Using Tough Words in Tweets

R Jayaraman

Author: R Jayaraman

Date: Fri, 2017-12-15 16:09



To all the well-meaning folks who send me parodies of my supposed speaking/writing style: The purpose of speaking or writing is to communicate w/ precision. I choose my words because they are the best ones for the idea i want to convey, not the most obscure or rodomontade ones!

 14 12 2017  @ 12 26 AM (!!)

Twitterati - some of them, ie, those who could understand or make sense of the above twitter post – were flummoxed by the latest tweet by the weather beaten and verbose politician Shashi Tharoor. He who went to England and made the literati there listen to some of the toughest, stringentest messages about the long and often cruel misrule by the colonialists. He was avidly listened to, paid no-heed to and then sent back with a few videos in some TV channels, not to speak of the rainbowesque and myriad replays of his speech, which even the PM of India appreciated. Some of the more adventurous twitterati have accused Shashi T  of  using “difficult” English words, and that “ rodomontade” went and used another one in his most recent tweet, (incidentally, for those who don’t understand what “ rodomontade “ means, don’t worry, I also didn’t, when I read it. Like all others, I Googled it and got it). Fortunately, this time around, he didn’t mix up with another farrago. Some have asked why did he choose rodomontade in preference to hifalutin, grandiose and pretentious, which are equally  difficult, but would have served the purpose nevertheless. One tweeter has advised Tharoor to continue with his vocabularisarisation. One must meet this guy, to understand where he is coming from.

Using difficult words is allowed in literature, and, in fact, it is the correct place to use them. This enables the reader to learn about the language. Difficult words are used in very specific context, to refine the reference and exclude any other general implications. To zero in on the very specific meaning to the exclusion of all other. For example, if I were to say, this is a quagmire, I want to say it is a quagmire, so as not to be confused with a fen, or a slough, or a morass. Equally, not to be confused with predicament, quandary, mare’s nest (figure this one out) and imbroglio. My first acquaintance with difficult words was in the English lessons that one studied in school. I met dromedary, I learnt about a cocoon, the onomatopoeia, the oxymoron, alliteration. In modern times these may not even qualify as difficult words, definitely not by Shashi Tharoor standards, or so I gather. However, in dromedary, I have a winner.

Why does one use difficult words in sentences? The sources of this habit could be many. For example, think of an author writing a modern day scientific fiction, he needs to build in atmosphere, then he has no choice but to choose from terraforming, hive mind, ansible, cryonics, and such. This is what one may call “use by compulsion”. Another reason could be that the author is trying to test the learnedness of his readers. So he uses, millennials (instead of simply saying young people), cohorts (instead of simply saying a group or division. This word originates from the Roman army. Thus, its basic usage should be when discussing army related happenings, but academics use them in many other contexts, to connote groups, mostly peaceful ones at that!). Then there are authors who use difficult words because their minds are complicated. You may have met such specimens, who have the knack of seeing the difficult in the easy, like India snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. To them, such words come naturally, most of us could stay away and use our time in a better way.

There is this story of how the great sage Vyasa convinced the good lord Ganesa to become the scribe of the Mahabharatha. The story goes that when the sage Vyasa wanted to write the story, he had a to find a suitable scribe, as he did not have the modern laptops or typewriters. So he scouted around and Ganesa happened to meet him. Immediately Vyasa told Ganesa that he should be the scribe as there is no one else better qualified. Sounds familiar? However, there was a catch. Ganesa was a speedy writer, and Vyasa would be hard pressed to continuously provide the sound bites for Ganesa to transcribe without a break. (Something similar to Shankar Mahadevan refusing to sing songs where one has to take breaths between words). This could lead to an embarrassing situation of a mere mortal making the good lord wait. No can be. To the challenge of Ganesa, that Vyasa should dictate in such a way that Ganesa will never have to stop writing, Vyasa set the counter challenge- that Ganesa should transcribe only after he comprehends fully the meaning of the dictated passages. This is the place where Vyasa and Shashi T are in sync. Whenever Vyasa felt at a loss for words, he would dictate a very tough para, consisting of very difficult words, so that, by the time Ganesa understands all that and is ready for the next dose, Vyasa is also ready. So, here we see an example where an author uses difficult words, so that he is able to keep pace with the scribe. A rare thing indeed.

Then there is the famous and mysterious “covfefe”, attributed to the great twitterater Donald Trump. No one has been able to figure this one out. The grapevine is that the word is to be included in the encyclopedia as soon as its purport is ascertained.

