Sorry for this late post. I’ve spent the morning dodging trolls over in the LinkedIn writers’ groups. Oy vey. But while there, someone brought up a topic that actually interested me (until it submerged into troll-dom).
The topic was: big words. Or, more precisely, obscure words.
The poster was complaining about the word “chthonic.” Any of you know what it means, off the top of your head?
I’ve seen the word a couple of times, mostly because I read a lot of H.P. Lovecraft when I was younger. However, I still can’t pull up its exact meaning without context. So, here’s the context, taken from Dan Brown’s most recent opus:
…laboring beneath the earth like a chthonic monster.
That helps, no? Even if you didn’t now that “chthonic” didn’t mean “Concerning, belonging to, or inhabiting the underworld,” you’d probably pick up on the meaning via context.
The post-writer was complaining (it seemed) that since 95% of us (his estimation) had no clue what it meant, using such a word was a Bad Thing.
If we continually dumb-down our prose, stripping out all the words not familiar to a 6th grader, we’re killing ourselves as writers. If we insist on catering to the lowest capabilities of our readership, we’ll end up with “See Spot run. Run Spot. Run.”
I prefer to presume the intelligence of my readers. Hell…they’re readers, right? Now, using obscure words for the purpose of inscrutability or out of some highbrow up-yours-ish-ness is stupid, but sometimes an obscure word is precisely the right word.
To this day, I remember the books I read wherein I first came across the words “spavined,” “debouched,” “bifurcated,” and “riparian.” These words are now in my vocabulary. They’re really good words–well, most of them…”bifurcated” is messed-up–and I’m glad to have them in my arsenal. Just so, “chthonic” (in the right place) can be the perfect word.
Of course, the fact that Brown used it in the middle of a running-life-or-death chase scene is probably not a good thing, but let’s not throw out the word itself.