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Thread: $100 Words

  1. #1
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    $100 Words

    We’ve heard it said that the vocabulary of the average high school grad now is about half that of an average high school grad from 70 years ago. I have no idea whether this is actually true, but if so it probably speaks poorly of our education system. It can of course be argued that graduation rates are much higher nowadays and if one included the vocabulary of all the 18 year olds that dropped out in 7th grade back then (that would presumably be advanced through to graduation these days) we’d wind up with a more favorable relative measure. However, a general diminishing trend in vocabulary can seen in a number of areas when we compare public discourse now with that from the early 20th century (e.g. compare Wilson’s State of the Union address with W’s).

    I once had a prof who after (and sometimes during!) student presentations would make remarks like ‘ooh a $50 word’ or ‘that presentation had a lot $5 and $10 dollar words in it but never rose above a $20’. I’m dedicating this thread in his memory.

    There are times and occasions for each language ‘denomination’ to get used but generally we want to speak or write at the level of one’s audience, too big or too small a bill results in being seen as either a pompous windbag or a simpleton.

    Our impressions of what words qualify as belonging to various ‘denominations’ may differ a bit individually but here are some examples that I think are representative:

    $1 – and, the, red, house, fish
    $5 – order, situation, purpose, straighten
    $10 – resolved, preoccupied, exploration, cooperative
    $20 – existential, concurrent, contextual, sporadic
    $50 – ecumenical, acerbic, superfluous, accretion
    $100 – recondite, exigible, asseverational, delurtate

    Around Cyburbia I might use a $50 word on occasion - everyone here is either a college student or graduate, but I don’t think I’d ever venture beyond a $20 word writing a staff report and seldom venture beyond $10 words while speaking at public hearings. Maybe if one is in academia they might find occasion to use $100 word but I confess these opportunities are few and far between (which begs the observation …so freakin’ what if I don’t know what “anent” means)

    How about you – do you generally agree with those ‘denominations’ and when do you find occasion in life to use the various bills?
    Last edited by Maister; 30 Apr 2008 at 9:50 AM.
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Duke Of Dystopia's avatar
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    He he!

    Time to keep the Wiktionary up in a tab!

    Looks to me like I am stuck at $50.

    One may have a large number of synonyms for a word. Each one of those groupings of words has a slightly different shade of meaning and use. I would offer to say, that if you can't cover what you have to say properly with a $10 or $20 word, using a $100 word won't help you.

    $100 words are often archaic, or used for the verbal smack-down.
    I can't deliver UTOPIA, but I can create a HELL for you to LIVE in :)DoD:(

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Planit's avatar
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    I have been known to place a "$100" or "$50" into a report on occassion just to see if anyone was actually reading the d@mn thing. This has worked several times (on both sides of reading and not reading).
    "Whatever beer I'm drinking, is better than the one I'm not." DMLW
    "Budweiser sells a product they reflectively insist on calling beer." John Oliver

  4. #4
    Cyburbian ofos's avatar
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    I generally top out at the $50 level in personal usage but knowledge of the $100 level can help if you're doing NY Times crossword puzzles. I tend to think of William F. Buckley and other condescenders of his ilk when I hear anything above the $50 level. Over the years, I've found that my large vocabulary can be of a disadvantage at times because I'll get hung up looking for the perfect word rather than using the adequate one.
    “Death comes when memories of the past exceed the vision for the future.”

  5. #5
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    The really SAD thing on this is that journalists have always been trained to write so as to be understood by third-graders, even though an occasional '$100' word or two can convey EXACTLY the thoughts that are drifting through my mind.



    Mike

  6. #6
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    I've thrown "bucolic" into a staff report once. I would think that is a $20 or $50 word, at least.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  7. #7
    Great thread! As I have posted many times before, I agree with Churchill that the old words are best and when short, better still.

    I was listening to an interview with Associate Justice Antonin Scalia on NPR Monday, about his new book, written for attorneys that want to polish their briefing style. Scalia and his co-author could not agree on whether contractions were appropriate in a legal brief -- his co-author favored them and Scalia opposed their use. Scalia suggested changing Lincoln's Gettysburg Address to use contractions -- thus:

    ... But, in a larger sense, we can't dedicate, we can't consecrate, we can't hallow this ground.
    Scalia's thinking was classic and, for me, at least on this topic, spot on.

