I think most people I know would agree that the label ‘word snob’ fits me quite nicely. Some people would say this as a term of affection and some…wouldn’t but it’s a very strange thing when you discover that your vocabulary inadvertently makes you sound like a pompous buffoon and explaining the words you love to use invariably makes it much worse.
When I was taking my English literature degree I was strangely syphoned off from the (quote) Real World and surrounded by other English literature students. We all read well (both in our spare time and the books we were forced to read for our course) and to that end we ended up with access to words that won’t be used in every day language. There honestly can come a time when you stop laughing at the word “ejaculate” being used as a way of shouting or expressing surprise because it’s used pretty often in Jane Austin novels and at some point you see that it is actually a fairly good word.
Therein lies the problem with my word use: I have grown to love how words can have such specific meanings. One of the most memorable lessons I ever had in school was a single English lesson where my teacher asked us to think about what words really mean and I think it’s fair to say he actually changed the way I viewed words in that single lesson. He pointed out that the word ‘fantastic’, whilst meaning essentially great in everyday language, can only be used accurately to describe the other-worldly or bizarre (aka the fantastical). He told us that we can only use the word luminous correctly when referring to some kind of light and that awesome really means to be in awe, proper awe.
Since that lesson I will always use the word that most accurately describes the emotion or action I’m trying to express. A pedantic example would be my use of the word trepidation. I love this word, not least because it’s so enjoyable to say but also because it allowed me (during a 6 month period where I suffered from panic attacks) to distinguish between my anxiety and my trepidations. Anxiety can be completely irrational, you can be anxious of spiders, anxious of cats and (in a particularly sad moment for myself) you can be anxious about walking down the stairs in case you fall and die. I had trepidations regarding an argument I was having with a friend and my mock theory, which I hadn’t researched. These were logical, though no less fearful, moments of concern and alarm that were momentary and passing rather than a continual distracting buzz. To this end, my love of words helped differentiate how I was feeling to my friends and allowed me to communicate better.
I’m sure I sound like a word snob right now and I truly don’t mean to. I now work sat next to a young apprentice and I am constantly explaining the words I use, which makes me feel so condescending it hurts. But I don’t want to remove my complex (perhaps excess) words from my vocabulary because I only use them when I feel they help, not just because I feel they make me sound better. An example of this would be an arrogant young man I knew in university who used to love telling the story of how he, as a very young boy (he actually seemed to get younger the more often he told it) piped up in a lesson to ask how he could spell a ridiculously complicated word. His suggestion was that he used the word, even as a child, but didn’t actually know how to spell it. I never really believed his story (mostly on account of the fact that the word was so ridiculous I can’t even recall it now) and I don’t think using many syllabled words makes me sound smarter. Language is the weapon we can all use to stop people from misunderstanding or misapprehending ourselves and all it takes is a few books for a person to drastically improve their communication skills.