Thinking big


Enveloped momentarily by a serendipitous occurrence of lassitude, I was ruminating regarding antecedent proclivities engendered toward loquacious verbiage.

I’ve mentioned before how my quest to stop getting whipped by my Grandma in Scrabble led me to devouring reference books like the dictionary and encyclopedias.  Combine a love for words and a competitive nature and you have a perfect candidate for crossword puzzles.

For many years, I would make sure the Dell Crosswords magazine was added to my purchases at the local drugstore (that’s where you went in “those days” to buy just about anything, including my fix of comic books).  While I enjoyed most everything in the magazine (logic problems, anagrams, etc.), it was always the crosswords that demanded my complete attention.

After a time, I would whip through the Easy’s and breeze through the mediums.  The hards gave me some trouble and the Special Challengers were delightful in their frustration (I especially liked the warped “Crazy Crosswords”).  During one extremely competitive stretch, I broke down and bought a “Crossword Puzzle Dictionary”.  This was basically a combination of a dictionary and encyclopedia, but organizing the information with the express point being to help solve crosswords puzzles.  After a short time, I began to consider this a “cheat” and abandoned it.  Though I had (okay, okay, have) an intense dislike of losing, I recognized there were some puzzles I just couldn’t finish.  I like to credit this “discovery” with helping me be a better sport in tennis (I’m now okay with getting beat, although I still don’t like to “lose”).

My skills at crosswords increased over time as my vocabulary (and memory) improved.  I would like to say I wasn’t pleased when people were anything from annoyed to amazed that I did crosswords in pen.  I’d like to, but I can’t.  Sorry.  Forgive me this small sin of pride, for I was and am very proud of my large vocabulary…and my ability and willingness to employ it when speaking or writing.

A perplexing side effect of that willingness has been an unfounded (but understandable) perception that has dogged me through the years that I feel smarter than others because of my diction choices.  Preposterous!  Oops.  Dopey!  Those people who have taken time to know me are well aware how stupid I am.  Er, wait.  I mean, how I don’t think I’m smarter than others.  Good grief, if I had to list all the mistakes I’ve made…

But, it’s intertesting that using an expanded vocabulary is considered stand-offish or snooty.  How bizarre.  It’s not as if anyone talks entirely in “big” words.  I simply prefer to choose the most appropriate word for the moment.  As a former advertising man, I completely understand the need and desire for brief (these days, instant) communication.  That has its place and time as well.  But brevity at the expense of clarity only means you’ll end up explaining or repeating yourself later.

My love of words reached the pinnacle of absurdity in my last company.  During a period where I was still in Financial Reporting, I was responsible for emailing management with a summary of the overall company performance along with the respective business segments.  Occasionally, I would slip in a “big” word, causing much amusement among the managers.  And then, the games began.  At the urging of some of the more playful managers, the word size and count increased, creating a monthly run on the dictionary and the thesaurus.  One department head once sent me an email “guessing” that the company had a bad month but that he should “feel good” about it (he was right).  It got so ridiculous, the president of the company sent me an email reply saying she couldn’t understand my summary at all.  The emails after that were a lot shorter.  You betcha.

Writing for an audience demands you speak in “their” language.  That could mean technical, financial, light, heavy, whatever.  Presuming you want to communicate effectively.  The “fun” emails I sent during that period at work were no longer about financial results and all about having fun and games.  Enjoyable, but ultimately missing the point (and responsibility) of their mission.  Similarly, speaking with others requires the same consideration.

Given that, is it proper for me to use “big” words when I speak or write?  Absolutely.  If the situation calls for the word and it’s not so esoteric no one would recognize it, then I’ll use it.  Not “on purpose” or to “show off”.  Simply becuase the word exists in my vocabulary and I feel it is the correct one for the moment at hand.  Better still if someone who has never heard it before learns something new (as I do, often enough).

I remain proud to this day about my retention of so many words and capability to use them.  I try not to “inflict” them on people, but I don’t shy from using them.  And, while I still have my love of crosswords, there aren’t too many “drug stores” left to shop at.  Which is too bad, because the crosswords in the airplane magazines are so easy I’m usually done with them before we finish taxiing down the runway.  In pen, of course.

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