Eschewing the Exotic for the Quotidian

I like experiencing strange, new things. Not too new and too strange, mind you. I am not that adventurous, but I have found that new experiences almost always brings positive results.

When it comes to words, I also like learning new words and using them whenever possible, as naturally as possible. I do not know what you think about using new and uncommon words as often as you can, but I honestly would not be surprised if we share the same sentiment. I have to admit, that sometimes, I do have the propensity to choose words that may not be commonly used – if only because I like how the word sounds or looks.

Then I read an old blog post over at The New York Times. ((Words We Love Too Much)) The topic focused on the use of the “somewhat out-of-the-ordinary word” and how the practice can be perfect at times but how it can also make it appear as if the writer were trying too hard.

That made me think about how I choose my words. Some questions that came to mind:

  • Do I follow a mental process when deciding on a particular word to use?
  • Do I consciously pick the word that is less ordinary?
  • Do I often check the dictionary or thesaurus to find a synonym if I can’t immediately think of the “perfect” word for the situation?

I have to admit that I have been chewing on these questions for the past hour or so, and except for the last question, I have no clear answer! I do know that I will not hesitate to look up a word when I am uncertain.

Going back to the NYT blog post, two words were put under the spotlight: eschew and quotidian.

Since I do not read the NYT all that much, I am in no position to judge whether they overuse those words or not. However, I think that I do understand why they would have leaned towards using those words often. Do you?

Then again, the author’s parting words on the topic got me thinking:

Now comes my standard “fancy word” disclaimer: I’m not suggesting a ban on “eschew,” “quotidian” or any other word. But let’s be judicious. And be aware that your striking word choice might seem less so if all your colleagues are using “quotidian” every day, too.

So what do you think? Should we eschew the exotic for the quotidian, or should we stick to how we do things at the moment? I have come to the conclusion that I will continue to choose words that I feel comfortable with (and that includes out-of-the-ordinary words that I like) and that will suit the particular audience I am writing for.

Oh, in case you’re wondering about the photo at the beginning of the post…Do you mind describing it using one sentence? Pay attention to how you choose your adjectives. 😉

Photo via calafellvalo






4 responses
  1. Jennifer Dunn Avatar

    This is a topic near and dear to my heart. As a writer, my philosophy is that it’s my job to simplify hard concepts so that everyone understands them, not use words that are going to confuse someone or make them feel inadequate. It’s why I write for clients like Outright and Kabbage who simplify financial concepts for business owners who don’t have time to learn the difference between a chart of accounts and a balance sheet, and it’s why I write flash fiction – pieces of 500 words or less that tell an entire story as succinctly as humanly possible. (Of course, this has led to plenty of head-desking fights in Master’s Writing Workshops where the majority of the class eschews this philosophy in favor of… verbosity.)

    To me, using a 50 cent word where a 10 cent word will do IS trying to hard. It’s easy to throw a bunch of words up on the .doc like tossing spaghetti at a wall, but much more difficult to edit, kill your darlings, and explain difficult concepts in user-friendly terms.

  2. JCMatt Avatar

    Word choice depends on the writer and the content. It matters more that the vocabulary fits the work and that the text flows smoothly. Unfortunately, our audiences aren’t always as educated as we are, so we have to keep them in mind. But that doesn’t mean we should dumb-down our work.

  3. ecr Avatar

    The comments above make a good point. If you are writing to inform and educate, your choice of words should the reflect the audience you are trying to reach. If the writing is meant for entertainment or storytelling, I believe there should be more freedom in word choice to allow the author to more fully express him/her self. Readers that “get it” are the author’s true audience and those that end up bored/insulted/confused are not.

  4. Scott Avatar

    I have a friend on Facebook who constantly posts deep questions using big, seldom used words. It drives me crazy and he just comes across as though he’s trying too hard to impress everyone. I prefer easier to use words, unless there is nothing else that will fit in the sentence.

    Therefore: Colorful parrots sitting in a cage.

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