In my last post, I mentioned that the four major elements I consider when I’m deciding which word to use are specificity, esotericism, etymology, and sonics. Today, we’re tackling esotericism — or, simply put, how likely it is that people have encountered the word before.
When I was a kid, my younger sisters wanted to read the books that I read, and (because at that time in my life I was completely insufferable) I told them that they wouldn’t understand because my books had a lot of “big words.”
“Like what?” my middle sister challenged me (because even as a kid, she knew her worth).
I cast desperately about for an example. “Like ‘mar,'” I said. “And ‘cur.'” Unsurprisingly, these three-letter words failed to impress.
Now that I’m older, I’ve realized two things: first, you should never tell a kid what she can’t read. Second, what we call “big words” are often actually esoteric words. They’re words that we are unlikely to have encountered in our daily lives, words that we might have to puzzle out or that might have a context-specific meaning.Continue reading