Dec 15, 2017

Using Tough Words in Tweets

R Jayaraman

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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