$10 words: It’s cat, not quadruped

I am currently reading a book called, “The Elegance of the Hedgehog,” by Muriel Barbery.  This book has frustrated me to no end, but I am hoping that in the next one hundred pages it will all start to make sense.  So far, nilch! But it brings me to this question which all you writers, novelists, authors, and wordologists (I don’t know what’s PC in this land of not stepping on toes): What’s with the big words in books?

I am an educated woman.  I aced my college English classes and love fun. new, colorful words, but do I believe in the wonderful saying, “Don’t use a big word when I a little one will do.”  I am currently sitting with this book and a dictionary, both English and French.  There are words like autodidacts, equivication, imbued, transcendental, preeminence, ontological, quadruped (seriously? just say cat or feline), schism, nihilized, opprobrium…and that’s only reflecting on about 20 pages and picking through ten dollar words.

Again, I am educated, my punctuation may need some tidying up, but my vocabulary is divine, yet my eyes bleed every time I open this book.  My kids and boyfriend mock me, because I am still trying to get through this book, which won many awards, but every time I read a chapter I toss the book and yell, “Where’s my dictionary?” So here is where I confess my nerdiness: when I read and see a word I like, or possibly just forgot about, I put it on a little program on my computer called, “Fun Words.”  When I am writing I refer to my fun words.  However! I do not get over zealous with my words, because I don’t want my readers to run for a dictionary with every sentence.

Sure reading helps expand the vocabulary, but it shouldn’t be intimidating.  And it shouldn’t be so difficult that it makes a reader want to pull their hair out or stalk the author and throw the book in their face and yell, “What the heck is an autodidact? Any why say quadruped when you can say cat? Just say cat! Just say cat! Just say cat!” Are you sensing my frustration? You’ve heard of Bible thumping? Well this woman is word thumping.  So why do I continue to read it? Because I dropped serious money for this multi award winning book and the jacket cover synapse sold me.  I knew I shoulda bought that NASCAR Harlequin.

Since then I have started reading The Canterville Ghost, by Oscar Wilde, and even in 19th Century literature, it is far easier to read him than a modern day novel.  I am still working on this book which vomits ten dollar words, but can only manage about a chapter a day.  At this rate I will be done by late summer.  I told my oldest son, who laughs that I haven’t given up…”Perseverance,” I say, hand raised high like the statue of Liberty holding a wordy book.  “Perseverance, my young padawan.  Perseverance and a lot of money.   I paid a mighty price for these ten dollar words, and since I paid about $20 for the book, I realize that after the first two ten dollar words the rest are free.  Maybe I can sell them on my blog.”  You see, when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade then figure out how to sell it for $5 a cup…Starbucks has cornered this market, but I will use words to make my millions.

The moral of the story is…if you use a million ten dollar words you may lose some readers, with the exception of Christian Science Monitors who would call it a book of the year, but note the word, “science” is in there.  Most people cower just at that word alone.  As for me, I am unimpressed at the language, especially when other words would do just fine, and it lessens the appeal of the book and has rendered Muriel Barbery off my must read author’s list.  Do not use a big word where a little word will do! Cat! Cat! Cat! not quadruped! ugh…


8 responses to “$10 words: It’s cat, not quadruped

  1. Maybe if the writer wants to put $10 words in his novel he should put a dictionary in the back of the book.

  2. Oh Tania, I SO loved this!! Kept me laughing all the way through, and encouraged the feeling that I Know you! Yeah, I love words too–obviously. And it’s fun, now and then, to throw in a whopper. But I don’t think good writing demands an open dictionary–and what reader has time or interest for researching words as they go. I remember–way back, eons ago–the teachers taught us to look for the meaning of an unfamiliar word in the “context” where it was used. That’s my default position. I have to be super-intrigued to get up and find a dictionary, or three. Great job here–and I know that, all day, I’ll be shouting “just say cat, just say cat, just say cat!” in moments of humorous frustration!! Thanks so much!

    • the problem here is that when three monstrous words are back to back i can’t assume the meaning in context. It’s plain awful. today a doctor gave me a $20 medical word that I was stumped on. He laughed at me. i asked him if ge said quadruped instead of cat. He had no clue what a quadruped was, and i felt vindicated, but after he told me what his huge word meant, I said, “you couldnt just say internal bleed?”

  3. Kourtney Heintz

    I think my rule is no more than one big SAT word per sentence and if a beta reader asks what it means, I make sure it is clear from context or defined somewhere nearby in a fun way.

    Sometimes I have overeducated obnoxious characters who use big words but I try to make sure it doesn’t trump the flow of the book.

    Nothing worse than having to read with a dictionary in your lap. 🙂

    • i’ve had some pretentious characters who show off with use of ten dollar words, but I agree that it should make sense in context, and throwing a fun, bigger word in once in awhile is educational…just not every other word to the point it makes a reader want to give up. there aren’t many readers out there, last thing we want to do is decrease that number because we were ten dollar wordy.

      • Kourtney Heintz

        So true, great vocabulary shouldn’t trump flow. And when the reader starts to feel lost because of the words being flung at them–that’s not good.

  4. I love this it made me laugh I will remember that when I see a cat, personally I prefer a dog over a cat is there another word for dog I don’t know about? If you find one let me know. LOL

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