sweetness to the SS on a back road that is not quite there with the Alfa. Think of it as a cherry on top. That’s the difference. The Giulia Q is fantastic, whereas the Chevy is fantastic plus more. What about sport sedans in the 5 Series class? Again, the SS wins. Even as performance-biased as these beasts are—and we’re talking CTS-V, RS7, E63, M5—not one of them is as satisfying to drive or as much fun as the Chevy SS. Yup, even with all that extra power. I should note that the BMW M5 can be had in the U.S. with a six-speed manual, but I’d still take the SS.

Mr. Lieberman violates the Rule Of Ten Thousand just once, with “catapult”, trusting that his World-Of-Warcraft-addicted readers will know what a catapult is. And he is very good about using the simplest words possible, even if he repeats himself. “Better” appears multiple times. “Quicker” appears twice in a row. He has a knack of double-hammering you with a word in succession, just so you don’t accidentally wander away from the point.

Some of what he writes is frankly illiterate: “Having spent plenty of time with both machines, there’s a sweetness to the SS on a back road” implies that the SS, not Jonny, has spent plenty of time with both machines. Some of it appears to be written with five-year-olds in mind: “The Giulia Q is fantastic, whereas the Chevy is fantastic plus more.” Eat your Cheerios, Billy; they are fantastic plus more! Worst of all, his sentence about “beasts” makes very little sense; having just told you that capability and fun are not directly related, he then pretends to contradict himself with an “Even” before returning to his well-worn track. One might as well write, “Even as calorie-laden as these beasts are — and we’re talking Quarter Pounder, Whopper — not one of them is as tasty to eat or as enjoyable to chew as Beluga caviar.”

Yet although Jonny is frequently incoherent at the atomic level, his article as a whole is very easy for an ADD-addled Millennial to digest one iScreen of text at a time. It’s a monotonous, almost tribal repetition of GOOD and FUN and FAST and GOOD and FAST and FUN. The only precision in the writing comes when it is time to discuss minor variations in quarter-mile time that might well be down to atmospheric-pressure variations or a headwind. This modern cocktail of kindergarten word-salad mixed with measurement beyond significant digits has become the incontrovertible fashion of automotive writing and to digress from it is to court disaster. The same score utility that marks PCOTY as Grade 11.70 marks Jonny as Grade 8.74. This makes rough sense: you can start off high school reading Motor Trend and by the time you go to college you can switch to Road&Track.

Unfortunately, the fact remains that most of the media that people consume nowadays is written for eighth-graders at best. So when they encounter something that is not written for eighth-graders, it makes them nervous, which makes them desirous of finding fault in the author rather than in the reader. I do not, and will not, apologize for not targeting my creative efforts at the lowest common denominator. Nor am I going to change. If the day comes that my outlets require me to write in the Lieberman Style, I’ll simply resign and go back to a proper, dignified job like working at Wendy’s as a burger-flipper. There are a million eighth-grade stories in the naked auto-journo city, and a handful of even slightly erudite men attempting to write something just a little bit better. The fellow who whines about my “five-dollar” words is basically attempting to serve as a volunteer version of Diana Moon Glampers, Kurt Vonnegut’s infamous Handicapper General. I DON’T READ THESE WORDS EVERY DAY ON GAWKER SO THEY MUST BE BAD TAKE THE BAD MAN AWAY MOMMY HIS WORDS ARE HURTING MY TUMMY.

Which brings us to a question: If Mark Twain and I write at about the same level of complexity, and Twain griped about people who did not, what did he mean? Well, why don’t we take these paragraphs written by Samuel Johnson as an example. His essay “On Procrastination” was a first draft written in his drawing room while the copy-boy from the printer waited. He did not even bother to read it once; having written the last sentence, he handed it directly to the copy-boy.

Thus life is languished away in the gloom of anxiety, and consumed in collecting resolution which the next morning dissipates; in forming purposes which we scarcely hope to keep, and reconciling ourselves to our own cowardice by excuses which, while we admit them, we know to be absurd. Our firmness is by the continual contemplation of misery hourly impaired; every submission to our fear enlarges its dominion; we not only waste that time in which the evil we dread might have been suffered and surmounted, but even where procrastination produces no absolute increase of our difficulties, make them less superable to ourselves by habitual terrors. When evils cannot be avoided, it is wise to contract the interval of expectation; to meet the mischiefs which will overtake us if we fly; and suffer only their real malignity without the conflicts of doubt and anguish of anticipation.

