Word snobs are out of touch with reality.

July 11, 2007 — 1 Comment

I don’t like to use big words that sound intelligent. I understand a lot of them, but they are out of place with my everyday life. Most people today don’t walk around using a graduate-level vocabulary. Just look at your most recent text message. You’re more likely to see things like “cya,” “whatsup,” and “how r u?”. We’re a generation that likes to get to the point.

A news story about new words added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary reminded me of my dislike for fancy words and my appreciation for new combinations of words. MW will be adding “ginormous” to its newest dictionary this year (and I have to add it to my Firefox dictionary, too). If you’ve been hiding inside a cave for the past few years, you might not have noticed, but ginormous has become ginormous. I’ve heard it used in everyday conversations, tv shows, movies and more. It makes sense to add it to the dictionary.

Word snobs, like Allan Metcalf, a professor of English at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill., and the executive secretary of the American Dialect Society, don’t get it. Here is what Mr. Metcalf had to say about ginormous being added: “A new word that stands out and is ostentatious is going to sink like a lead balloon. It might enjoy a fringe existence.” There are two things about his statement that irritate me. First off, he’s implying that a word like ginormous won’t last because of its novelty. That might be true, but it might not. All of our language is basically an evolution from previously existing words, so why wouldn’t a new word stick.

The other thing that bugs me is the fact that he used the word “ostentatious” to talk about a word that would fade away. When was the last time you heard anyone use that word? I had no idea what it meant, so I had to look it up at webster.com. Its definition is “marked by or fond of conspicuous or vainglorious and sometimes pretentious display.” Mr. Metcalf is being pretentious with his vocabulary to degrade a word that he considers to be pretentious.

The fact of the matter is that in order to communicate effectively you have to use language and terminology that your audience is familiar with and is relevant to them. I applaud Merriam-Webster for not living up in ivory towers, but trying to stay in touch with the average English speaking person. This should pay off for them in the long run.

Kevin

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