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Showing off your vocabulary in articles...yay or nay?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Jim Luther Davis, Jun 6, 2014.

  1. I've noticed some writers who make it a habit to show off their vocabulary by using words typically found on GRE study guide flash gards. Words such as: dyspeptic, ostensibly, cognizant, etc.

    While I'm not suggesting writers should write as if their audience is a bunch of preschoolers, but I personally don't see the point in using huge words that the common reader would need to resort to Google or a dictionary to understand the definition.

    Not only does it take away from your article, but it also makes you come off as a bit arrogant or pompous. Am I alone in this?

    Just a random pet peeve, I guess.
  2. LongTimeListener

    LongTimeListener Well-Known Member

    Your threads are vituperative.
  3. 93Devil

    93Devil Well-Known Member

    I thought newspaper stories were meant to be read on the sixth grade reading level.

    If you want to have fun with words, then do work for an outlet that caters to more advanced readers.
  4. Oh, aren't you the witty one. ::)

    It's an honest question. From my experience, I've heard mixed thoughts from colleagues and editors.
  5. da man

    da man Well-Known Member

    If you make your readers scramble for a dictionary, you lose. The reader, that is.

    Of course, it depends a little on the story. You can get away with it once in awhile in something longer and more involved. And it is hard to resist -- I have been known to work in a "redoubtable" or some such once in awhile. But for the most part, you don't want to go that route.
  6. I agree with the original poster in theory....there's no reason to throw in a big word just to impress people. But everyone has quirks in their vocabulary and might use a word without realizing it's a stretch for readers. I don't think it's deliberate most of the time.

    For example, although I probably wouldn't use the "ostensibly" in the gamer I'm writing this evening, I wouldn't rule it out entirely because it's a word I use quite often. That's probably blinded me to the fact that it's not a common word for most people.

    When I use the online thesaurus, it's almost always to find a smaller, simpler word...unlike high school English, when we'd all use it to find a bigger, more impressive word.
  7. LongTimeListener

    LongTimeListener Well-Known Member

    The people using these words probably aren't doing it to show off. They're probably doing it because these words are a natural, everyday part of their vocabulary and fit naturally into their writing styles. Dyspeptic, ostensibly and cognizant are not words that cause a great deal of consternation (that means anxiety or dismay) to a person with well-developed reading habits.

  8. This is my pet peeve with George Will columns.
  9. Had an editor who implemented this theory in the newsroom. If had to go to the dictionary, the word was out.
  10. Bad day? Keep the underlying tones to yourself, tough guy.

    P.S. Good luck trying to prove that.
  11. True, that makes sense.

    I just personally see it being beneficial to gamble on whether your readers may or may not understand the words you're using. Rather go the safer route--seeking a thesaurus as you mention--than risk your reading losing out, as Pompano mentioned.
  12. CD Boogie

    CD Boogie Well-Known Member

    If you lose a reader who doesn't know what ostensibly means, then they're not much of a reader or don't aspire to be anyway. You're a writer, so push the envelope a little bit, that's always been my feeling. And to LongTime's point, I use ostensibly and cognizant in my everyday language, so it's just natural.
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