Sunday, June 20, 2010

Stop Using Big Words

There is an old episode of the Simpson's where Homer's mother shows up after decades of being thought dead. Lisa and Grandma Simpson discover they have a lot of things in common.

Homer's Mother: You know, Lisa, I feel like I have an instant rapport with you.

Lisa: (visibly moved) You didn't dumb it down. You said "rapport."

I know how Lisa feels. I appreciate when people use finer word selection. I particularly love when someone uses a descriptive term I don't know. I like to use the word predilection. It is a little more specific than tendency, which carries no implication of desire. To me, that is an important differentiation.

However, I have discovered over the years that many people are bothered when someone is more specific in their word selection. They complain scoffingly about the use of "big" and "complex" words.

I see this occasionally in blog conversations. It seems to happen a lot in political or religious discussions. How I see it progress usually is that a person who has bullet-proof belief in certain positions gets frustrated when the cliche' explanations, that worked so well at their church or within their political circle, don't get very far in an open conversation with people of opposing (or just differing) points of view. Because the depth of their argument isn't very deep or nuanced, they start to attack the other person. With me, they usually attack my use of words. Recently, a gentleman accused me of using "big words and phrases" to "sound" right (just for the record, my conversation was no more linguistic than this post
). It never surprises me at this point to hear the person speak, in an almost prideful sort of way, about their lack of vocabulary, or education, or knowledge on a matter.  It is almost as if to say "I know I don't know my topic with any depth, and I therefore can't give a good explanation of my position.... but I still KNOW I am right!"

Has anyone else seen this phenomenon? How do others side-step the conversation with you?  The above approach works with me in a way, because I usually just quit the conversation at that point.


I touched on this topic a few years ago in an article entitled Religious Illiteracy, where I quoted a person from a blog I frequent. She stated her ignorance about theology, but then proceeded to say her points were not open for debate.


Steve H. said...

Yes, one only has to watch a BBC historical drama to see that Western Civilization has regressed in the range and use of our vocabulary. If only we could all talk like Mr. Darcy...

LittleBird said...

turned out i had more to say in response to this than comments box would allow. so i've posted it over at my place...

you're onto something for sure. really resonated with me.


Redlefty said...

It came up in church yesterday, when we were discussing how the Greeks would value the delivery of a message over the message itself.

For me, if a message is worth giving, it's worth giving in a solid way. So I've never seen content and style as mutually exclusive.

Don said...

I agree. I was there. For a long time I could not adequately express my beliefs to others because:

a. Perhaps I never truly believed them myself and therefore failed to find correct words to show my (dis)belief.
b. I actually knew too little to express my beliefs.

Jon said...

I haven't had this one but have had vairous other anti-intellectual responses in various discussions. I think your reaction of quitting the conversation is probably a good one, and the angry response is probably a way "conscious or not" of ending it because the person is out of their comfort zone. Of course, as an educator you know the difference between lack of education and willful ignorance.

Cindy Murphy said...

"I know I don't know my topic with any depth, and I therefore can't give a good explanation of my position.... but I still KNOW I am right!"

My goodness, I think I've heard that exact pharse. Well, probably not, but at least that's how my brain interpreted what was said.

I struggle with whether or not I should continue to pursue conversation beyond that point. I feel like it is a complete waste of time and effort but part of me wants to cling to the hope that I might get the person to start thinking about what they believe later even when they are certain that no thought is neccessary.

Andrew said...

The theologian Walter Bruggeman says that even the most strongly opinionated folks will have the contestation when they are alone with their thoughts.

Though I do think I push too hard sometimes. I have this tape in my head that says if I just present my thoughts clear enough, I can get them to at least see what I am seeing, even if they do not agree. I find this, more often that not, to be a fallacy. Often filters are so thick that what I say, and what gets heard bare little resemblance.

I am not sure what to do with that. I hate the thought that - we just dont talk about religion or politics - but sometimes there seems to be no alternative.

I think it probably requires endless negotiation.

Related Posts with Thumbnails