The death of long words. Or hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia

‘Never use a long word when a short one will do.’ Yes, I’m sure we’ve all heard that one. And yes, it is a valid point. Using pompous language is a no-no in anyone’s book (although some books do subscribe to it!). It only serves to make you sound self-important. And it can be a huge turn-off for readers – think bureaucratic gobbledygook, the unnecessary use of foreign (particularly Latin) phrases –sesquipedalia verba anyone? Turned off yet?

If you’re unsure of what constitutes a pompous or foot-and-a-half-long word (FAAHLW), go to ‘’ and you’ll see the condemnation of ‘outré’, ‘fecund’, ‘inchoate’, ‘moribund’. Now I have no quibble with the first of this list, as it smacks of affectation, but what’s wrong with ‘fecund’ or ‘moribund’?

Are we now to banish all words if they are not the simplest, shortest on offer? Are we now to bow to the minimalists who would reduce our language to the lowest common denominator? We are fortunate indeed to enjoy the English language in all its glory – deemed the richest spoken language in the world (in terms of vocabulary). Are we now bound to use only a fraction of this wonderful word-stock?

I was once castigated (or should I say ‘told off’? Now there’s a puzzle. Castigated is a longish word but doesn’t commit the sin of using two words when a single one will do – see my dilemma?) for using ‘cacophony’. Now what is wrong with cacophony? It’s a great word – onomatopoeic (oops, another FAAHLW) and just a downright joy as it rolls off the tongue.

My argument is this: if we use only the short, simple words from our rich language, we are in danger of ‘dumbing it down’ and losing its variety and nuances. It’s our heritage – something we should own proudly and use to the full. And surely we can do that without sounding pompous or arcane. Don’t be afraid. Go for it. Use words. Use them or lose them!


Liz Sandbach 1/3/16



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