You, reader, figure this one out, by which time I will be ready with the next blog.


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Words when put together correctly, are capable of setting free a legion of butterfly effects that eventually flutter across screens and minds of millions. When words are used to decorate meaningless sentences their impact is dampened. Language, you see is a very delicate thing. The words you speak or type never truly return to grace your fingertips. Words are thought bubbles on a few inches of LED but they can move mountains. The absolute spectrum of the range of its abilities remains unknown. One may remain flabbergasted at the linguistic self-proclaimed genius of English language, or one may see the truth that lays beneath all the synonyms. Number one, a flowry language serves as a mere red herring to the readers of today, as any language with more art than essence is basically a dramatic attempt to steal the thunder. We don’t want loud and in your face arguments to polarize opinions, we want a cordial commentary filled with valuable insights. Its flashy lights against poignant remarks, blowing your own trumpet against refined satire on the joke he himself has become. Secondly, there seems to be hardly any nuance in the efforts of Mr.Tharoor because his words never truly blend into an amalgamation of thought and actions. That is what bothers me the most about our human answer to colonizers. How can a man so drenched in post-colonial hatred be proud of his unnecessary vocabulary of English words? Such an era of darkness and thesaurus seems to have descended over this flamboyant mortal that every character he types on his Twitter handle takes him two steps away from reality. The predicament lays ironically in his lack of understanding of words he uses, as his attempts of accuracy fall miles short of any set benchmark of good writing. Literature has molded itself a couple of times since he has last been under the limelight and I suggest he should stick to incomprehensible tweets as an ebb and flow in writing, is not his cup of tea. Even if he was to be placed as a master of expression with his pseudo accents and annunciations, he would never be able to achieve the goal of communication, which is to minimize confusion. After all, language needs to serve a purpose of more than mere accuracy of expression, it needs to be channelized and assimilated depending on its readership. Twitter is an outlet of opinions to which Mr. Tharoor suits himself. However in the world of a two way channel of communication, filled with receivers, feedbacks and senders, Mr. Tharoor is a mere spectator.

This article is one of those rare occasions where the author highlights an unusual problem, and at the same time, the said article is a fine example of that very problem solved. Prof. Jayaraman manages to convey his sentiments with concise and clear language, without coming across as unnecessarily pedantic and wordy. The verbose nature of Shashi Tharoor’s tweets which led the Internet community to mock, parody and in some cases, ridicule him also however, spawned a healthy debate on the nature of language. This article delves into whether the relative obscurity of the words used offers some level of deeper meaning to the idea. The article highlights three reasons that may necessitate such use. I feel that ‘use by compulsion’ however, does not fit into the particular context. In such a case, the individual writing is limited by the confines of the idea being conveyed. In the context of science fiction, these words are not necessarily ‘difficult’, but esoteric. Outside the field to which they refer to, for example geology, these terms are not expected to be a part of the vocabulary of a layman. A good example of fiction littered with such specific terms is ‘The Martian’ by Andy Weir. It treads that thin line of using terms that offer scientific credibility to story but also manages to use simple language to take the story forward. The second reason, I believe, offers the right insight into the nature of the controversial tweet. Maybe, Mr. Tharoor hoped to weed out the unworthy from the select few that would understand what he meant without even a glance at a dictionary. A literary Excalibur of sorts. This may very well be his subtle way of communicating with his peers. It is also not unlikely, that the third reason may be the most relevant. It might be evidence of acute intellect that gives rise to unconscious competence. An expert in the peculiarities of the language might not be able to convey the same idea in a manner more comfortable for the layman. As much as I might attribute this particular tweet to Mr. Tharoor’s intellect, I am also aware of the inherent irony of the situation. The Twitter platform is defined by the use of 140 characters to convey an idea. Unnecessary verbosity defeats the purpose on such platforms. Conciseness in such a case, may be a more accurate measure of intellect. It is a somewhat lofty analogy to compare Vyasa’s dictation of the Mahabharata to Ganesha, and Shashi Tharoor’s tweets. It maybe debatable whether the tweets are an attempt at exclusion or an intelligent ploy to educate the masses using the power of social media. There is however no doubt that these series of tweets have garnered attention towards the level of English literacy among the youth. But, the controversy surrounding the tweets may have, to some extent, taken attention away from the intrinsic idea that Mr. Tharoor wanted to convey. It is for us readers to decide the right balance between the grandiosity of the language, and the effective communication of the idea. This article is a very good example of the same.

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