Vocabulary lists are bad?

It has recently come to my attention that not all readers like it when a book challenges them to learn new words.

As a dedicated lover of words and one who finds it amusing to use confoundedly obscure words whenever possible, I found this shocking, disconcerting, and disheartening. But it also made me think about why writers write – and I decided on two main reasons.

  1. Writers write to get out what is inside of themselves. They have a need to share, to expound, to express.
  2. Writers write because readers have a need to hear a message, a story, hard data.

So you must ask yourself, whose need am I satisfying?

If your goal is to satisfy your craving for word creation, then let us celebrate with the use of multisyllabic words and arcane references! Challenge your readers to dig out their dictionaries or dust off their encyclopedias. But if you are trying to reach the widest audience possible, then I suppose we have an obligation to write in a way that encourages our readers to engage in what we're saying. If we spend to much time amused with ourselves, then we are not serving their needs.

Now, I'm not advocating dumbing down what you have to say – NO NO NO! But I am reminding you (and me) that not everyone wants to read with pen and dictionary in hand every time they look at words. Sad as that may be to me.

3 thoughts on “Vocabulary lists are bad?

  1. Are you kidding!? I love having to go to dictionary.com or wikipedia to find a new word! I’ve even used my blackberry while listening to NPR on my ride home and needing to know what the word “hedgemony” meant. I was at a stop light of course. And no, I don’t remember what it means.

  2. Sarah,
    Glad to hear it – that you enjoy new words and only Blackberry surf at (I presume) red lights!
    For the record, hegemony is about the influence or leadership of one country over another. It seems to carry both a positive and negative connotation – an excellent trait for a word! (Thanks to dictionary.com for the expertise.)

  3. I love learning new words. Having a “stable” of words at one’s disposal only makes one’s life, and the life of those who listen to that person, richer.
    Words that aren’t used often, as opposed to unusual words, make the conversation more interesting and make your listeners want for more.

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