Monday, April 21, 2008

The Sesquipedalianist

I came across the word in an editorial by Dick Cavett in the New York Times. He was discussing the bloated use of euphemism by our commanders in the field.

Politics aside, you have to love the irony of this gargantuan bohemoth: sesquipedalian. Defined, the word describes a person who uses overly long, complicated words in speech or writing (broken into its roots to mean "foot and a half"), which then begs the question, is it possible to use this word without committing the very crime you've leveled against another? No, and that's the beauty.

Not to be outdone, there also exists a beast to characterize one's fear of long words: hippopotamonstrousesquipedaliophobia (words the size of a monstrous hippopotamus perhaps?).

As writers, you're allowed maybe one of these zingers every hundred pages or so (you're NEVER allowed to use hippopotamonstrous...). But when the word becomes the precise word, oh how beautiful it can be. You know what I'm talking about. Just this morning, I've been prowling my list of beauties (I keep a list of great words in my journal for use in stories when the occasion is right). They're not all fifty-cent words, but they'll shine if they find a home on the page:


Mark Twain said the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug. Don't be afraid to flex your verbal muscles when you've got the perfect word, but don't fall prey either to the bloviating puffery of the sesquipedalianist.

No comments: