Are we in the process of expanding our vocabularies? Let me explain.
A number of years ago one of my nieces sent me a sweatshirt, as a joke, that read “Eschew Obfuscation”. I wore it to a retreat of the sophomore class during which I overheard the following snippet of a conversation between two of the boys present:
Tom: “What do those words on her shirt mean?”
Mark: “You dummy! They’re Hebrew because she knows that language.”
I laughed to myself every time I wore the shirt after that, but I assure you those words did not often arise in my reading or conversation. And then -- last week I read a short story in the NEW YORKER, a bit obscure as many of them are, and found that the author was in love with odd words and used them profusely. In one sentence there appeared my “eschew” and “obfuscation”. Two days later I found “eschew” in a regular article in the NY TIMES.
I once read that the TIMES adhered to a 11th grade reading level. Is “eschew” in those vocabulary books? I doubt it. As a lover of words I would be delighted if the common discourse could rise a notch or two beyond the monosyllables so often used, but we might have done the equivalent of skipping a few grades with this leap forward.
Have I intrigued any of you into checking the dictionary to define those words? If so, my task is complete. I love my dictionary to the point where I have often said that if I were to be marooned on a desert island I would need only my Bible and an unabridged dictionary to both be completely entertained and ready to start civilization anew! Yes, I know I would have trouble getting one of those into my lifeboat, but that is never a difficulty with hypothetical situations!
So, word lovers of the world, be on the alert for other signs of this forward movement in society! Just have your dictionaries at the ready.