We’ve all been in that position before. We have to make a speech or write something official, and we’re tempted to make ourselves sound smarter than we really are. You know what I’m talking about. We change the word order of our sentences and replace small words with bigger words. This leads to quite a bit of thesaurus abuse, and style that no one would use in a normal conversation. Take a look at these two examples from the subbreddit /r/iamverysmart.
This one is from a cover letter on a resume.
Dear Mr. Larson,
I solemnly affirm, maintain and assert my interest in the office clerk position listed on the Binghamton University Employment Opportunities website. There is plenty of guff floundering about there being no jobs and employment opportunities. You and me? We know different – here you are with a scintillating opportunity and here I am oozing with ambition and an uncompromising work ethic. I dislike the usual cover letter that bursts into tears summarizing the resume and yells for elaborate reciprocation. Trouble is, though, that my resume and 999 others leave your inbox inundated with applications. It is this little problem in elementary arithmetic that shakes my faith in humanity. So (to quote from an esteemed contemporary) won’t you “obey that responsive impulse” and send me a message to discuss my potential for becoming an integral part of your time, for in this case procrastination is certainly the thief of time. Thank you for consideration of my application. I look forward to speaking with you in regards to this opportunity.
And here is a guy laying his heart on the line for his crush on Facebook.
Please forgive my palinoiac, atrabilous nature, as well as my somewhat brumous personality… as well my fascination with tacendae. I could apologize that you never find kairos in our conversation. However, that it might be the correct time to say so… your tacendae aren’t so. When you arrest your words, it sometimes does less than you may have envisioned.
When you find your thoughts of kairos in arrest… I find myself in a state of koyaanisqatsi, my mind in cosmogyrical motion.
I love you, that’s all I know. I’m waiting for you to bring me through metanoia. The truth is, we both have some metanoia to go through. I hope that sometime soon, you can be brave. Let out what you feel is your tacendae. I’m awaiting it. Awaiting the Elysian moment when you fall through from grace. Though it may seem brash, I await your synthetic venturism.
These folks’ writing styles aren’t very desirable. Or should I say, libidinous?
This leads me to my biggest pet peeve when it comes to people’s style in talks, articles, and books. It’s a little thing I’ve come to call “individual abuse,” or the overuse of the word “individual” as both a noun and adjective. Apparently, people don’t feel the perfectly good two-syllable words “person,” “people,” “someone,” and “others” sound smart enough. They think a much smarter-sounding, five-syllable word must be used.
“I just want to thank each and every one of you individuals…”
And, of course, the single-syllable words “you,” “man,” or maybe even “folks” is outright.
To see what I mean, read this sentence from a book I finished the other day:
“However, the pastor needs to understand that many excellent resources on prayer focus on individuals praying for individuals, not individuals praying for the congregation’s ministry to the community.”
I almost threw my iPad into the bathwater after that one.
If people really want to impress others, might I suggest “human being” as a four-syllable alternative, or maybe even the five-syllable homo sapiens. It’s even in LATIN!
Stephen King offered some good advice about vocabulary use in On Writing. He wrote, “Don’t make any conscious effort to improve it.”
So, are you an individual abuser?
If so, stop it!
I’m asking each and every one of you individuals, whether you’re a female individual, or a male individual, or any other type of individual to stop this individual practice, m’kay?
On an related note, I’ve always had this dream of creating an exhaustive thesaurus, just colossal in both dimension and weight, and call it The Brachiothesaurus.