  8. #8
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    I've thrown "bucolic" into a staff report once. I would think that is a $20 or $50 word, at least.
    'Bucolic' is squarely in the $50 category IMO. 'Bovine' might be a $20 (as also might 'idyllic' and 'pastoral' - on second thought, I'm putting idyllic at $50).
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  9. #9
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gedunker View post
    Great thread! As I have posted many times before, I agree with Churchill that the old words are best and when short, better still.

    I was listening to an interview with Associate Justice Antonin Scalia on NPR Monday, about his new book, written for attorneys that want to polish their briefing style. Scalia and his co-author could not agree on whether contractions were appropriate in a legal brief -- his co-author favored them and Scalia opposed their use. Scalia suggested changing Lincoln's Gettysburg Address to use contractions -- thus:



    Scalia's thinking was classic and, for me, at least on this topic, spot on.
    Off-topic:
    Despite my distaste for Scalia, I do have to say that his opinions are probably the best written of the current group. His tend to be more direct than several of the others.


    I got on to our Downtown Master Plan consultants for using $50 words in a presentation for the general public. I reminded them that they were not doing a campus master plan on the college campus and to remember their audience.

    In staff reports I'll use $20 words often, and the occasional $50 when appropriate.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  10. #10
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    Why use big words when small ones will work just as well? Does a $50 or a $100 offer a better representation or description of the topic hand, or is it just someone trying to sound smart?

    I do not know the meaning to any of the $100 words in the first post... but I am sure that there are $5 words that will work just as well, if not better because everyone would fully comprehend the intended meaning.

    It might just be that I have a simple mind, but I find that people who go out of their way to use $50 or $100 words are just being obnoxious.

    It is like someone who orders in French at a French Restaurant in Chicago, even though the waiters know English, the menu is in English, and the rest of the party speaks English!
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

  11. #11
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    I use the $20 and $50 words on occasion, in my presentations and staff reports. Just out of habit, I tend to speak with plainer language than I write. I like to write and I like to use the right word for the right situation. If, heaven help the poor fellow, he has to break out a dictionary and actually educate himself a little, tough break. I talk to my son like he is a first-grader, because he is. I talk to adult like they are adults. Dumb-downing your communication doesn't help anyone.

    I don't think I should intentionally confuse a person with "big" words, but I don't think I should intentionally talk to grown people like they are stupid either.

    I use language in my speech and in my writing that a person who finished high school should be able to understand. If they do not understand my "big" words, then that is their own fault. I learned to speak, write and spell largely by reading. Maybe they should try it, too.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  12. #12
    Cyburbian illinoisplanner's avatar
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    I don't purposely use a thesaurus and insert big words just for the hell of it, or to appeal to a certain audience. I simply just write or speak like normal, and if a $20 or $50 word happens to come up, or if it happens to be filled with $1 and $5 words, so be it. I really don't care, just as long as I can get my point across.
    "Life's a journey, not a destination"
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  13. #13
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis View post
    Why use big words when small ones will work just as well? Does a $50 or a $100 offer a better representation or description of the topic hand, or is it just someone trying to sound smart?

    I do not know the meaning to any of the $100 words in the first post... but I am sure that there are $5 words that will work just as well, if not better because everyone would fully comprehend the intended meaning.

    It might just be that I have a simple mind, but I find that people who go out of their way to use $50 or $100 words are just being obnoxious.

    It is like someone who orders in French at a French Restaurant in Chicago, even though the waiters know English, the menu is in English, and the rest of the party speaks English!
    I completely agree. When someone misuses a $50 or $100 word it makes them look idiotic and feebleminded. Also a good writers writes to their audience not to show off.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

  14. #14
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Found another (at least) $50 word - ameliorate
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  15. #15
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    Found another (at least) $50 word - ameliorate
    Oh, that is one of my favorites. Maybe I will use that one next time I have to do the Word of the Day at Toastmasters.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  16. #16
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    If I have the appropriate lighthearted audience, I'll dazzle them with infrequently used terms.

    "Thank you for your submittal. The comments will be ready in a fortnight."
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    I always enjoyed it when the Chief Planner from a former job presented zoning cases involving requests for an "eleemosynary" institution. The public, the applicant, new board members, would look totally confused. Of course, the term means "charitable" and someone would always ask him why he didn't just say charitable. Um... because that's the way it's worded in the zoning ordinance?

    The same planner and I used to do a "word of the day" for at least 5 years until I left, scouring the dictionary for confounding words to throw at each other. Some of the other planners joined in (could not use a dictionary when you were playing) and made their guesses before we revealed the definition. It was fun. (Yeah, I'm a geek...)

