Monday, August 2, 2010
Vocabulary: Expand or Not to Expand?
In the other camp sits the belief that it is necessary for a writer to expand their vocabulary. The more words we learn, the more skilled we will be to express ourselves.
In George Orwell’s classic, 1984, the government removed words from the public’s vocabulary in order to remove their ability to think with clarity. “Doubleplusgood” replaced words like “excellent”, “exceptional”, and “brilliant”. “Bad” became “ungood”. This is, of course, an extreme example but it does drive the point home: we need words. So, how far do we go to learn new ones?
My take on the issue: We naturally pick up new words through reading and, as writers, we should be reading a wide range of books anyway. I don’t believe it’s something to stress about. I don’t believe it’s necessary to hunt down new words. When we come back from the hunt with a shiny new gem, we may have a tendency to use the new word for the sake of the new word alone, rather than using it because it’s the right word.
Words interest and fascinate me, but I choose not to use many of the ‘high brow’ ones because it’s just not my writing style. Whenever I throw one in it stands out like a beacon and screams, “Oh, look at me! I’m a big word. Look how smart the author must be to know me!” (exclamation marks ‘n’ all).
Anything that takes away from the story must go. Anything that draws attention to the writer must also go.
If the big words are your thing then they have a place in your prose. A writer friend of mine loves to indulge in lugubrious pontifications. That’s her style and it’s brilliant because she works it well. It’s not my style.
So, what’s your style of writing? Do you love the big words? Do they work for you or do you work for them?