In Defense of $10 Words

Colin McNickle, editorial editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, refuses to down himself down:

Esteemed reader and chiding correspondent James C. Albert of Brookline says the scriveners (writers) of these Opinion and Commentary pages "always have me running to the dictionary."

Mr. Albert says he considers himself "a reasonably educated person" but doesn't know the meaning of some words we've used recently. Among them, "vapidity," "ameliorate," "oligarchic," "opprobrium" and "gibbet."

"If you are trying to communicate to the common person, why do you continually use these $10 words?" he asks. "Of course, if you are only trying to impress people with your superior intellect, then please disregard this letter". . . .

One of our missions on these pages—other than exposing and slaying shibboleths (i.e., words or sayings used by adherents of a party, sect or belief and usually regarded by others as empty of real meaning)—is to partake of the smorgasbord (the buffet) that is the English language. Words have precise meanings; see-Spot-run discourse indeed would make for a dull, and far less precise, world.

But, more to the point, and as Joseph Addison, the great early 18th-century essayist (writer) once put it: "Words, when well chosen, have so great a force in them that a description often gives us more lively ideas than the sight of things themselves."

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