Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Word Nerd Sez: D is for ...


Okay, I know this isn't really a weird word. And no, I'm not inspired by enduring a whole month of short sleep, which does leave me feeling a bit blurry in the morning. No, I picked "disoriented" because I feel like ranting. Maybe it's the nonstop political ads, which make me feel like shouting at the TV. Or it could be the aforementioned short sleep, which makes me grumpy. (I started writing this before 8:30, and I've already been awake for over two hours. That's just not right.)

Anyway: ranting about disoriented. Or rather, ranting about the variant that drives me crazy: disorientated. It may be in Webster's, and it may be the preferred variant in Britain, but to me it sounds pretentious, sticking an extra syllable in there to make the word sound longer and thus fancier. Really now, five syllables wasn't enough for you? You think six will make you sound more intellectual? That must mean "societal" is a smarter word than "social," because it has two more syllables. (Never mind that if you look up "societal" in Webster's, its definition is "social.") There are those people who think that adding extra syllables to words makes them sound smarter. Politicians are particularly guilty of this*, bulking up their words in order to sound more knowledgeable (or to hide their meaning). Our esteemed president is one such example, which is how he ends up with ten pages of results when you Google "Bush malaprop."

I believe people who use extra syllables to try to sound smarter are taking the wrong approach. If you refer to that essential classic on writing, Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, you'll see one of their rules is "omit needless words." This doesn't mean sentences have to be short, the authors argue, only that "every word should tell." Extra words obscure meaning; so can extra syllables, I would suggest.

So please, D is for "disoriented," not "disorientated" or "disorientationed" or any such nonsense.

*One exception: someone please please please give Sarah Palin a "g" to stick on the end of her gerunds. I haven't heard someone drop so many "g"s since the last time I heard John Madden call a football game, with all its runnin' and passin' and tacklin'.

1 comment:

  1. disorientated. Aargh.

    I have to go chop vegematables.