Two dollar words, are they worth it?
For years, I've been hearing that English is being "dumbed down," meaning we're using a lot of little, easy to understand words and omitting the multi-syllable stuff. I tend to not use big words, not because I'm an idiot, but I don't want someone to have to stop reading in the middle of a sentence and run for a dictionary or worse - guess at the definition and keep reading. Some people won't read fiction at all if it's "dumbed down." What do you think?
I was writing news articles online at one point and the organization I was writing for had an automated tool for determining reading level. They wanted them to score somewhere around a 7th grade reading level. That is what they considered easy consumption, but even trying to write simply and using basic words, my articles always scored at the college level. I found it pretty ridiculous. They would want to change words like "utilize" into "use." That goes beyond dumbing down into the realm of lobotomizing.
Personally, I never sit down to read something and expect to know every word I encounter. To me, looking words up is a part of reading. I tend to think there is the right word for the right job and that's the one that should be used. Of course, there's no reason to use a bigger word than necessary either.
Language is more important than we commonly think . . . it is, of course, how we communicate, how I get the idea I have in my head over into your head. If we treat words and their meaning haphazardly then we risk making communication haphazard. Today, many are informed more by popular jargon than by sound communication and the accurate meaning of words. A presidential candidate says he's all about 'change' and that notion just sounds positive, and upbeat, etc - but 'change' doesn't really tell us anything if from what and to what is not clarified. Then when ideas are put forth, many moan that it's all too complicated or boring - many simply prefer jargon above genuine information.
The rich are told they need to pay their 'fair' share - but if they are already paying far more than anyone else, what does 'fair' mean to us - does it actually mean 'fair' or has it come to simply mean 'more'? When we let words like 'fair' and 'equal' and 'appropriate' and 'accurate', etc, all be used interchangeably or inaccurately, because we're moved emotionally by the jargon rather than informed by the meaning of the words, then all communication is hindered . . . soon you can't even explain to another why you deserve respect or tell someone special (as opposed to whoever you're currently with) that you love them. We need an accurate commend of a vital language or we're all in trouble.
I think it depends of what you are doing and who your audience is. And I don't mean different groups of people who may be dumber than others! :-) When I write fiction my style is much different than when I write a Hub, which is much different that when I used to work in marketing and write copy to promote my company. I'm not saying I pull it off, but I do think part of the trick to being a good writer or communicator is knowing now to be in the right mode that gets your piece across as eloquently as possible. See, I just used the word "eloquently", cause I know Hubbers are a highly intelligence group of folks who appreciate fancy words!
I think the words a writer chooses should depend on the audience.
I think it's important to use the correct words for what you mean. The main problem I come across is people using words incorrectly and spelling them incorrectly. Dumbing down happens a lot in advertising, especially high street ads and signs, but it's all down to education and wanting to maintain the standard.
It depends on the code needed; like a dress code, there is a language code - it differs when talking to peers, parents, good friends, mere acquaintances, interviewers, ...etc. It's all about using the level required, not about being condescending or dumbing down.
I think people will understand the meaning of a word through the context of the sentence, whether they have heard it or not. Although most people do not have a vast vocabulary, I think they enjoy hearing big words that they themselves might be able to use later.
When I went through military school my papers had to be at a 10th grade level-I guess for the NCOs that was the average reading level. And there was some type of formula I had to follow on my papers to test to make sure that it was at that reading level but not below it.
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