Monday, May 7, 2012

Obstreperous


Big, fancy words are like red flags to me. I notice them. I say to myself, “Oh, there’s a big, fancy word.” I like them, in moderation. But one thing you don’t want to do is overuse big words. If you use a big, fancy word once I might be impressed. Use the same word twice, and I’ll wonder why you’re shoving it in my face. Use it a third time, and I’ll know you’re just trying to get your money’s worth out of that dictionary you bought.

Take the word obstreperous. It’s a great word. I had a book called Obstreperous when I was a kid. It was about an obstreperous kite. I enjoyed it because I was quite obstreperous myself. I still enjoy being obstreperous. By now I think I’ve used the word obstreperous often enough that it’s beginning to lose all cohesion. It’s not a word now, it’s a jumble of letters that link together to make a sound that means nothing. Obstreperous, obstreperous, obstreperous. See?

Find out about Obstreperous at Goodreads
Once upon a time in an entirely hypothetical situation, four people had to go to court and be witnesses. One of them was a police officer, whose idea of good advice to his civilian colleagues (all of whom were very new and very nervous) was to jump sharply to the side after swearing on the Bible, so the thunderbolt missed them. But because the three civilians were utter scaredy cats, the police officer eventually took pity on them and talked to them about what was going to happen inside the big, scary room, what questions might be asked, and the best way to answer them. Collusion? No, not at all, your honour.

So what did happen? Hypothetically. Well, four different people got up on the stand and described the defendant as obstreperous.

Yeah, totally spontaneous and unrehearsed.

Don’t use big words you wouldn’t normally use.
And, if you do, don’t overuse them. 

Now I have to phone my mum and see if she still has a copy of Obstreperous.

***

What fancy words do you like? Or hate? Or find yourself overusing? 

  

13 comments:

  1. I don't think I've used any really big words, but I always remember a girl in an English class at college who used them and when our professor asked for a definition she couldn't give one.

    You're totally right - use them sparingly. Otherwise eyebrows will be raised and eyes may be rolled.

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    1. I am in love with your English professor. See it, call it!

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  2. I think this is the first time in my life I've ever typed the word obstreperous. Isn't that one of those five dollar words you pull out when you want to insult somebody in a Jane Austen-ish manner?

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    1. I think it is, LG! I had an early association with the word thanks to the book about the kite -- which, by the way, ended badly when Obstreperous landed in a puddle, sold out and started being nice -- but I can't say that I've ever used it in daily life. Except for that one example that was totally hypothetical of course.

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  3. When someone uses too many big words, it's totally natural to want to defenestrate their logorrhoea.

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    1. EXACTLY what I was gong to say, MC! Jinx!

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  4. Hahaha... Great post, Jen. Yeah, I'm no fan of huge words, and my usual sinful indulgences are the smaller (though no less offensive) ones: blush, laugh (lotta laughing in my stories, man), look, eyes... But a great (not) big word I recently found on a manuscript is "cognizant". Once or twice I might have let it slide. Upwards of ten times in three chapters? Nuh-uh. This person has apparently taken to heart the advice to eschew "know", as in "I know I'm going to die", and found a good solution by substituting it with "be cognizant of the fact that". Yeah: "I'm cognizant of the fact that I'm going to die". Very natural-sounding, like. :D

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    1. Oh, but I love the word "cognizant"! You're so right that you can't overuse it, but it's a fantastic word.

      Sometimes a big word is like shiny new toy, and you can tell when someone's trying to show it off!

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  5. Oh, man. That story made my writer self AND my lawyer self cringe. :)

    The woman who gave my graduation commencement speech had this problem. It was like she wrote what she wanted to say, and then went through a thesaurus and chose a bigger, fancier word for each and every one. And no one had a CLUE what she was talking about. It still makes me kind of embarrassed on her behalf.

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    1. It was awkward, to say the least. Mainly because I was fourth in line and didn't understand until afterwards why everyone in the courtroom was giving me The Look. Mind you, the entire "obsterperous" thing was completely eclipsed by the crazy man who thought he could mount his own defence. So it was an interesting cross-examination, that's for sure.

      Big words are great, but only in moderation. Like jalapenos!

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  6. I hope you kept that picture book! I remember it from when I was a clerk for the Childrens' librarian at the local library.. 40 + years ago. What a great book it was and from my searching is now a collectable. A first edition is now worth 89 English pounds! I wanted to purchase a copy for a grand niece. Great story to teach a wonderful word.

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    1. Wow, really? Sadly, I think the cover fell of my copy years ago. Definitely loved to death!

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