Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Curse of Vocabulary

A friend of mine once found himself in civil court, defending himself against a lawsuit in front of a jury. Before he took the witness stand, his lawyer told him, "Whatever you do, talk plainly. Jurors don't like witnesses who use fancy words."

"OK," he said.

On the stand, the lawyer's first question was, "And how did you feel when you found out you were being sued?"

My friend exclaimed, "I was flummoxed!"

He prevailed against the suit in spite of that, but he said the look on his lawyer's face still haunts him.

I remembered that story when I went into a hardware store in a rural area not long ago. I wanted a particular tool that I'd noticed for sale elsewhere. I couldn't find one on the shelves so I asked for help. Two clerks, good ole boys both, came to my aid, and we scanned a large display of tools, trying to find what I wanted.

I said, "I kind of can't believe you guys don't have these; they're so….so…" and I paused, because the word I wanted to use was 'ubiquitous,' but I looked at these country guys and I thought, "OK, do not say 'ubiquitous.' Think of any word but 'ubiquitous.'"

The seconds passed like centuries.

The guys waited politely for me to finish my sentence, until finally I accepted my fate and came out with it: "ubiquitous!"

They looked at me in silence, then after a moment we all decided I probably didn't need that tool anyway.

For a writer, a large vocabulary is almost always a blessing. But at times it does feel like the opposite. I knew that for sure as I got into my car in that hardware store parking lot, cursing like a gynecomorphous canis lupus familiarus.


  1. sooo....would that be "female canine animal" ?



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