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January 30, 2007

Cultural Revanchists, Unite!

Long 'ere rosy-fingered dawn painted the sky over our little house in the woods here in western Maryland the half vast editorial staff leapt with alacrity from betwixt the Marital Sheets. Eagerly we searched the Internets, hoping to snatch from the daily smorgasbooard of miserable failure, defeat, and despair some positive message of hope and inspiration. Fortunately for us, Hope was once again On The Way:

"When we walk away from global warming, Kyoto, when we are irresponsibly slow in moving toward AIDS in Africa, when we don't advance and live up to our own rhetoric and standards, we set a terrible message of duplicity and hypocrisy," Kerry said.

"So we have a crisis of confidence in the Middle East - in the world, really. I've never seen our country as isolated, as much as a sort of international pariah for a number of reasons as it is today."

Bowing our curly little head in shame, we pondered the much vaunted verbal mastery of the Junior Senator from North Vietnam. Why couldn't the GOP manage to put forth a candidate smart enough to know the difference between a verbal blunder and a harmless little joke? The secret, we decided, must lie in knowing the right words:

Journalists deride uncommon words as "$10 words" if simpler ones that convey the same meaning can be found. All 2,700 entries in C.S. Bird and Associates' Grandiloquent Dictionary qualify as $10 words, as do such gems as adipose, tarantism, kenspeckle, Feinschmecker, vilipend, and plenilune. The same goes for foreign phrases like a fortiori, comme il faut, a tergo, and preguntando se llega a Roma.

I know one writer so opposed to $10 words that he uses the short stories of Raymond Carver as his thesaurus lest the genuine thesaurus cause him to insert a high-price word into a piece. Don't get me wrong: I get a kick out of $10 words, too, and even use them now and again to make my pieces showier. But the psychic surcharge deters me from using them often enough to fall into the faux-erudition trap that bedevils undisciplined, rich writers like Martin Peretz, co-owner and editor-in-chief of the New Republic. He burns through $10 words and phrases like they're kindling. Peretz's latest exercise in word-bling arrives in the third paragraph of "Just Cause," his piece in the Aug. 7 New Republic. He writes:

As for its successor, the ultramontane Sunni Hamas, and its even more chiliastic Shia half-ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, they do not want any accommodation or compromise, and they do not pretend to.

Now *that's* erudition! In fact, for pompously perfervid perambulation around a subject, it can hardly be improved upon. Of course, some say using too many big words just can backfire on a body. If you're hoping to avoid that mistake, here's a compendium of grandiloquent palaver you may wish to eschew:

A Pompous Ass Word (PAW) is an uncommonly understood word that is synonymous with a commonly understood one. For example, tendentious is a PAW because it could be substituted with biased with no loss of meaning. On the other hand, ersatz isn't because it isn't synonymous with imitation - it implies a lesser quality as well. And while annoying words (proactive), logically incorrect words (irregardless) and trendy words (blog) are all worthy of censure, they aren't PAWs and so aren't eligible for the list.

It also helps if the word is used in some prominent place. If it shows up in the New York Times or a popular novel that's better than a reference to your cousin's term paper.

What are your faves? Feel free to pony up in the comments section. FWIW, the half vast editorial staff particularly dislikes the following, most of which can be found in your average George Will column, which sports an average fog index of about 80,000:

eponymous
dystopic
logorrhea
pis aller

On the otter heiny, we have a few favorites, like the ever-popular:

omphaloskepsis - the fine art of navel gazing

Posted by Cassandra at January 30, 2007 05:27 AM

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Comments

The paucity of comprehension among the audience diminished the elocution of the speaker.

Posted by: karrde at January 30, 2007 08:53 AM

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 01/30/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

Posted by: David M at January 30, 2007 10:48 AM

I read this little essay of yours, Cass, and thought "What a perfect application of the Alanis Morrisette Lyric Generator!"

Then I got this upon a search:

"The file you requested does not exist. We apologize for any trouble, inconvenience, heartbreak, migraines, difficulty in sleeping, vague unfocused angst, roiling hostility, unexpected drops in barometric pressure, surliness in yourself or your co-workers, mouth sores, sexual dysfunction, unwanted celebrity, or distant howling on the very edge of your range of hearing that this may have caused."

Your nightmare is over. The Alanis Morrisette Lyric Generator is no more. Never again can I irritate you with the mindless drik from which that little piece of software, comes.

Alas, poor lyric generator, I knew thee well.

Alright citizens, back to your lives.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at January 30, 2007 12:05 PM

It's like a junior Senator from Massacusetts,
In a never-ending campaign
It's like a botched joke
That you just can't outrun
It's like Alan Greenspan's ass
Driving me inane...

Isn't it ironic?
Don't ya think?

Posted by: Alanis Morissette at January 31, 2007 12:10 PM

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