Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Prefer one and two-syllable words.

I am not asking you to become dumb. I'm asking you to see the beauty and power in simple language. For example, many writers have cited the following two-word sentence as among the most powerful statements in the English language: "Jesus wept." It surely works better than "Jesus became lachrymose." Yet, many teachers would have us write the latter way, many of our college teachers, especially. Using big words is almost a rite of passage in graduate school.

Speaking of rites, I went to my son Alex's first reconciliation tonight. It prepares him for his first Holy Communion after Easter. Many of you remember the rite of reconciliation. For several weeks in CCD you were prepared to meet alone with a priest, face-to-face, for the very first time to tell him of your grievous sins. What could they be, you wondered? I smacked my brother, Nicky, and called him a bozo. Is that a sin? You probably weren't sure and had to be coached on your sins.

You also had one of life's biggest words foisted on you: reconciliation. What a mouthful. I'm guessing that you didn't understand it and I'm also guessing that the church uses this word because of its power to impress people (I hesitate to say intimidate them). But it's a long one, isn't it? Six syllables. Re-con-cil-i-a-tion. Two affixes. One prefix.

We who have been to college have stored a basketful of such words, typically so that we can use them in our writing. We almost never use them in our speech. We don't use them because they won't work in our speech, even with the advantages that spoken English gives us over written English, that is, body language, voice inflection, gestures and the occasional grimace.

So, why do we use them in our writing? We have been taught to impress the reader, that's why. We need to be learned (accent on the "-ed"). We, therefore, tell our associates about the implementation of the specifications toward a resolution of the interferences in the granular processes. And, when a plain-spoken CEO comes along, someone like Jack Welch, and rattles everyone with his bluntness, we call him a genius.

For instance, Welch once said that if a business unit at GE wasn't number one or two he would, "...fix it, close it, or sell it." Anyone not understand that? He said, "If you're not in Germany, you're not in Europe, and if you're not in Asia, you're nowhere." Any questions? If "Neutron Jack" were evaluating an employee, he wouldn't call it a "reconciliation." It would be more like "rank and yank."

In any event, although my son Alex may not understand the word "reconciliation," he and his God have been "brought together" as the word originally meant it Latin. And, he is happy.

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