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Emeritus Bear Up North's avatar
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    It should be obvious to all faithful Cyburbians that this Bear hangs in the DOLLAR STORE, when it comes to wordsmithing. I yam what I yam.

    Bear
    Occupy Cyburbia!

  19. #19
    Cyburbian el Guapo's avatar
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    I done use werds that put me n debit. Fer instence this here post will put me a lease 30 dead presedents in debit.


    Oh, and with the impending occupation of the executive branch in January 2009 by a member of the wealth redistribution movement I am expecting a bail out like my friends with ARM's.

  20. #20
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis View post
    Why use big words when small ones will work just as well? Does a $50 or a $100 offer a better representation or description of the topic hand, or is it just someone trying to sound smart?
    Take that Shakespeare guy. Talk about having a big head! Why did he say this:
    Quote Originally posted by Shakespeare
    To be, or not to be: that is the question:
    Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
    And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
    No more; and by a sleep to say we end
    The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
    That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
    Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
    To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
    For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
    When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
    Must give us pause: there's the respect
    That makes calamity of so long life;
    For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
    The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
    The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
    The insolence of office and the spurns
    That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
    When he himself might his quietus make
    With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
    To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
    But that the dread of something after death,
    The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
    No traveller returns, puzzles the will
    And makes us rather bear those ills we have
    Than fly to others that we know not of?
    Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
    And thus the native hue of resolution
    Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
    And enterprises of great pith and moment
    With this regard their currents turn awry,
    And lose the name of action.
    When he coulda saved a whole lot of time and effort and said this instead:

    Ya put up with so much sh*t in life you sometimes wonder if it’s all worth it. I’d kill myself if I thought it’d give me relief but I don’t know if there’s an afterlife. Living or dying; neither sound like real good choices. Guess you shouldn’t think about this kinda crap too much, huh.
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  21. #21
    Cyburbian ofos's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Maister View post
    Ya put up with so much sh*t in life you sometimes wonder if it’s all worth it. I’d kill myself if I thought it’d give me relief but I don’t know if there’s an afterlife. Living or dying; neither sound like real good choices. Guess you shouldn’t think about this kinda crap too much, huh.
    I'm not seeing a big market for the Collected Works of Maister although I might have some suggestions for what they could be printed on and bound with.
    “Death comes when memories of the past exceed the vision for the future.”

  22. #22
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    Perhaps there is a market for two new reference guides: Webster's Dictionary for Dummies and Roger's Thesaurus for Dumb-asses. I say Roger's because Roget's is a name that is just too high-fallooting and French for Joe Sixpack. And what is with that Roget guy anyway? It's spelled like you should say Rog-it, but you are supposed to say Row-shay. Damn cheese-eating, beret-wearing surrender monkeys!
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  23. #23
    Cyburbian ofos's avatar
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    Since Otterpop raised the topic extension with his "Roget" diatribe, what about the intelligensia ($19.95) who raise themselves above the hoi polloi by inserting foreign languages in their $100 prose. You've all see this dichotomy ($50) in speech, ne c'est pas? Is it Gemütlichkeit or schadenfreude that you are expressing? But then, why use schadenfreude when you can just as efficaciously use epicaricacy ($100+) to make your point?
    “Death comes when memories of the past exceed the vision for the future.”

  24. #24
    Cyburbian Plus dandy_warhol's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ofos View post
    Since Otterpop raised the topic extension with his "Roget" diatribe, what about the intelligensia ($19.95) who raise themselves above the hoi polloi by inserting foreign languages in their $100 prose. You've all see this dichotomy ($50) in speech, ne c'est pas? Is it Gemütlichkeit or schadenfreude that you are expressing? But then, why use schadenfreude when you can just as efficaciously use epicaricacy ($100+) to make your point?

    this is amurrica. we shouldn't use any of those foreign words. they're taking away work from our honest, hard-working, patriot-acting, native words. in fact, i recently heard a story where some american word lost out on being in a history book because some high-faluting old french word got selected instead. don't even get me started on those latino words like quesidillas, why not just say what the are - wraps!
    In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. -Martin Luther King Jr.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    Dumbing Down of America

    Personally, I enjoy using words that no one else uses or knows of (oops, ended a sentence with a preposition ).

    For me, the grasp of the English language in today's society is somewhat disturbing. Maybe I'm elitist, but if more people used more expensive words, I think we'd be better off as a society because it would mean people are actually reading and becoming better educated.

    That being said, I do dumb-down my staff reports to some extent. Maybe I'll stop doing this, and completely confuse the public.

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