Use rich verbs, but don’t put them in tuxedos.
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Learn from Pompous Ass Words
At www.pompousasswords.com, Dan Fejes curates an entertaining list of such words. He and his readers cull tuxedo verbs (or, rather “pompous ass words”) from major media. One example comes from an interview in 2002 with Karl Auerbach, a board member of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers who sued ICANN for not releasing certain records. The desire for transparency is a good thing, but check out this untransparent language:
“I essentially have to ask the approval of management to see certain documents. They go cogitate and then tell me whether I can see them.”
Maybe it’s not fair to pick on someone who’s speaking off the cuff, but we should cogitate on why we don’t just use think.
Pompous words are part of George F. Will’s literary brand, so it’s easy to pick on the political columnist. But it’s odd even for him to use the verb palter when writing about the down-to-earth subject of baseball and its former commissioner, Bart Giamatti:
“Giamatti knew exactly why “boys will be boys” is not a satisfactory response to paltering with the rules of the game.”
When you’re talking about “boys being boys,” doesn’t it make sense to talk like one of the guys? Mislead or, for that matter, quibble might have been better.
Strive for Grace
Are we quibbling too much over synonyms? No. Graceful style requires graceful words. And it cannot suffer redundancy. It’s great to have a rich language, but only when we pick our jewels carefully.
Constance Hale is the author, most recently, of Vex, Hex Smash, Smooch.
Her website (www.sinandsyntax.com) covers the gamut about grammar, writing, and the writing life.
* The original version of this article included the examples electrolyze and hydrolyze. These words have lysis as their root, and therefore are not good examples of using the -ize suffix to make nouns into verbs.