Wednesday Words: Sesquipedalianism

I love long, descriptive words that hint at their meaning.  Serendipity is surprisingly delightful every time it rolls off my tongue.  The word tentacles seems to reach and encircle me.  Rambunctious has a pop in the middle of the word that seems energetic and ornery at the same time.  Effervescent sounds hissing and bubbly.

But perhaps my favorite example is the word sesquipedalianism – which means the use of long words.  Isn’t that grand?!  I’ve known people who are sesquipedalians (given to the use of long words), including my husband at times.  There is something intriguing about a person who can insert the perfect, arcane four-syllable word whenever a situation calls for it.  Plenty of authors are in favor of peppering their writing with tongue-twisting words of great length.  I’ve read them; haven’t you?

I don’t know when I could possibly interject the word sesquipedalianism into a novel, but I await that golden opportunity.  Maybe I’ll create a character who uses long, esoteric words excessively and have another character quip about his rampant sesquipedalianism.   Perhaps I’ll babble on and on in a novel myself and refer to the narrator’s sesquipedalianism.  Someday, though, somehow, someone in my novels will display sesquipedalism.  (Perhaps I’m doing it already.)

In case you’re wondering about the word’s etymology, “sesqui” means one-and-a-half and “ped,” of course, means “foot.”   Thus, the use of words over a foot-and-a-half long!

In reality, of course, most writing should be far more accessible.  The trick is to make what the narrator and characters say seem natural, effortless.  A well-placed, multisyllabic word can be appropriate.  But C.S. Lewis, replying to a letter from a child, advised, “Always prefer the plain direct word to the long vague one.  Don’t implement promises, but keep them.”  Soon after, he added, “Don’t use words too big for the subject.  Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.”(Letters to Children, p. 64.)

I agree.  In fact, it would be awful to talk about serendipity when something is only slightly surprising or nice.  Or to constantly refer to my children as rambunctious when they rarely run that wild.  In fact, I have yet to find a perfect spot for my word sesquipedalianism.  I have opted instead for relatively average words of average length.  I hope that makes my writing more readable.

Still, one of these days, the perfect circumstance will arise, and I will happily type sesquipedalianism on a stark white screen.  Okay, not simply on this blog, but in a book.  Won’t that be serendipitous?

What are some of your favorite one-and-a-half foot words?

Round of Words in 80 Days Update:  1,392 of 5,000 words written, 64 of 186 pages edited, and two sick kids back at school.  Okay, that last one wasn’t a write goal, but now that they are well, I can write even more!

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