To act is far easier than to suffer; yet we every day see the progress of life retarded by the vis inertiae, the mere repugnance to motion, and find multitudes repining at the want of that which nothing but idleness hinders them from enjoying. The case of Tantalus, in the region of poetic punishment, was somewhat to be pitied, because the fruits that hung about him retired from his hand; but what tenderness can be claimed by those who, though perhaps they suffer the pains of Tantalus, will never lift their hands for their own relief?

The same index that gives me an 11.70 and Jonny an 8.74 gives Johnson… wait for it… 24.76. Since there is no actual program for 24.76 years of formal education in this country, one has to assume that the algorithm just went off the rails when confronted with Johnson’s prose. Yet there were once plenty of men in the Western world who could read and comprehend such an essay in the same short space of time that it required in the composition.

I doubt that Mark Twain envisioned the degree to which a five-dollar word, or a five-dollar bill, could sink in this present and degraded age. It is a process not yet ended. My son’s generation will look on what I write with the same slack-jawed incomprehension that the Oppositelock crowd would display if exposed to Samuel Johnson. Can you imagine the Motor Trend of the year 2045?

REEL GUD CAMERO TELZ REEL GUD MUSTANK TO GO OUTSIDE NEAR DOOR FOR POOPING ROOM!

Is there no way to stop it? No way to beat back the tide? Brother, can you spare a five-dollar word?

61 Replies to “The Critics Respond, Part Forty-One”

  1. Ryan

    What bothers me about Lieberman’s article you included was the use of the word “just.” The word was used three times in four sentences. Two of those sentences edge on being sentence fragments, but I digress.

    I once read an article on improving the effectiveness of your business writing. One of the first “topics” was regarding the superfluous use of the word “just,” which used to be a bad habit of mine. Now, when someone overuses the word, it really sticks out.

    Reply
  2. Harry

    Perhaps he knew too much. The fantastical idea that a 580 hp in-line 6 could have produced enough relative motion to achieve a noticeable doppler effect in sunlight could have sent him off the rails.

    That being said, as I wrote that snarky comment I can’t help think about the speed of human perception and the effect of motion/light/shadow on one’s experience.

    Reply
      • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

        I think the way I wrote it first was

        “a sun-stippled Doppler-dappled”

        to imply that the car moved between spots of light through the trees quickly enough to produce a wavelength shift. I shit-canned that once I realized that I’d have to explain it.

        Reply
        • 98horn

          In the immortal words of the philosopher Taggart: “Goldarnit, Mr. Lammarr, you use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore.”

          Reply
  3. VoGo

    In the recent history of autojournalism, has the term ‘maw’ ever NOT been preceded by the term ‘gaping’?

    Reply
  4. everybodyhatesscott

    The only word I had to look up was recherche. Part of me thinks that one was deliberate on your part. If you don’t have to look up words when you read, you either have an immense vocabulary or you aren’t challenging yourself.

    Reply
      • Will

        Oooh I see what you did there.

        Poor writing doesn’t bother me as much as cognitive dissonance does; the lack of intellectual depth of this “new media” system(?) is appalling (present company exlcuded).

        Reply
    • VoGo

      recherche: to force a church-goer to return to his place of worship.

      As in: “The Church Lady made Little Johnny recherche after Sunday School for suggesting that Jesus would not approve of her constant gossiping.”

      Reply
      • Will

        What? That’s not the definintion of recherche. Unless you were going for a pun, even as a fan of puns, this is a terrible one and you should apologize for ruining the fun of puns.

        Reply
          • Will

            Vogo, You’re so boring, you couldn’t even convince a porn star to have sex with you. All one needs for that is $200 and a camera.

    • Highly Filtered Female

      Right on, everybodyhatesscott!

