Sesquipedalianism for Beginners

Why do business people use the word “utilize” when the word “use” will do? They do it because they believe using words containing more syllables makes them sound smarter. This kind of thinking dates back to class struggles of the Middle Ages.

Although we have lot of Latin influences in our language, thanks to the Norman invasion of England, English is a Germanic language. The short, blunt words are Germanic. The multisyllable Latin-influenced words come from the ruling class, or the Normans. And so, if you were sucking up to the upper class, you would model their language. To put it more simply, it’s the difference between fucking and sexual intercourse.

[The above paragraph was brought to you by The Sounds of Poetry by Robert Pinsky. If you ever wondered what makes a line "work" or "sound right," this book will explain it for you. It covers the mechanics of poetry and thus language. I hate to make comparisons but I will anyway. This book is Strunk and White for poetry. It's short, clear, and elegant, and it changed my life in a small but profound way.]

I love big words. But not when they’re used unnecessarily. Sesquipedalian is a ridiculous word, but it’s one of the tastiest ones I know. As editors and responsible users of the English language, we need to catch the overuse of words. We have to figure out when the writer is in love with a word and when she’s just being a pretentious jerk. Good luck with that.

What’s your least-favorite overendowed word?