A mild case of sesquipedaliophobia?

Usually, no one could accuse me of sesquipedaliophobia. I love long words. In the car this morning, I was thinking about unusual words which I love: crepuscular, schadenfreude, ghyll, avoirdupois, lamellar, peripatetic, fulgent

However, I don’t usually drop those words into my academic writing. I recognise that they are unusual words, and that there may be better words to use if I want to get my message across to a wide audience. “Restitution law is fulgent with promise.” Hmm, maybe not. Particularly if the present High Court has its wicked way (yah boo hiss!)

On that point, I was reading an academic treatise the other day, and I became very irritated. It was full of words which I had to look up in the dictionary: patrimonial loss (essentially a pecuniary loss), diorthotic (straightening out or correcting), synallagma (reciprocal obligations) and Thomistic (pertaining to the scholastic legal tradition of St Thomas Aquinas). I found this person’s work very difficult to read as a result. Yes, they’re interesting words, but why not just say “corrective” instead of “diorthotic”? Please shoot me if I use these words in any of my writing. There are times when you can over-indulge your love of complex words. 



Filed under academia, crazy stuff, wordies

6 responses to “A mild case of sesquipedaliophobia?

  1. Dan

    You’re right. If academic writing is about expressing ideas, then filling it with big words excludes a lot of people. It also comes across like showing off.

    A good outlet for your love of words is at Wordie, which bills itself as “Like Flickr but without the photos”.

  2. Please shoot me if I use these words in any of my writing. There are times when you can over-indulge your love of complex words… You aren’t likely to be shot.

    I have to confess I have a weakness for odd words myself. At one time a colleague (with whom I shared this type of logophilia) used to search out obscure terms in the Shorter Oxford and then try to incorporate them into the day somehow. For example, sometimes I would go into one of his lessons and po-faced make some sort of silly announcement, such as “Mr J, sorry to interrupt, but if there are any porphyrogenites in the class, could they report to the front office at recess?”

    “Snite” was another we almost succeeded in reviving…

  3. The thing with using uncommonly long or unusual words is that they may have a precise meaning that other words don’t quite capture. That’s the reason for using them. Dichotomy is not quite the same as its synonyms difference and disagreement.

    If you want to hear rare words that are used appropriately but unnecessarily, read Bill Hayden’s autobiography. Very cheap in second hand bookstores and they have plenty of copies. Probably because of its overblown verbosity.

    Probably just as well he never became PM.

  4. Neil, I think I was irritated because this person had the hide to use four words that I didn’t know in as many sentences. That’s a very unusual experience for me, and I must confess that it deflated my ego somewhat. Then, to add insult to injury, when I worked out what the author was saying, I violently disagreed with his thesis, and felt even more cross that I had had to expend all this effort on it. I checked with my thesis supervisor, a very erudite and learned man, and he confessed that he found the book unreadable and hadn’t gotten past Chapters 1 and 2, so that made me feel better.

    You would fit well within my friends, the Wordies. We used to set each other challenges to use the “Word of the Day” in certain sentences or ways. Unfortunately, I think I killed it when I challenged the Wordies to use the word of the day in a sonnet. One can go too far.

    I like porphyrogenitism (what an interesting concept). And snite is lovely. I want to revive it too! Another word which I feel is seriously underused is “persiflage.

  5. LL, too true, sometimes a particular word has a connotation which cannot be expressed as clearly (or at all) by a similar word. As a lawyer, I know this to my peril. You are right: sometimes it is necessary to use specialised or unusual words. But in this case, it was totally over the top. Maybe this guy took tips from Bill Hayden… Never read the biography, but I’ve heard similar comments from someone who read it (my aunt, I think, can’t remember).

  6. aibohphobia is worse : a (new and probably artificial) term for fear of palindromes.
    “Doctor, doctor, I’ve got …. aaaaaaaah!”

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