Sunday, June 07, 2015

My word... bahut lamba hai!

Many seem to follow this policy: If a word meets your needs, overdo it. To illustrate,

(i)           “Weddings in Kerala are known to be simplistic.”

(ii)          “I did badly in the half-yearly exams, and decided to improvise myself by the time the finals rolled around.”

(iii)        “I’ve collected the ingredients. Now, please guide me on the methodology of making mirchi ka saalan.”

By and large, longer words go with greater scholarship. But merely lengthening a word doesn’t enhance your erudition. Some words may stay unchanged, very slightly modified or intensify with the addition of a few more letters, e.g., apt-appropriate. Others transform into different entities altogether, e.g., beside-besides.

‘Why use a long word when a short one would do as well, or better?’: That’s a question often asked, but not by me! I am not against the use of long, polysyllabic words: Quite the opposite, actually. I love exploring the intricacies of complex words. The horde against sesquipedalianism does not include me. Getting one’s meaning across quickly is not the only purpose of language. Neither is language always a means to transmit one’s message to a huge number of people. Sometimes, words are strung together for the sheer beauty in the configurations, and some messages are meant for smaller, specialised audiences. The shortest, quickest, easiest-to-pronounce word is not always the best word.

Interesting and entertaining convolutions find me a willing audience. Not words getting mauled and becoming ridiculous and unfit for their purpose, though. How do we guard against this? A simple (not simplistic) method (not methodology) to follow: Improve (not improvise) your understanding of the meaning of the words you are considering for use. Then use them carefully and lovingly. An ill-used long word leads to a more ill-used reader than does an ill-used short word!