1. P2W2
    Offline

    P2W2 Member

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2008
    Messages:
    18
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    www.chaitanyasagar.com

    Is vocabulory important?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by P2W2, Apr 14, 2008.

    I have been a business writer for some time now. Most of my thoughts on writing have been influenced by "On Writing Well" by William Zinsser.

    The crux of his work is, simplify, simplify, simplify. You don't need big words. You don't need to sound big. You just have to convey the message in as few words as possible.

    When you do that, do you need a big vocab? Seems useless to me.

    What do you think?
     
  2. Heather Louise
    Offline

    Heather Louise Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2006
    Messages:
    2,972
    Likes Received:
    32
    Personally I do not think using long words are what are important, but word variation definatly is. It is boring to read something where the same words are being repeated over and over again. Try and use a variation of words, but there is no point including technical words that no-one is going to be able to understand as the point of writing is to get a message across, and if no-one can understand it then there is no point.
     
  3. Endeavour
    Offline

    Endeavour Senior Member

    Joined:
    Oct 10, 2007
    Messages:
    115
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    London, UK
    Vocabulary is important. No matter how simplistic your ideas are, being too simple can ruin your work. It is vital to use simple sentences but equally important to convey them in decent words. The idea is not to use fancy words too many times in a row. Vary their usage.
     
  4. Michael Davis
    Offline

    Michael Davis Member

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2008
    Messages:
    24
    Likes Received:
    0
    Suggestion

    Its a matter of degree. The vast majority of humans have a straight forward vocabulary when they talk. If you're too complicated, it stops the reader from the flow, but tossing in a few words every now and then, not in the dialogue put in the tag build up or the narrative doesn't hurt.

    Ref Heathers comment, I totally agree. If you use "Talk" or "Walk" or "expression ten times on a page, it becomes boring. For example, instead of "expression on his face", there's nothing wrong with using "visage on his face" somewhere else. Use a Thesaurus. I maintain a list of 120 repetitive words (walk, talk, smile, look, etc). Once the MS is none, I do a global search and check the page count between the use of each word. If its too small, I go to my online Thesaurus and pick a different one.
     
  5. Heather Louise
    Offline

    Heather Louise Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2006
    Messages:
    2,972
    Likes Received:
    32
    In reference to Michael, that is quite specific, doing page counts and stuff. Just read through your work and if it sounds like you have said the same word too many time, then change a couple. I would not suggest using a theasuroas though if I am honest as they are not a direct translation, especially if you use an online translatiom. Like translating heart to aotic pump or something (on Friends :p). Just try and keep it varied so it reads better.
    Heather
     
  6. Darkthought
    Offline

    Darkthought Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2008
    Messages:
    824
    Likes Received:
    44
    Location:
    Newport News, Virginia, United States
    It isn't a matter of using big words or not, it is a matter of using words that convey the meaning you want in the best possible way. Even words that have literal definitions which are the same can have different connotations and denotations. For instance, if I were describing the good smell of a perfume, I wouldn't want to call that smell a "stench" as opposed to an "aroma". They mean the same thing, but stench makes it sound as if the smell is not a good one. It doesn't get my message across.
     
  7. Rastathialla
    Offline

    Rastathialla Member

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2008
    Messages:
    27
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Senegal
    I personally think that everyday words are good for most stuff, but sometimes a bigger word just says it better.
     
  8. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    a writer's basic set of tools is his/her vocabulary... and, just as a master carpenter would not use a saber saw to trim a delicate piece of woodwork, a master wordsmith would not use a ten dollar word where a two-bit one does a better job...

    but they both will have ALL the tools of their trade and keep them handy, for when they ARE needed... the difference between masters of an art/craft and lesser lights is knowing when to use what... and how to use each one properly/effectively...

    'nuff said?
     
  9. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    More important that having a huge vocabulary is using the words in your vocabulary correctly. Nothing throws off the flow of a story more than a word used in a way that just isn't correct in the given context.

