“My vocabulary dwells deep in my mind and needs paper to wriggle out into the physical zone. Spontaneous eloquence seems to me a miracle.” – Vladimir Nabokov, Strong Opinions
In May I spent more (than usual) time worried about the words I choose in everyday language. I became acutely aware of the differences in my written speech and my spoken one. I noticed that I had opted out for simple, quick words that popped into my mind like fireworks, instead of selecting the vivid and precise boulders of usually longer and mostly unpopular words. Words that communicated the meaning exceptionally, but words that also don’t spring into action at the slighted fancy of the brain. The words need mining. While I wanted to give them some spotlight, I ended up using the simplest normal words.
The more chipper, satisfied and energetic I was, the more my speech resembled a basic soap opera set. Exaggerating, I’ll even say, my speech was caveman-like! Sentence structure, all sorts of exclamations and exclamation marks. Well, the usual me, I guess, hehe.
Having learned English as a second language, I’ve always paid attention to my vocabulary, words I use, metaphors I create and more. Knowing more than one language makes you appreciate the variety of expressions that already exist and that could be created. Writing was not a problem. Writing allows for apt word selections and swollen metaphors because of the comforts of time and editing options, while speaking in person demands mental dexterity and immediate responses. I also couldn’t understand the incongruence between my written language and my spoken one. What the …!
So I entertained this worry until I ran across the aforementioned quote by Nabokov in Strong Opinions. That definitely relaxed me. Consulting with a couple of fellow lovers of words and letters, I found out it’s not an usual concern. Moreover, it made me consciously make an effort to give some air time to words we sometimes only see in print.
Progress! Yesterday for the first time I noticed that, while telling Meghann a story, I deliberately thought about colorful metaphors to employ. I took the time to summon a lengthier and sometimes even more pompous word where a simple one could suffice. I realized that ever since I consciously made an effort to decorate in-person parlance with more book-like words, I’ve been making some success. Now the only task is to continue to collect and use more of these epic words
Fun Update: randomly searching the web, of course, yielded this paper: “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly” . I smirked. Tell that to the author himself!
I’d like to say that I believe there is a difference between literary, fiction-oriented writing and to-the-point writing style of the everyday (journalistic, business, too). I just like my goddamn language, so I will savor every word I can.
On the other hand, I, too, was annoyed when students mindlessly employed long words to add potential zest to papers. But never in my life have I discounted someone’s intelligence just because they used complex words. And knew when to use them. More often than not, their speech was also more entertaining, with puns and humor, jokes and various references.