More than once in the past, I’ve been accused of using a dictionary or thesaurus to find $5.00 words that will impress the natives. I’ve also been accused of using $5.00 words solely to show off my vocabulary. Either way, words of more than two syllables, and even some with only two syllables seem to be a growing problem, even for people with a college education.
Today’s little rant at Gin and Tacos, Can’t Find the Words to Say, isn’t the first to bemoan the steady decline in literacy, and it won’t be the last. And while the post itself was a good read, it was one of the comments that really caught my eye.
“Could this be just part of a long-term trend? I mean you read stuff from the 19th century, or even the early 20th century, and it seems like everyone is trying to show off their vocabulary in every sentence. I can *understand* it, sure, but it takes concerted effort.
The style today is all about minimalism- plain speaking in simple words. Maybe that’s part of why Trump is doing so well- they say he speaks at the lowest grade level of any of the candidates. Everyone else is just too darn fancy-talkin.”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or groan. It deserved both. It’s common to read accusations of “showing off” in reference to contemporary writers. Using it against 19th and early 20th century writers is simply a confession of profound ignorance. Because, of course, what’s true today must always have been true. Showing off your vocabulary apparently has a long history. But we can’t expect people who can barely struggle their way through a book (if they can even be bothered) to be aware that even the average person once had a much larger vocabulary than is in general use today.
The commenter managed to impress me twice as an example of modern illiteracy, adding his “concerted effort” for a nice touch. Several of the other comments mentioned students who use words without knowing their meanings, and he kindly offered his example.
There were several mentions of the recent finding that Trump speaks at a fifth grade level, and our friend obviously approved because “Everyone else is just too darn fancy-talkin.” Or maybe he’s just funnin’, having a joke at our expense.
Note: I know someone will argue with me about the use of concerted. Yes, it can refer to an effort by one person, but most usually, it doesn’t. In this case, it doesn’t seem appropriate.