Vocabulary (i.e., Big) Words

A fourth item in the string beginning with LapidaryObscure, and Unusual, provided by my friend Judy Warner (no, not that Judith Warner): An article in the “Bonds” section of the Wall Street Journal titled Big Words Are Fading, But Many People Still Love Them. (And apparently now behind the paywall. Sorry.)

The writer makes the points made in the previous entries, but provides some amusing stories about the use of words apparently called “vocabulary words.” Like this story about a young man apparently not gifted with perception:

But big words — the words that others perceive to be obscure or “fancy” — have also caused him trouble. In college, he bought his girlfriend the hair-straightening iron she had been hinting about for Christmas and told her, “I thought it was perfect for you, given your fastidious nature when it comes to your appearance.”

Mr. Bonneman says she threw the gift on the couch, snapped, “Well, aren’t you smart?” and stormed out of the room. Then she broke up with him.

“She claimed it had largely been due to my constant use of big words, which made her feel stupid,” says the 28-year-old, who is chief executive of a Miami digital-design agency.

Several years later, Mr. Bonneman says, he received some advice from a colleague before an interview for an IT job. “Don’t use any words that are more than three syllables long — you don’t want the hiring manager to think you are smarter.”

Mr. Bonneman dismissed the advice and during the interview dropped “esoteric,” “penultimate,” “non sequitur,” “didactic” and “circumlocute” on the interviewer.

“Using ‘vocabulary words’ feels much more natural to me than trying to force the use of shorter words in their stead,” he says. He didn’t get the job.

I wouldn’t have thought of “fastidious” as a big word. Here’s an example of the translation one sometimes has to do when writing or speaking:

When speaking with clients, jury members and even other attorneys, Mr. Bahrawy says he limits himself to a vocabulary appropriate for someone with a fifth-grade education. He stays away from “vicissitudes” and instead refers to “the changes that occur in your life.”

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