Story type: Essay
Much that is annoying in this life is occasioned by the use of a high priced word where a cheaper one would do. In these days of failure, shortage at both ends and financial stringency generally, I often wonder that some people should go on, day after day, using just as extravagant language as they did during the flush times. When I get hard up the first thing I do is to economize in my expressions in every day conversation. If there is a marked stringency in business, I lay aside first, my French, then my Latin, and finally my German. Should the times become greatly depressed and failures and assignments become frequent, I begin to lop off the large words in my own language, beginning with “incomprehensibility,” “unconstitutionally,” etc., etc.
Julius Caesar’s motto used to be, “Avoid an unusual word as you would a rock at sea,” and Jule was right about it, too. Large and unusual words, especially in the mouths of ignorant people, are worse than “Rough on Rats” in a boarding-house pie.
Years ago there used to be a pompous cuss in southern Wisconsin, who was a self-made man. Extremely so. Those who used to hear him assert again and again that he was a self-made man always felt renewed confidence in the Creator.
He rose one evening in a political meeting, and swelling out his bosom, as his eagle eye rested on the chairman, he said:
“Mr. Cheerman! I move you that the cheer do appoint a committee of three to attend to the matter under discussion, and that sayed committee be clothed by the cheer with ominiscient and omnipotent powers.”
The motion was duly seconded and the cheerman said he guessed that it wouldn’t be necessary to put it to a vote.
“I guess it will be all right, Mr. Pinkham. I guess there’ll be no declivity to that.”
And so the committee was appointed and clothed with omniscient and omnipotent powers, there being no declivity to it.
We had a self-made lawyer at one time in the northern part of the State who would rather find a seventy-five cent word and use it in a speech where it did not belong than to eat a good square meal. He was more fatal to the King’s English than O’Dynamite Rossa. One day he was telling how methodical one of the county officials was.
“Why,” said he, “I never saw a man do so much and do it so easy. But the secret of it is plain enough. You see, he has a regular rotunda of business every day.”
If he meant anything, I suppose he meant a routine of business, but a man would have to be a mind reader to follow him some days when he had about six fingers of cough medicine aboard and began to paw around in the dark and musty garret of his memory for moth-eaten words that didn’t mean anything.
A neighbor of mine went to Washington during the Guiteau trial and has been telling us about it ever since. He is one of those people who don’t want to be close and stingy about what they know. He likes to go through life shedding information right and left. He likes to get a crowd around him and then tell how he was in Washington at the time of the “post mortise examination.” “Boys, you may talk all your a mind to, but the greatest thing I saw in Washington,” said he, “was Dr. Mary Walker on the street every morning riding one of these philosophers.”
He painted the top of his fence green, last year, so it would “kind of combinate with his blinds.”
If he would make his big words “combinate” with what he means a little better, he would not attract so much attention. But he don’t care. He hates to see a big, fat word loafing around with nothing to do, so he throws one in occasionally for exercise, I guess.
In the Minnesota legislature, in 1867, they had under discussion a bill to increase the per diem of members from three dollars to five dollars. A member of the lower house, who voted for the measure, was hauled over the coals by one of his constituents and charged with corruption in no unmeasured terms. To all this the legislator calmly answered that when he got down to the capital and found out the awful price of board, he concluded that his “per diadem” ought to be increased, and so he supported the measure. Then the belligerent constituent said:
“I beg your pardon and acquit you of all charges of corruption, for a legislator who does not know the difference between a crown of glory and the price of a day’s work is too big a blankety blanked fool to be convicted of an intentional wrong.”