If you are an avid reader, you have probably come across a few writers who possess a very large vocabulary, and pepper their writing with big or fancy words, when perhaps simpler words would suffice. Whether it reflects a genuine high level of erudition or simply showing off (a verbal pretentiousness), the effect is the same — it has you reaching for the nearest dictionary (which is not necessarily a bad thing — after all, that’s how you expand your vocabulary). A recent example that made the news was Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative political commentator George Will’s recent op-ed for The Washington Post titled “Trump in no longer the worst person in government. (May 9, 2018)” Will’s powerful essay is a fitting testimony to the famous apothegm that “the pen is mightier than the sword” first written by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839 for his play, Cardinal Richelieu. (Ironically, Bulwer-Lytten is also the author who is credited for the worst sentence in English literature: “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents – except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” Ah, but we digress.) Will eviscerates Mike Pence with his mighty verbal lance; he writes: “Donald Trump, with his feral cunning, knew. The oleaginous Mike Pence, with his talent for toadyism and appetite for obsequiousness, could, Trump knew, become America’s most repulsive public figure. And Pence, who has reached this pinnacle by dethroning his benefactor, is augmenting the public stock of useful knowledge. Because his is the authentic voice of today’s lickspittle Republican Party, he clarifies this year’s elections: Vote Republican to ratify groveling as governing.” And that’s just the opening paragraph!
A Google search resulted in all sorts of suggested words — such as bombastic, convoluted, elaborate, expatiation, florid, fancy, overwrought, prolix, turgid, verbose, vocabularies, word — all of which are related, but miss the mark. The word you are looking for is not found in most dictionaries — you need to consult an unabridged dictionary. The word is lexiphanicism which is defined as “pretentious phraseology or an instance or example of such phraseology.” Another term that logophiles like to use is “sesquipedalian loquaciousness.” That term is made up of two really big, fancy words: sesquipedalian (meaning “having many syllables, or use of long words”) and loquaciousness (meaning “excessive talking”). Of course these terms are technically archaic and, um, sesquipedalian. There are two other words that exists in most dictionaries: grandiloquence (or its adjectival form, grandiloquent), meaning “a lofty, extravagantly colorful, pompous, or bombastic style, manner, or quality especially in language” and fustian, meaning pompous or pretentious writing or speech.
Many teachers of writing, as well as authors like Ernest Hemingway and Mark Twain, believe that the simplest language is the best. The simpler the word, the clearer the meaning. As George Orwell wrote in his essay “Politics and the English Language” (April 1946), “Rule Number Two: never use a long word where a short one will do.” But there are many writers — like William Shakespeare, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Thomas Hardy, and John Fowles, to name just a few — whose only response to that would be “poppycock!” Where is the elegance, the beauty, the mellifluousness of the majestic English language?
Let’s look at a re-write of Will’s initial paragraph: “Donald Trump, with his animal-like shrewdness, knew. The slippery Mike Pence, with his talent for kissing ass and appetite for obedience, could, Trump knew, become America’s most repulsive public figure. And Pence, who has reached this pinnacle by toppling his benefactor, is increasing the public stock of useful knowledge. Because his is the authentic voice of today’s flattering Republican Party, he clarifies this year’s elections: Vote Republican to confirm lying down as ruling.” Doesn’t have the same impact, does it? It’s like thrusting a sword with such dull edges that it barely cuts through the air.
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For further reading: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-is-no-longer-the-worst-person-in-government/2018/05/09/10e59eba-52f1-11e8-a551-5b648abe29ef_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.94c84fa3f391