    I can't easily give examples without going to posted writing and pointing at examples - I won't do that here, but you may see examples pointed out in the reviews. But it's not just the misuse of uncommon words. There are very common ones like using loose when you mean lose (to fail win, or to misplace something) or to when you mean too, to bare (uncover or make naked) instead of to bear (to carry or to endure something), etc.

    Paul Brian's site, Common Errors in English, is an excellent reference on this type of usage error, and is a very entertaining site as well.
     
  10. das_rebell
    Offline

    das_rebell Member

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2008
    Messages:
    20
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Behind you.
    When I write papers for school I always have to make sure I have a lot of variation. I need to be able to know different words for the same thing. The teachers come down hard on use of the same word over and over. So I've learned that it's not size that matters with words it's variation, and the ability to make smaller words work in sentance. Writing is more about how it sounds then showing off what you can say. Sometimes though bigger words are needed to discribe what's going on. A lot of times bigger words have a bigger meaning, so instead of saying like "it was really painful" you'll say "It was excruciating" because that actually shows that it wasn't just a pinprick.
     
  11. Anthony James Barnett
    Offline

    Anthony James Barnett Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Nov 8, 2007
    Messages:
    270
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Spain
    Assuming you want to reach as many people as possible with your work, then the simper you write the better. I'm not saying 'talk down', I'm saying don't try to be clever. Just write as if you're in conversation, except make it clearer, more concise and with correct grammar.

    Anthony
     
  12. CDRW
    Offline

    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2008
    Messages:
    1,532
    Likes Received:
    27
    Write simply without throwing in big words for the sake of big words. If there is a word that does the perfect job, but some people might not know, use it. It'll help their vocabulary also. You can use the occasional large word to sipmlify your work. You can present a concept powerfuly in one sentance that would otherwise take you a whole paragraph of tourtued reasoning to explain. If you do that make it so they can figure out what the word means by the context of the sentance.
     
  13. P2W2
    Offline

    P2W2 Member

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2008
    Messages:
    18
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    www.chaitanyasagar.com
    @Heather,

    There are a fair number of people who think using uncommon words is good. Should we use uncommon words?

    I agree with you that word variation is important and so vocabulary takes its place. Which tools do you use if you want to use a variant? I try and use thesaurus. I am asking this questions just in case you know some good websites.
     
  14. P2W2
    Offline

    P2W2 Member

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2008
    Messages:
    18
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    www.chaitanyasagar.com
    Variation seems to be the only reason why you would want good vocabulary.

    Just to vary my question a little bit, [:)] do you think the need for your own (in-your-mind-not-in-thesaurus or computer) vocabulary has come down over years because most of our writing has shifted online (so you can use thesaurus in word processor or online) and two, most of the writing is for online audience and because of diminishing online attention span, people have shifted to easier and simpler words? That has reduced (not eliminated) the need for in-your-mind vocabulary.
     
  15. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Not at all. My own fascination with words has never abated over the years. If anything, it has grown. But then again, I was an adult before there was such a thing as a personal computer.

    One secret about me, hitherto unknown by anyone on the forums, is that I love puns. The key to punning is a broad vocabulary and practice at collecting associated words from alternate definitions, quickly.

    A good vocabulary need not be based on obscure, polysyllabic words like polysyllabic. The important thing is to know a wide range of common words, and to pay attention to not only the simple dictionary definitions, but also to the shades of meaning of the words in their natural contexts.
     
  16. Heather Louise
    Offline

    Heather Louise Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2006
    Messages:
    2,972
    Likes Received:
    32
    Well, the choice is up to you really about using uncommon words, but personally I would try not to. If it is uncommon, then not many people are going to know what it means, so what is the point of using it. the point of writing is about painting the picture of what has happened, telling the reader a story. What is the point of telling an English speaking reader a story in French for example? They wouldn't understand it. So why do it with technical words that they are not going to understand either?

    and I don't really use anything, just the words I know. I either replace the word with one I know, or re-phrase it so it uses different words. If I am writing in class I sometimes ask my teacher how I could re-phrase or say something.
     