      The way to stop it is to encourage people to learn the words that they are unsure of. My mother told me to “look it up in the dictionary”. Today, I can long press it on my Android and find the definition in seconds. A practice I have used more times than I care to admit when reading your work. The thought of criticizing you never crossed my college educated mind. It keeps me engaged, entertained and educated.

      Reply
    • jcain

      Interestingly enough, the iScreen on which I read this allows me to highlight a word and view its definition in one or two taps.

      Maybe the Jalopnik reader should be advised of this useful feature.

      Reply
  5. Pat

    I can’t disagree with a word — although I’m iffy about your usage of the word “rubric” in that graf, unless you’re saying that driving the Turbo P-Car was a red-letter day for you :).

    I once had a job that included a collateral duty of writing some of those “… For Dummies” books, and it was quite an adjustment to get down to the 1 cent words required.

    Reply
  6. Mopar4wd

    And here are the comments of a largely uneducated man.

    When I was in High school I was taught anything you wrote that was for public consumption should be written , for a 6th to 8th grade audience. Public consumption being journalism or business writing I assume. So Johnnies doing it by the book. For practical purposes it ensures the largest possible audience as well.

    That Samuel Johnson quote is brilliant and is an incredibly apt description of some of my own problems.

    ADHD causes some interesting things in the brain. While I stopped at Trade school, I read a lot as a kid tons, spent most days reading in my room. I did well in English class because of it. The problem was I learned everything from reading not paying attention in school. Which means grammar rules, no idea. Punctuation rules, no idea. Spelling , no idea. My ADHD brain translates the words to pictures in my head well enough but it never absorbed the technical details surrounding them. Not so good when you get a detail oriented English teacher your senior year in high school.

    If you want to talk about setting a scene in a bit too many words have I got a series for you. I have been reading Anne of Greene Gables by L.M. Montgomery to my older daughter. Holly cow she writes beautiful scenes but uses about 10 times the words required. It amazing and annoying all at the same time.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      It’s interesting to see what the availability of video has done to our tolerance, as readers, for elaborate scene-setting.

      There was a time in literature where “travel books” were the most popular thing going. Most of them were nothing but descriptions of something that the author had seen overseas. Melville made his mark with a few of those before he got ambitious with Moby-Dick, which flopped because it had too much plot.

      I don’t much care for lengthy scene-setting in books myself. Never did. Give me the basics and let my imagination take it from there.

      Reply
      • James

        Jerome K. Jerome wrote as much, before the Great War. And yet, Three Men on a Boat is a better book than Three Men on the Bummel!

        Reply
  7. Tietonian

    “If I am speaking to a materials engineer…”
    I refuse to filter for you! 😛
    BAND GAP DRIFT VELOCITY FERMI ENERGY BEER-LAMBERT LAW!!!
    I am such a child…

    Reply
  8. Dirty Dingus McGee

    The reason articles are written at the 8th grade level, is because that’s where the AVERAGE comprehension is for the readership. And sadly, I think it’s drifting lower. You have college grads that couldn’t pass a junior high English class of 40 years ago. I’ve read articles by “journalist’s” that have so many spelling, punctuation and grammar problems, that my mind boggles. Some of my old English teachers would have failed them repeatedly, with good reason.
    I don’t consider myself a “grammar nazi”, or even a highly educated consumer of the written word, but good lord some of whats out there is atrocious. And to think they are actually paid for it is even more stupefying. Makes me wonder sometimes if perhaps I might should have pursued a writing career.
    But then I read something written by someone who actually CAN write, and remember why I DON’T write for a living (hint; I like to eat at least once or twice a day).

    Reply
    • Ronnie Schreiber

      I get a kick out of amateurs telling people who are, demonstrably, professional writers, that they don’t know how to write.

      My favorite one of those was a guy who complained about a five line, single sentence paragraph that opened a piece of mine. There was a “, but” right in the middle, no really, in the middle of line 3, but I didn’t feel like “. However”. The very first comment was a complaint about a run-on sentence. Chiming in (there’s always a “third man in” in an internet argument, “yeah, I think he’s stoopid too!”), was someone who said that his English teacher wife teaches her students the rule of thumb is that if there are more than two commas and it’s not a list to break it into separate sentences.

