The Art of Being Unpretentious

I was reading an article on Boswell (for the uninitiated, Boswell wrote the biography Boswell on Johnson, the benchmark of biographies to date).

One of the paragraphs in the article got me thinking:

Finally, the use of language must be precise: On the Tour, Johnson had warned Boswell against exaggerations and using “big words for little matters” when Boswell had referred to a mountain as “immense.” “No,” Johnson had corrected him, “but ’tis a considerable protuberance.”

How often is it that we use unnecessary and bombastic words to make a point? How effective is it anyway? Is it better to stick to simple words which a layman understands?

I tend to favour the latter. Though I am more prone to the former, it is the latter which impresses me. A writer who can write in a language which is simple and comprehensive to everyone is by all accounts, a better writer compared to one who resorts to huge words and long winded sentences.

That’s because it is far more difficult to achieve the former than the latter. Let’s take a mathematician explaining Differentiation as a simple example. Wouldn’t you agree that a person who is able to explain the differentiation principle in a simple and clear manner has a far better grasp of the concept than someone who has to resort to other overly technical terms? Of course, that may not be possible all the time. It is a bit difficult to explain microcomputers to a person utterly ignorant of the inside workings of a computer and no matter what, some technical terms would be brought in. But you get my point.

An interesting point the above brings up: Shakespeare is universally acknowledged to have the widest English vocabulary and reading through his works forces one to constantly refer to the dictionary.

How does he fit into the above?

On that note, read The ultimate Literary Portrait, its quite humorous.


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