  17. P2W2
    Offline

    P2W2 Member

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2008
    Messages:
    18
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    www.chaitanyasagar.com
    Well said Heather. I totally agree with you.
     
  18. Darkthought
    Offline

    Darkthought Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2008
    Messages:
    824
    Likes Received:
    44
    Location:
    Newport News, Virginia, United States
    Why compromise the integrity of the work for the sake of the ignorant masses?
     
  19. Cressida
    Offline

    Cressida New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 14, 2008
    Messages:
    6
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    awash in the sea of humanity
    One of the most basic of concepts that any writer has to understand is that if you want to write you need to know and love the language, be able to to play with words and structure to fit your mood and needs. Writing is a craft.

    Not grasping that concept is like saying I want to paint but all these colors are confusing.
     
  20. flashgordon
    Offline

    flashgordon Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Dec 23, 2007
    Messages:
    201
    Likes Received:
    1
    I almost would go the opposite direction to some of these responses. I definitely think knowing a language's vocabulary is essential - how else can you sound like a pompous, erudite, aloof writer? However, I would also say that what I hate about contemporary fiction the most is the dumbing down of the writing. I prefer big words - they don't scare me. I prefer complex sentences. I want all of that, which sadly seems to be edited out of most contemporary fiction. Perhaps that is why I stick with the classics more...
     
  21. Heather Louise
    Offline

    Heather Louise Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2006
    Messages:
    2,972
    Likes Received:
    32
    I am not saying write as if you are talking to your three year old sister or something, you want complex sentences (which actually have nothing to do with vocabulary but sentence length and structure) and you want words that suit the purpose best. All I am saying is that when people start purposlly start using complicated, techincal words that are not used often in ordinary conversations so are proably not going to be understood, it is just srrogant, as if I know more words that you so ha.
     
  22. Bob The Writing Guy
    Offline

    Bob The Writing Guy New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 14, 2008
    Messages:
    9
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Privacy is my sanctuary.
    What's wrong with a little arrogance? :)

    I'd rather read someone cocky enough to be snotty in his or her work than someone that has only a rudimentary understanding of the language.
     
  23. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Confidence and comfort with using a broader vocabulary is not snooty or arrogant, though.

    Choosing a word merely bacause it sounds more impressive or educated is what comes across as arrogant. But choosing a word that better conveys the meaning is speaking or writing well.

    The best words to round out a vocabulary are not the words that few people know. How does that communicate better? The best words are ones that people have heard and understand, but may not be the ones they hear every day. And those words only work better if the listener or reader receives a sharper, clearer impression of what the speaker or writer is trying to convey than a more mundane word choice.

    A good vocabulary, in my opinion, is more about having a good internal thesaurus than a good internal dictionary. It's knowing the words well enough to not only know the literal meaning, but also the connotations, the nuances that cling to the word. For example, cute and hot are both words that a girl might use to say that a guy attracts her, but the differences in the connotations are profound.
     
  24. Sugar N. Spice
    Offline

    Sugar N. Spice Senior Member

    Joined:
    Apr 19, 2008
    Messages:
    187
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    New York
    Big vocab here and there is fine- it makes you seem smart. Just don't over do it. ;)
     
  25. Long Gone
    Offline

    Long Gone Guest

    I don't see the fun in making your work resemble a dictionary. I mean, its not just clever or literate people who read, and readers don't want to be checking their Pocket Oxford every few pages just to keep up with the story.

    Vocabulary, on the other hand, I feel can make or break a story. For instance, most of my work is full of what you might call "underworld" jargon. I try to explain whatever slang I use, without making it seem like a Wiki entry, but I've been told it adds a certain touch to the tale.

    Anyway, I guess your really the only person who can decide whether your work needs a specific vocabulary or not. Besides, you can always try different styles and get feedback from them on here or similar sites.
     

Share This Page