The Moving Word

Writer, Preacher, Bookworm, Student of the Word

The Vocabulary Dilemma

A writer opens his toolbox and places his tools on the table, to construct a work of art. Words take form and sentences become pages. The writer labors to find the perfect word in his arsenal of vocabulary.

His training, knowledge, study and reading come to bear as he struggles for perfection. His freedom of thought pours onto the page and something special takes life. Writing is a singular exercise built on the shoulders of the ages. The penman fills his toolbox with the best at his disposal. Words are his sword.

Will we allow the artist to perfect his art? Leonardo Da Vinci changed the world with the power of his abilities. We stand in awe at the complex majesty of his work. Millions pay homage to his legacy each year.

No one stands at the side of the masters of art, music and sport, to tell them to restrict their art. Instead, we laud their accomplishments and beg for more.

If we, as a culture, do not place a hobble on musicians, artists and athletes, then why do we do so for writers? The wordsmith pores over books, reading, consuming all that he can of the language. As an erudite person, he turns his extraordinary abilities to paint the story of his mind, so readers can be captivated and elevated.
However, we deny writers the freedom of musicians and artists. We restrict his abilities and knowledge. As parents who refuse to allow children to keep score, so fragile psyches of children will not suffer harm, the writer succumbs to the weak and censors his writing. He must spot the opponent ten points, so the game appears fair.

Experts teach the writer to find the perfect word one day and red mark the page the next for their choices. In reality, we find the right word, as long as it fits the reading level of a young person.

A composer of world renown stands before a room of maestros and performs his piece to acclaim. One week later, he gives the same performance to high school students and the school and newspaper gush with applause.

Now, music and art are universal languages and the audience utilizes their own depth of understanding in their response. However, people must elevate their minds to appreciate the highest abilities that these fields can produce. The same is true of language.

A society that loses the ability to speak well and stops learning is robbing its future of greatness. If we will be a learned people, we must return to the richness of language.    Writers, unlike artists and composers, edit themselves rather than utilizing the full majesty of their tools. They find the right word, to an extent.

Dickens and Dostoyevsky would feel stifled in our day as they tried to assimilate the pop culture references that substitute for higher thought in our age. We place the sunflower in the shade and wonder why it is not thriving.

Readers need to grow, so writers can remove the hobble. I am certain that some will consider this essay as springing from a vain heart. They might think that we deem ourselves better than others because we possess a higher vocabulary. On the contrary, we know that readers are not restricted in performing the duties of their chosen profession, to be fair to others, with lesser abilities.

The lessons of children in centuries past would confuse college students today, granted they stopped texting long enough to listen.

This is a call for all of us to grow, expand our minds and see what we have missed in the steady decline of culture. Ignorance possesses a voracious appetite and we must fight it with the better angels of our nature. Writers need to be able to transcend the pablum and aspire to the heavens.

We are to rise above the animals, not become them.


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4 thoughts on “The Vocabulary Dilemma

  1. Pingback: The Diminishing Words « The Fellowship Room

  2. Bradley Cobb on said:

    While I agree, we must look at it from the other side as well. If we want to communicate our message to a people who will not improve their vocabulary, we must edit ourselves. If someone wants and needs to know that about which we are writing, then sees many unknown words, he will likely stop reading our words and move on to someone who uses his vocabulary. According to one preacher I know, over 75% of Jesus’ recorded words were two-syllables or less.

    I am dismayed–as are you–by the shrinking intellect and vocabulary of today vs just 100-150 years ago. It amazes me that adults today claim the King James version is too confusing to read, when it was a standard textbook for 3rd and 4th graders during the Civil War era.

    However, we must realize that our job is not that of a lyricist, but instead that of a communicator. Communication does not exist if the other person doesn’t understand what you are writing. Paul said better 5 understandable words than 1000 words that are not understood.

    I’m with you, Richard, but I can’t let this feeling over-ride my mission to preach the gospel in ways people can understand it.


    • Thanks, Bradley. I wouldn’t let it override teaching the gospel, either. Nor would I refuse to speak the language of the people [minus the profanity]. My point is that the public is becoming so lazy that communication is becoming more difficult.

      I read books and articles on writing and they stress the selection of the perfect word and then say that we have to write in simple words. One even said that “use” is better than”utilize.” What? Things have gotten so bad that utilize is a big word now???

      Thanks again.

  3. I agree with so much of this, Richard. How many years since editors have told us never to use cliches? My husband teaches high school history. Occasionally, he uses an old cliche to get his point across. The kids have no clue what he’s talking about. They’ve never heard the saying before. So how much of our culture and history is being lost because we haven’t been allowed to use an appropriate “cliche”?

    My only disagreement with this article is about this statement: “…readers are not restricted in performing the duties of their chosen profession, to be fair to others, with lesser abilities.” Ask any older generation teacher about that. High school kids may also be losing their ability to write with a pen or pencil. When my husband gives matching tests, he tells them they must use capital letters. Some of them don’t seem to know the difference between upper case and lower case. It’s a nation-wide problem on many levels.

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