Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.
Ernest Hemingway has a point often times an one-dollar word works far better than a ten-dollar word. While ten-dollar words have their place, often times, they just don’t hold the same power. They can break a moment as a reader has to pause and reach for a dictionary, or they just make the reader scratch their head, wondering about the word choice.
Words hold power to evoke powerful emotions in reader. I will admit to having wept at particularly moving lines — well-written lines. And when considering these lines that evoke strong emotion in me, they did not use ten-dollar words.
“Summer, and he watches his children’s heart break. Autumn again and Boo’s children needed him.” — “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee.
These two lines have stuck with me ever since I read “To Kill a Mockingbird” in high school. Simple sentences, simple words, yet so much power. “Where the Red Fern Grows” is an other example for me personally where the simple evoked so many tears; I remember just bawling my eyes out when reading that book. There is much power in the simple; it transcends across the broad spectrum of the human condition — there is no extra accessory required to appreciate it’s meaning.
Dictionaries and thesauruses have their uses, and sometimes it is fun to try a new word; however, writers need to make sure they do not cross the line of abuse. There is nothing as eye-rolling, as cringe-worthy, as thesaurus abuse. What makes thesaurus abuse even worse is when a writer plugs in a ten-dollar word and then fails to grasp its meaning, often to the reader’s amusement.
Christopher Paolini is the writer that instantly springs to mind when I think of thesaurus abuse. Several passages (if I had one of the books, I would share a few examples) feel as if Paolini has pulled words from SAT preps and the thesaurus. It is particularly hilarious because of a photo accompanying an article The New York Times published back in January 2012; the photo showed Paolini’s desk with the “Super Thesaurus” on it. Of course, Paolini is not the only guilty writer; he just happens to be the first one that pops into my mind.
Writers who plug in ill-fitting ten-dollar words no doubt think they are so clever; however, they often don’t realize the disconnect they cause with their readers. This is not to say that ten-dollar words can’t be done properly since they can if used wisely and sparingly.
My overall point: Choose your words carefully, pick the right one whether it is one-dollar or ten-dollar, don’t snub one-dollar words as inferior, and be sure you know what your ten-dollar words mean and how to use them.