      I wanted to, but didn’t, tell the guy that his mediocrity of an English teacher wife is making mediocre writers. Shit, the guy probably couldn’t define an independent clause if he had to do so convince the English teacher to give him a blow job. Probably thinks mediocre means terrible, not just worse than average.

      Those are the kind of people to whom I want to ask if they know what the word condescending means.

      Reply
      • carrya1911

        I know very little about the formal rules of grammar. I found English class to be insufferable when I was in school, apart from the times where we read books. Diagramming sentences was torture.

        Despite this, I always did exceptionally well in any writing task. I merely tried to copy the writing of the best authors I was able to read. This frustrated my teachers. I could not describe in detail exactly why my sentences worked and I thought it sufficient that they worked, and beyond that worked well. Better than my classmates who could label everything better but did not produce a better result.

        Reply
        • Mopar4wd

          I’m similar 1911. I did much the same and had a A- average thru my last year of high school (including a couple AP classes). Then hit upon a teacher who used to force us to break down what we wrote and tell her how the rules applied in our sentence structure. That did not go well.
          Also it turns out a few of the writers I read a lot were not the best examples of proper grammar either.
          I also fear I have lost something now do to age and practice. Back when I was in school I could type 10 pages like nothing with few mistakes, now not so much. I also with 3 kids find much less time to read then I once did.

          On a side story one of my Aunts was an English teacher, she was appalled when I mentioned how little of grammar rules I knew.

          Reply
  9. WheeTwelve

    I recall reading extensively when I was a kid. It helped that video games weren’t abundant, and there were three channels of TV programming, two of which were off the air most of the day. Difficulty comes in when you have to ditch your language and embrace a different one, as the life simultaneously loads up with adult responsibilities.
    That Samuel Johnson quote reminds me of trying to read Buechner. Like trying to run underwater, and about as exhausting. I suppose I read in the wrong language, when I did. Not regretting it, but I have to admit it didn’t work out for the best.
    Still, could be worse. I could be reading Motor Trend. Or even worse, trying to imagine Motor Trend in 2045. Please, do not make me do *that*.

    Reply
  10. Erich

    I stopped reading Johnny in 2012 when he said he would rather drive a Porsche Boxster than the Corvette ZR1 or Gen 5 Viper.

    Reply
  11. carrya1911

    The difference between someone who uses uncommon vocabulary as a staple of their conversation and writing due to reading more than the average bear and someone using vocabulary as a truncheon is *usually* readily apparent.

    Only a Bob Ewell would get outraged that an Atticus Finch would use a big word now and then. Not that your average Jalopnik reader would understand the reference or the difference.

    I do find it amusing to see cites from Mr. Twain in an era where he and Harper Lee’s best works are now deemed too “racist” to be read in schools.

    Reply
  12. Rick T.

    “Is there no way to stop it? No way to beat back the tide?”

    Not unless we go back several centuries and learn our reading and writing from the King James Bible and Shakespeare. When watching Ken Burns Civil War documentary, I am often struck by the literacy of letters written home by soldiers with very modest education.

    Reply
    • Rick T.

      And I’ll add the best choice I ever made in my education was to take 4 years of Latin and two years of Greek. Nothing to bolster your vocabulary like knowing what most of the roots of words mean.

      Reply
      • Rob

        Beat me to it, Rick. I didn’t have dedicated Latin, but many years of education in life sciences gave me the ability to break down just about anything.
        Jack, I think Jalopnik’s readership is beneath you. Occasionally I will see a link there to a post on Jezebel, and will wander over to see what the unbonkable chicas are upset about this week. Know your enemy and all that.

        Reply
  13. Wren

    I had no idea what you were talking about until I got to the Mustank. That was some good writing write there that was!

    Reply
  14. Dean

    There’s an art to dumbing-down content to match the intellectual capacities of the audience. I have to do it daily both to my patients as well as many of my younger coworkers, for whom writing a clinical note is a journey into the unknown land of sentence construction, grammar, and rarely-used vocabulary.
    I don’t follow this page because I am particularly enamored of automobiles, although I think they are a fine topic. I follow this page because of the engaging writing and excellent storytelling found here. I am glad you took this nitwit to task; perhaps he will move along to an author more befitting of his attention. Please carry on, Jack. And, thank you.

