The use and abuse of dictionaries
Some folks scrutinize the dictionary for abstruse locutions to titillate the cerebral functions of those who peruse their literary endeavours.
This sentence is sticky in a negative way. Most readers will get stuck before they reach the end. That doesn’t matter, the sentence doesn’t have much to say. But there are people who believe that if you have something important to say, you must use words that sound important.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God
This sentence, the first verse of John’s gospel, is sticky in a good sense: it sticks in the memory. Only one word has more than one syllable, yet it will take a lifetime to plumb the depths of this sentence.
The title page of the 1611 Bible translation says: “Appointed to be read in churches.” Four hundred years ago appointed meant just what it sounds like: sharpened to a point. The translators were men of great learning, they knew words, their meaning and how best to use them. They crafted a translation that uses small words to convey big meanings in a way that is most effective when read aloud. The words are remembered with no conscious attempt to memorize them.
In a workshop during a writer’s conference, the group leader asked us to write a list of our five favourite books. Many of us had the dictionary on our list, usually near the top. That was a sure sign that I was in the company of writers. Most of us do not read the dictionary to find words to befuddle our readers, we are looking for the right word to make the meaning plain.
The dilettante, one who writes to amuse himself, uses big words, and lots of them, to say very little. The serious writer uses the fewest and smallest words possible to say something meaningful.