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November 7th, 2009


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12:51 pm - Word Power
Someone wrote a letter to the Guardian a while ago, complaining about Will Self's article on Roald Dahl. Specifically about his use of obscure terms. The letter-writer gets quite personal: 'Does (Self) use big words because there's a bit of a lacuna in the long-johns department?' (NB ahem I doubt it in this case).

The words he specifically objects to are:

barbellate
veridical
apiarist
Manichean
hydrocephalic
immiserated
mancipated
synechdoche
applique
quiddity

I like most of them. To substitute a synonym would be a loss. I prefer journalists to err towards precise and uncommon words. As Charlie Brooker said on telly last night, you weren't put off Monty Python if you hadn't heard of philosophers they joked about, and you might be motivated to find out more.

Having said that, I think 'mancipated' is a little pointless. I didn't know what 'barbellate' meant. I looked it up after reading the letter, but not after reading the review. I don't usually bother to look up words; I just make a guess.

(16 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:ajr
Date:November 7th, 2009 01:13 pm (UTC)
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I read that letter at the time and thought that the letter writer had completely missed the point of Will Self.
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From:communicator
Date:November 7th, 2009 03:36 pm (UTC)
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Yes. Might be threatened by him in some obscure half-understood way, hence the gratuitous attack on his long-johns.
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From:splodgenoodles
Date:November 7th, 2009 01:43 pm (UTC)

Have no idea about the article in question, but hey - new words!

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I like 'mancipated', it's up there with 'gruntled'.


Gruntled:

"Do you like my bears? I chose them because they look so very gruntled."
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:November 7th, 2009 03:38 pm (UTC)

Re: Have no idea about the article in question, but hey - new words!

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And in fact they do. And then there is the happy image of the bears gruntling in a contended manner, perhaps as they dip their noses in hunny.
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From:hafren
Date:November 7th, 2009 04:11 pm (UTC)
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Well, I'm with Fowler in preferring the Saxon to the Latin where possible, so I'd always rather have beekeeper than apiarist. I can't for the life of me think of alternatives to hydrocephalic, quiddity or applique, but synechdoche is one of those words the meaning of which I cannot hold in my head - I know it's something like metonymy but I can never recall what that means either. Like egregious and palimpsest, both of which I must have looked up a dozen times and promptly forgotten again. When this happens, I take it to indicate that the word has no use in my life and forget about it.

I think Self was showing off a bit, but that's his style.
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From:communicator
Date:November 7th, 2009 08:21 pm (UTC)
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Yes, to be honest I prefer beekeeper, and apiarist is no more precise, though it is slightly funnier.
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From:espresso_addict
Date:November 7th, 2009 04:43 pm (UTC)
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I recall enjoying the article when I read it originally, and didn't notice that there were several words unknown to me ('barbellate', 'veridical' & 'immiserated'). I thought using low-frequency words for comic effect, as Self does, for example, with 'barbellate', was a relatively common style of humour?

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From:communicator
Date:November 7th, 2009 08:14 pm (UTC)
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I probably wouldn't have remembered the letter, but the guy seemed genuinely incensed.
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From:matildabj
Date:November 7th, 2009 05:41 pm (UTC)
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I missed Charlie Brooker on the telly last night? Gah. He has such a point there about Python.
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From:communicator
Date:November 7th, 2009 08:12 pm (UTC)
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I don't know what it was. I came into the room and he was chattering on about not dumbing down, but I think it was in a gap between programs or a trailer for a new series or something.
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From:glitterboy1
Date:November 7th, 2009 06:01 pm (UTC)
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I didn't see the article at the time, but my own reaction is that the letter-writer has missed the point. Many of the less-common words are used for humorous effect ('barbellate', from the list above, 'fulminating misanthrope', or 'the no doubt unwelcome encomium...'); all of them, I think, are from someone who knows and enjoys words, and is talking, quite consciously, to an audience who do, too. And, if you want to make a criticism, I think that would be it: what if part of the audience doesn't? When does that shared pleasure tip over into self-satisfaction (sorry, no pun intended!) and exclusivity?
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From:communicator
Date:November 7th, 2009 08:10 pm (UTC)
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Yes, some people are irritated if you use words they don't know. But you can't let that inhibit you too much. I don't think you can please 'em all.
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From:splodgenoodles
Date:November 8th, 2009 12:31 am (UTC)
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And now that I've actually read the article in question...

That's probably one of the first movie reviews more than 100 words long that I've read in a long time. Usually I just skim and/or move on after a paragraph. I suspect this is because it's actually pleasurable to read. (And this is coming from someone who has cognitive problems that make reading anything more than 100 words long a bit of a challenge).


I wouldn't even know the names of all those philosophers if it weren't for Monty Python, and I can thank Black Adder for putting English history into my head - we never got it at school.
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From:communicator
Date:November 8th, 2009 11:02 am (UTC)
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I was talking to my son last night about how Sight and Sound has intelligent film reviews, but we are always tempted to pick up Empire and just count the number of stars.
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From:sugoll
Date:November 8th, 2009 08:30 am (UTC)
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Whenever I read things like this, I'm reminded of two things. The first is Spike Milligan, in one of his books (I forget which). He uses a largeish word - I forget which, there, as well - with a footnote. The note just says, "Look it up. I had to."

The other is from the Modesty Blaise books. One of the games Willie plays with Modesty is to throw unusual words into a conversation. She has to go look them up, and sneak them back into conversation in the right context.

And I keep forgetting what palimpsest means, too.
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From:communicator
Date:November 8th, 2009 11:05 am (UTC)
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I like 'palimpsest' I think because I always wanted to be an archaeologist... On the mighty rivers of British Columbia, leaping from text to text, my trowel over my shoulder...

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