    Reply
  15. Will Litten

    I’m from Fresno, CA, one of the top ten least educated cities in America with a population over 500,000. My friends and I have always been aware of this and some of us, myself included, have always tried to overcompensate because of where we’re from. More often than not I am the most well read person in the room. But I know that I am relatively illiterate compared to someone like Jack. In the sample paragraphs that Jack provides there are a couple words that I don’t know the meaning to but I can infer them from the context they are used in. But that Samuel Johnson quote? I have to go back and read each line multiple times to understand them. Its not even that the vocabulary is that difficult, the paragraph is just so “dense” for lack of a better word. Johnson makes me feel self-conscious about my literacy, like I grew up in a cave raised by hyenas. So to a degree I can sympathize with the Jalopnik commentor, but that doesn’t mean he should bash a writer who made him feel inferior.

    Reply
    • Will Litten

      (Becasue I had to see how I would be rated.)
      Indication of the number of years of formal education that a person requires in order to easily understand the text on the first reading
      Gunning Fog index : 11.14
      Approximate representation of the U.S. grade level needed to comprehend the text :
      Coleman Liau index : 7.32
      Flesch Kincaid Grade level : 8.56
      ARI (Automated Readability Index) : 7.74
      SMOG : 10.75

      Reply
  16. Dan R.

    Jack, I had to look up “recherche” and, having now done so, and being a bilingual Quebecois, I can tell you that particular Frenchism still requires an ‘accent aigu’ at the end, as in, “recherché,” transforming it from ill-placed noun to appropriate past participle adjective. Hey, don’t thank me, thank my years as a hapless French-as-a-second-language pupil, cowering behind what every Quebec Anglo kid considered their personal Green Hell. (not the Nordschliefe, sadly; this: https://www.amazon.ca/LArt-Conjuguer-Bescherelle-Dictionnaire-verbes/dp/2894282591)

    Maybe it’s because I spent too many of my formative years reading from the low-brow aisle — car mags, skate mags, early Vice — but my brain automatically craves brevity and [what it perceives as] the inherent beauty of simplicity. I also find myself on a continual, arduous quest for economy in my own writing.

    I’ve been trying to make up for ignoring literature in my youth by reading as much of it as I can now. I’ve found 5-dollar words are great, but only if they add clarity, while lowering a sentence’s total syllable count. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it’s what appeals.

    Incidentally, here’s a link to Gavin McInnes rules on writing – I don’t post this to enlighten someone as well-read as you or the rest of the B&B here, but only as an explanation for why younger writers seem to write like they do. I think I may have mentoined McInnes to you before – he was the original editor of Vice and pretty much what every Gawker and millenial writer seems to strive for, for better or worse. It probably explains Lieberman’s style, too. I especially loved the Ghostface line.

    http://takimag.com/article/writing_for_the_rest_of_us_gavin_mcinnes/print

    Sorry for rambling: conciseness and diction are things I think about a lot. TL;DR: keep using those big words and making people like me go for the dictionary. As verbose as people think you’re being, you seem to come by it honestly and, more to the point, to great effect.

    BTW if anybody wants to read someone who is truly, maddeningly verbose, try anything by Conrad Black, whose work I’m struggling through now. Man alive, that dude’s an asshole with his thesaurus.

    Be well,

    Dan R.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      “Jack, I had to look up “recherche” and, having now done so, and being a bilingual Quebecois, I can tell you that particular Frenchism still requires an ‘accent aigu’ at the end, as in, “recherché,” ”

      You are absolutely right. However, I don’t ever add accents to what I write. Blame my days working in Unix text editors, perhaps.

      Reply
  17. galactagog

    you should start making words up, just to mess with people

    that “critic” would probably self implode trying to read Lewis Carrol:

    “`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
    All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe. ”

    brilliant really…the words are comprehensible and descriptive even though they are nonsensical

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  18. N3TRUN

    Glad to see the latest crop of curmudgeons has gathered to berate the younger generation for bringing the end of civilization (and all that is good) that much closer. Time honored traditions such as these must survive so we can pass them down to our sons and daughters. Gripe on!

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