When I was a little kid, my door was extremely colorful. While my siblings had plain white doors, just down the hall, the inside of my door was embellished with bright streaks of red and yellow and blue. I am not one of those artistic types, nor have I ever been, so the anomalous decor of my room had nothing to do with my ambitions or desires. Instead, my door looked like a Jackson Pollock masterpiece because whenever I got put in time out, I would hurl my brightly colored toys at the door in revolt. Young me figured that my crying could only get so loud and that my anguish had to be amplified somehow. If I was not going to have a good time as a direct result of my bad actions, neither was anyone else trying to take a nap or concentrate. I was a splenetic child.
For anyone who knows me now, I think I have gotten my anger managed a bit better (the inside of the door in my dorm room has only had to be repainted once this semester). And just like how my erstwhile behavior no longer rears its ugly head, words like “splenetic” have been phased out as well—this is an unfortunate trend that I do not see stopping any time soon and I want to bring light to it before it’s too late.
If you ever watch a 13-year-old try and have a conversation with someone old enough to vote, you will notice what can almost be classified as a language barrier. “Dope” and “swag” were hard enough for oldies like myself but it took me a while to figure out “esketit,” “sheesh” and “OD.” I do not mean to suggest that the English language (or any language for that matter) should remain stagnant; new words or uses of words elevate the language and its speakers. But, the inevitable consequence of the promulgation of slang or contemporary nomenclature is the crowding out of older, more evocative, (funnier to say) terms!
If I tell my friends that “I’m going over there,” they won’t even bat an eye (maybe some of them will cheer over my departure, but that’s a different thing entirely). However, if I say that “I’m going over yonder” I have evoked a bygone, idyllic era.
When I am writing an essay or a speech or even an article, I am extremely cognizant of each and every instance that I use what I call an “obnoxious word.” I’ve done it here many times: “Erstwhile,” “nomenclature,” etc. When you read those words you probably thought to yourself “this guy thinks he’s better than everyone else.” Admittedly, when I am reading something or listening to someone and they use one of those “obnoxious words” I perk up and think of how they should have written or said it instead.
Academic essays or articles are meant to be legible and intelligible. Subject, verb, object. We try to eliminate the passive voice and cut out filler words and rearrange sentences so that our messaging is as clear and concise as possible. In the age of the internet, with clickbait titles and with attention spans shorter than ever (purportedly), this modus operandi makes sense. But, I would argue that the “obnoxious words”—the words no one has said or heard in 200 years—have a value that should not be ignored or forgotten.
To use another concrete example: If I say “others like that” no one cares but if I say “others of that ilk” then people (maybe thinking I am weird) actually take a second to process what I have said. “Why did he use that word?”
When you write or speak with the express purpose of being as direct and understandable as possible, you run the risk of being listened to briefly and efficiently, and of being quickly and summarily forgotten. When text or speech makes you stop for a second, for whatever reason, it challenges you and makes you read it again, often by design. The famous German sociologist Max Weber was notorious for making his books extremely hard to read and understand the first time through, just so he could force people to read his ideas again and really process them.
I am certainly not Max Weber, and you also are probably not Max Weber, but the point still stands. I am not suggesting that you intersperse cumbersome, sesquipedalian verbiage into each of the sentences you string together. But, when you say or write something that you think is worth mulling over, maybe you should turn to some underappreciated, antediluvian argot.
P.S. Here is a list of some of my favorite terms that have been seemingly lost to time in no particular order:
- Hither and thither
- Tubular (as in “totally tubular” not “involving tubules or tube-shaped structures”)