Word of the week: malleable \ˈma-lē-ə-bəl, ˈmal-yə-bəl, ˈma-lə-bəl\ (hear it!) - adjective - : capable of being extended or shaped by beating with a hammer or by the pressure of rollers; 2 a : capable of being altered or controlled by outside forces or influences, b : having a capacity for adaptive change - (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Oh my Gosh! That is Like, So BIG!


Writers love them. Readers love them. They're flexible, malleable, tasty, and strange, and they're always at a writer's disposal whenever s/he needs to create or expound upon some narrative or dialogue, poke a reader with a certain point, or caress him with soft sentiments of oozy-goo in a romantic tryst.

They're fun to play with—to bend, twist, and break—and they even taste like pop-tarts, if you eat enough of them. In fact, Connecticut native Noah Webster believed they were important enough to compile and define in the high hopes of expanding upon people's knowledge back in the nineteenth century.

Mmm . . . words.

So why in the dad-blamed world are so many people today terrified of “BIG WORDS”!? [insert screechy music here: think Psycho shower scene]

Gasp, and highfalutin horrors!

Big words. Little words. Medium-sized words. Pfft. They're all the same—they're words. Wonderful letter-constructed play toys. So when someone ever told me: “Oh, don't use that word. It's too big. People won't understand it,” I nearly fell out of my chair in astonishment, befuddlement, and heartbroken sniffly-miffed-ness. I loved that word! And I couldn't use it in my own creative works because . . . people wouldn't understand it??


Really? Really?? (Touchy subject for me, can you tell? And yes, I plan to go against the grain of common thinking, here.)

Through the years, and through the time I'd been learning about and trying to teach myself the fickle craft of writing, I've had a half-dozen bits of projects critiqued at a half-dozen writing forums, and while I appreciate the effort (trust me, a well thought out critique takes a hefty amount of time; I've given enough of them myself) and all of the useful input I had received, I still find it mind boggling that another writer would even say that!

“Don't use that word. It's too big.”

Przewalski's horse
Przewalski's Horse
These words, these large, obscure (but beautiful, and useful) words have been coined “fifty-cent words,” or “five-dollar words,” or even “ten-dollar words” (depending on the rate of inflation, apparently); they're words writers use to supposedly make them sound “clever,” or “intelligent,” or even “well-read,” according to some people.

Well, duh. Writers should be well-read; it's one of the essential tools for good writing. And readers shouldn't be fed a junk diet of only “two-penny,” or “three-penny,” or whatever other stupid phrase used for smaller (equally beautiful, equally useful) words out there (remember, they taste like pop-tarts). Heaven forbid we writers make readers think . . . and learn a new word. (Does my Word of the Week now make sense?)

Consider this: How exactly does the average child learn to successfully read, and expand upon his working vocabulary, if s/he isn't constantly, and consistently, confronted with new words? Kids are introduced to them all the time, and can certainly learn them contextually. Adulthood does not mean this learning stops. We have our own vocabularies to consider, lest we get mired beneath a bog of “little” words, with no hope of progression.

“Subjective!” you cry. “I know more big words than the average person does!”

Fair enough. Sure, it's probably subjective. After all, it's only my opinion, my belief, what I've seen/experienced. Yes, many people know a variety of big words; however, I'm willing to bet more don't. I still learn new words almost every day. So perhaps, if a writer's first task is to entertain, it should be his second (or third) task to inform or teach—on the sly.

No, of course, writers shouldn't cram string after string, sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph of colossal, unfamiliar words down a reader's throat; it'll make him choke, and he's likely fling the book (or e-reading device) away in terrified escape from the bombardment. Horribly disastrous. Yes, “the expeditious russet vulpes vulpes hurdled over the indolent canis familiaris,” is more clunky to read than: “the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog,” with a greater chance of incorrectly used words (which I suspect is the real issue, and which I suspect I've done here).

lazy dogquick fox

But really, one, two, even three “ten-dollar words” per chapter should not result in torture. It should result in enrichment. And with the advent of in-device e-reader dictionaries, that “Oh, I can't be bothered to get up and get a dictionary” excuse is (again, just my humble opinion), no longer valid. Click on the word, and a dictionary will present you with its definition. There. Like magic. Use it. Revel in it. And please, always, always continue to learn exciting new words. Your brain will thank you.

Believe me, I'm extremely proud of my twelve-year-old son who has the vocabulary of a high school student, and of my kindergarten-age daughter who not only knows the words “concierge” and “defeat,” but can also use them properly in sentences without prompting or hints. I'm glad they're not afraid of “ten-dollar words,” and they know exactly how to spend them wisely.

*  *  *
Photo credits:

Handwritten dictionary - autumn_bliss - Flickr Photo Sharing - Creative Commons License

Dollar horse - the real juston - Flickr Photo Sharing - Creative Commons License

Lazy dog -  Faith Goble - Flickr Photo Sharing - Creative Commons License

Fox - Minette Layne -  Flickr Photo Sharing - Creative Commons License


  1. :O There's a fox in your article!!

    1. Yes . . . yes there is. Lol! Hi, Elze. Thanks for dropping by.

  2. I like using complex words, but there's always a balance to be found. Most writers understand that balance.

    There's a sanctimonious ass on this side of the border, a former press baron and convicted felon who got out of prison in the States after serving time for white collar crimes, basically fraudulent use of company funds. Conrad Black is this self absorbed twit who still writes newspaper columns and books full of twenty five dollar words to show off how smart he thinks he is, who believes he's never done anything wrong, and who thinks every other human on earth is beneath him. He's the sort who doesn't understand that balance.

    1. Definitely a balance, yes. Just like with everything in writing, and everything in life, really. :D Wow, that Conrad Black guy sounds . . . I don't know. Lol. Never heard of him. Meh. Now you got me curious to see what type of expensive wordage he uses in his books.

      Thanks for stopping in, William. Always a pleasure to see you here. :)

  3. Oh an interesting one, especially because I have an aversion to big words. *ducks behind the sofa* Please don't hit me! :) Not that I won't read a book with them in, I just enjoy using smaller words---style choice, I guess. Though, being able to speak a few second languages, I just wanted to add that I love when language is used so naturallly that even though I have never heard a word before in my life, I understand it. I like when writers do that with big words. They're so natural, it works, and my vocabulary is enhanced with just a little context :) Nice post---apologies for the ramble. L x

    1. No, no, not a ramble. Great thoughts! And I totally agree. When one's an excellent wordsmith, even large words (used in moderation with an eye for balance) will simply click within prose.

      Thanks for stopping by . . . um . . . Anonymous. Lol! (I know who you are!)

  4. The big words should be viewed as an opportunity to learn a new one, especially as the e-readers have built in dictionaries now. :) So indeed, fully agreed!