Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Some blogger (see this post at Bruce's for more details) has accused me--out of the clear blue sky--of suffering "delusions of grandeur," just because I used TEH BIG WORDS in a sentence. Here's the offending sentence:

Presuppositionalist apriorism also rears its ugly head in debates about whether atheists can be moral, whether evolutionists can be moral, etc.
Granted: it's not the kind of language you're likely to hear at the footy, but the idea that it demonstrates my having delusions of grandeur is completely nonsequitous (oops! Another big word). The only explanation I can come up with is that whenever this individual sees someone using TEH BIG WORDS, he concludes that it's all part of a conspiracy to make him feel stupid. Bruce and I only used TEH BIG WORDS, you see, because we think we're betterer than him.

Well, my friend, I've got another big word for you: projection.

Image courtesy of Dinosaur Comics. Click to enlarge.

P.S. I'm actually something of an advocate for plainer English. When I was teaching essay writing earlier in the year, I was amazed at how difficult it was to disabuse my students of the myth that they would get bad marks if they didn't use unnecessarily big words (many of which they plainly misunderstood anyway) and convoluted prose. They were convinced that to adopt a simpler approach would be to appear "unprofessional"--as if maintaining an image of professionalism is more important than getting a message across.

On the other hand, it is possible to be too zealous about the push for simplified prose. The basic presupposition of the Plain English movement is that anything and everything can and should be expressed in terms accessible to "the man in the street." I say, however, that plain English is good only when it clarifies a message; plain English is bad when it dilutes or dumbs down a message. (I'm thinking here of those plain English versions of Shakespeare they're using (not exclusively, I hasten to add) in high schools these days.) As Einstein said: "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."

In any case, whatever my friend's agenda, I really don't think it's as innocuous as a call for plainer English.