As a writer, oftentimes I scold myself for not having a wider vocabulary.
In his book “On Writing,” Stephen King urges novelists to refrain from using large words for their own sake when you would never say them in conversation. I agree, I just wish my word well ran deeper.
But words are like food. Eating the bad stuff is so easy and so filling, for a time. Then the body yearns for substance. It yearns to see “misogynistic” or “unscrupulous” on a page. Sorry, those were the biggest words I could conjure.
Do not panic. You can have your kale juice with your biscuits most mornings. Just remember to ingest that kale juice.
I’ll blame my word palette, as I do most bad habits, on the hedonistic pleasures of the newsroom. Scanner blaring police mumblings in your ear, pizza every other day and birthday cake every week, you gain weight in these joyful, windowless caves, but you lose words. You are, after all, writing for an audience that should understand paragraphs an eighth grader can comprehend. So-called 50-cent words are rarely allowed in news stories. Maybe once or twice a year you can sneak in “sublimate.” I’m kidding, you would never get away with that.
The average reporter will in many senses, dull a vocabulary she built reading Kierkegaard and Shakespeare in college so the masses will understand her. (I haven’t touched either of them since graduating). Yet, it must be tiring, even for readers at an eighth grade level — insulting even — to only be fed mostly flavorless white chocolate. Why must we save all the rich, dark chocolate for when we read late into the night? Dark chocolate words feel good on the tongue, sound expensive and are good for you. And they usually smell pretentious. Too often we write and read milk chocolate. Confession: I am currently reading “Life,” by Keith Richards, so there is more delicious, salty popcorn to be found than dark chocolate.
Perhaps subscriptions would increase if we threw readers a word bone, I mean cartilage? At this point, why not step it up and see. We have nothing to lose. There is little denying that journalists bear direct responsibility for promoting good writing and fair reporting while educating readers about a subject and the mechanics used to convey that.