Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Discombobulated

Last week, a post on a message board made me angry.

That's not unusual. But this post didn't involve my usual trigger subjects of homeopathy, Ryan Seacrest, or teen paranormal romance. The post was about words. I love me some words.

This guy, this... troll, claimed that some words are "unnecessary". The words he chose to accuse of superfluity: copacetic and discombobulated. His argument: they're hard to pronounce, "sound stupid", and other words can easily be used in their place.

Okay. Come on. First of all, they sound fantastic. Saying "discombobulated" out loud just now is the most fun I've had all day. Give it a shot, you'll enjoy it. Secondly, if you think "copacetic" is hard to pronounce, try some of the easy beginner words on for size, like "lamb" and "knife".

As for those other words that could be used in their place: forgive me, but isn't that the entire point of synonyms? Having slightly different ways to say the same thing? If you kill off synonyms and antonyms, you end up in a world of emotionless Orwellian Newspeak, devoid of nuance and tone. That's a boring damn world and I don't want to live there. We're talking doubleplus ungood here, folks.

Yes, I could use "bewildered", "taken aback", or "rattled" in the place of "discombolulated" and the meaning wouldn't change. The words all have a very similar denotation in that they all mean "confused and upset". But they've each got their own connotation, which is the connections your mind makes to other words and feelings when you read them. When I'm writing a silly story and a character is approached by a wizard who hands him a magic hat and tells him he's destined to save the world, I may say he's discombobulated by the encounter. If I'm writing a serious story and someone's being told that the man she's been married to for a decade has a secret life and a second family overseas, I may say she's rattled by the news. I know I would be!

I will grant that sometimes fancy-pants words get used unnecessarily in the place of simpler ones. Not everyone in every novel needs to have creamy alabaster skin, and sometimes the sky is just blue. Not cerulean or aquamarine or azure. Sometimes blue will do. Simplicity is generally the best rule. That's not to say that fancy words don't have their place. I use many a highfalutin word when the mood strikes and I feel like it conveys what I want it to. Sometimes you need to break out some discombobulation, and that's just copacetic with me.

But people who utilize "utilize" when they could totally be using "use"? Beatings. Beatings for all.

6 comments:

  1. I remember learning the word "utilize" from my dad's mother. She said it basically meant "use" and that's what she'd meant. I was fairly young. I don't hear it often, even out of her.

    To be frank, I have no idea when "utilize" is appropriate. I just use "use" all the time.

    You should do a post on the proper way to avoid beatings. I think that's what I'm saying. Also, you should NOT beat my grandmother. I'd hafta kick your ass if you did that, even as I conceded your point regarding "utilize."

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    1. Okay, fine, I'll spare your grandmother. Unless she uses it in sentences like "Better utilize our resources to maximize corporate synergy and empower us to think outside the box." Because if that's the case... yeeeeeah.... I'm gonna need to smack her with a TPS report.

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    2. As she's an almost life-long housewife, I think I'd have to support you in that. Sorry, Grandma!

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  2. "Sometimes you need to break out some discombobulation, and that's just copacetic with me." OMG I love you. That is all.

    Also, they do NOT sound stupid. They sound fun. Pfft.

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  3. "I will grant that sometimes fancy-pants words get used unnecessarily in the place of simpler ones. Not everyone in every novel needs to have creamy alabaster skin, and sometimes the sky is just blue. Not cerulean or aquamarine or azure. Sometimes blue will do. Simplicity is generally the best rule. That's not to say that fancy words don't have their place. I use many a highfalutin word when the mood strikes and I feel like it conveys what I want it to. Sometimes you need to break out some discombobulation, and that's just copacetic with me."

    LOVE this. Because yes, some books are packed with "extra fluff." As a reader it makes me feel like I am wasting my time reading someones word count. On the other hand, there are some serious "works" of literature out there that could use a thesaurus.

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  4. Hear, hear! Right with you all the way!

    As one who, in her professional life, sees "utilize" and other such jargon and corporate-speak lurch across her visual field far too often, I wholeheartedly agree that the word does no job that "use" can't do just as well and for less money.

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