Thursday, September 11, 2014

Why Can't We Use Cool Words?

A Note on the Title and a Deep Life Question

When creating this blog, some of the most notable reactions I received from loved ones were a mix of intrigue and confusion regarding those two fancy words at the top of the page. In short, these reactions were finally summed up with my sister's raised eyebrow accompanied by her incredulous comment: "Hmm, 'Antiquarian Desiderium' . . . That's a mouthful."

Yes, yes it is.

I suppose words like "antiquarian" and "desiderium" are rarely encountered in day-to-day conversations. A quick search on the internet, too, shows some disagreement about their modern definitions. (Wikipedia, for example, tells me that "desiderium" means an internal sin within the mind. An interesting bit of trivia, but a statement on Christian morality wasn't what I was going for.) In this technological age ruled by Urban Dictionary and Twitter's 140-character limit, it's hard for me to defend my attraction toward an archaic vocabulary.

So why would I, a struggling writer who could sorely use a catchy self-marketing venue, give my blog a title that most readers can't pronounce?

Simple. Because I like cool words.

I can't help it. I've always been a sucker for those obscure, polysyllabic words that sound closer to their Greek and Latin origins than to English. I find myself getting giddy every time an unfamiliar word pops up on my Dictionary app's "Word of the Day" feature -- a textbook example of "geek behavior," I'd wager. It's not normal, I know. But it's one of my quirks.

I blame much of this strange infatuation on my childhood reading list, which consisted mainly of 19th-century British novelists like Dickens and the Bronte sisters. For years, I was positively saturated with their verbose language and outdated words. Sometimes -- okay, many times -- this proved to be a cause of social embarrassment, when I tried imitating their way of speaking in public. (Let's not even go into the time I dropped the obsolete synonym for "exclaim" . . . )

And it hurts a little, because I'd love to use cool words in public. But I'm not a fan of people staring, either.

Recently, as I've become more aware of my often grandiloquent -- sorry, I mean long-winded -- writing, I've wondered if it has anything to do with my musical background. Do my musician's instincts draw me to the rhythms created by these lengthy words? Do I hear them in my mind and imagine the tone they produce? Do I admire the unusual phrasing, the sense of legato that comes from stringing many-lettered terms together? Who knows. It's possible.

Basically, cool words just sound cool.

I wish I could honestly say that I'm naturally sesquipedalian (ooh, that's a good one) in conversation, or even in writing. But I'm not, really. I'm what G. K. Chesterton calls "a child of my age"; I've learned, for the most part, to go along with the societal demand for simple language. That's not to say there's nothing valuable in the colloquial, though. I admire the urban wit of contemporary writers, who are able to address the common man with their clever use of street jargon and pop culture lingo. Language is always developing, and so it should be.

But still, still I find myself asking, Why can't we use cool words? Our English language is amazing. Somewhere in the dusty recesses of our dictionaries, there are words you never knew you missed. Words that describe things you never knew could be described within the confines of a single word. (Like, crepuscular? C'mon, people!) It's hard to be a writer who's fascinated by the sounds and sophistication of an old-fashioned vocabulary. If you don't completely go over your readers' heads, you'll probably come across as a show-off, as someone trying sound like an elitist and claiming to have a higher intelligence than everyone else. It sucks. You have to hold back a lot.

Damnit, why can't we just use cool words?

I truly admire contemporary writers who are, somehow, able to smoothly incorporate cool words into their work (Mary Oliver I love you!). It's a delicate skill, and something I hope to acquire one day. For now, though, I can only pray that my favorite words don't become too obsolete before I find a convincing way to use them.

Oh, by the way:

antiquarian -- adjective
1. pertaining to antiquaries or to the study of antiquities.
2. of, dealing in, or interested in old or rare books.

desiderium -- noun
1. an ardent longing, as for something lost.

Grace and peace to you.

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