Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Vocabulary as exclusionary vs precise. Or, happy sexy fun vocabulary time wooo!

Yeah, some people are going to find this one pretty dry.

A long, long time ago, during my college years, I took a cultural anthropology course. Funny enough, it is one of the college courses that really stuck with me. Our teacher was a really wonderful, feisty, and truly interesting Iranian woman, who was not indoctrinated with the culture that we have in the U.S. (one very memorable conversation in that class was over her assertion that the Simpsons were hideously ugly and not to be considered great art.)

One of the lessons in that class was about how small groups use vocabulary to become exclusive. Doctors were one example given, with the scientific names they give diseases, as opposed to the ones in common use. I see examples all the time; mostly people attempting to sound intelligent, arcane, or eccentric.

Still, I sometimes find myself using words that might not be in common vocabulary. Usually it's when I need a word that means something very specific. So the question comes up in my mind, where is the line between using language to be specific and using language to exclude?

I honestly don't have an answer to this question. I know that when I read Dan Simmons that there's quite a bit of vocabulary going on, but it doesn't ever feel like he's trying to write above someone's head. I have read some other very lauded authors that use language like a smoke screen, throwing in large words where smaller ones would have been clearer.

So, where is the line? Do you have any other examples either way? Let me know.

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