Are you a hyperpolysyllabicsesquipedalianist?

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ may be double-talk to some, but according to Wikipedia it’s thought to be the longest word in the English language and its components suggest a meaning of “atoning for educability through delicate beauty.” If you heard the song sung by Mary Poppins in the film of the same name, you’d remember she said it is “something to say when you have nothing to say.” It is “a memorable ficticious word”, unlike ‘antidisestablishmentarianism,’ another long word which is said to describe a political position that originated in 19th-century Britain.

A couple years ago I posted on le mot juste, about writers who are always looking for exactly the right word – the one that all too often is just out of reach. Maybe it’s that struggle that tempts us to pepper our prose with excessive verbiage. Do we think a longer word will convey meaning better than a short one? Or are we attempting to be literary and impress readers with our extensive vocabulary? Only a sesquipedalianist really appreciates long words for the sake of their length.

Not an advocate for ‘poligab’, George Orwell once said, “Never use a long word when a short one will do,” and “If it’s possible to cut out a word, always cut it out.”

It’s good advice. After all, we wouldn’t want to be known as a hyperpolysyllabicsesquipedalianist, would we?

What do you do when the perfect word escapes you?



10 thoughts on “Are you a hyperpolysyllabicsesquipedalianist?

  1. Ah, yes, that perfect word often seems just out of reach, like a carrot dangling before me. I feel such victory when it finally comes to me.

  2. Tricia says:

    Jonathon Franzen would do well to emulate George Orwell. I need a dictionary when reading Franzen. So I guess if I need a seldom used word I can pick up Franzen.

  3. Katt says:

    I have a “Flip Dictionary” that helps me find just the right word——Great post! And it made me laugh—

  4. Judith Robl says:

    Great post! Food for thought.

    I think simpler is better, unless a word conveys a specific meaning and nuance. I dislike the imprecise as much as the excessive. The precise generally comes to me after I’ve written the next best thing – and most often in the wee hours of the morning.

  5. Judith Robl says:

    Love your post on le mot juste!

  6. I lean on my writing group! I love those ladies.

  7. When I can’t think of the right word, I usually rewrite the whole sentence. Often the problem is my own confusion as to what I’m trying to say, and rewording my thoughts helps me clarify them.

  8. joylene says:

    LOL. I’ll be humming that song for the rest of the day, just wait. LOL Searching for the right word can be frustrating. Lucky for me I’m too stubborn to give up. Nobody can waste a day better than me. “Joylene, what have you been doing all day?” “Looking for the right word!” “How’s it going?” “Not good, but I’m not giving up!” “Okay, well, see you in the thaw.”

  9. elderfox says:

    (Mc CUTCHEON), THE HIGHLY SELECTIVE THESAURUS FOR THE EXTRAORDINARILY LITERATE (EHRLICH), ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE HORSE, CRIME REFERENCE BOOK (ROTH) and if I can’t find it therein or among other references on my book shelves, I leave the space blank. . .You might say “I’m ready for Ms Muse” 🙂 IF and when she shows up.

  10. We all seem to have different but resourceful ways of finding that elusive word. Rewriting the complete sentence like Carol B. isn’t something I’ve thought of, but I can see where it could work. And I don’t think I own anywhere near the books that mE (Elderfox) has. What a collection!

    Joylene, I’m sorry about the tune in your head, but if it’s in mine it might as well be in everyone’s! … La-la-la… atrocious. La-la-la-la-la… precocious…. Um-diddle-diddle-um-diddleye. 😀

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