Writer’s Block: Keep It Simple

By Corinne Wnek

I have a cousin who likes to talk on the phone. She usually calls at exactly the same time that I am ready to unwind in quiet bliss for the first time since the alarm went off at 5 a.m. Truthfully, I don’t want to open my mouth in the evening for anything except maybe that nice glass of merlot staring at me. All I need to do is say, “Ahhh” and the conversation is over.

As a school counselor, I get paid to talk to lots of people all day long. Over the years I’ve learned that it is important to be a good listener first, so that when you do speak, you have something worthwhile to say. Sometimes I find other people’s choice of words peculiar in trying to describe a situation, and it makes me listen harder for what they are really trying to say. It’s like they took that old SAT prep book way too seriously as they try to weave obscure words into their conversation. I want to say, “Huh?”


For instance, when was the last time you heard the word ‘pusillanimous’? Have you ever used it in a sentence or even know the meaning? Me neither. But just recently a co-worker used that word during a casual lunchtime conversation. Needless to say, I’ll be sitting at a different table from now on. I like my lunchtime conversations to flow nice and easy and prefer to keep my words to no more than two or three syllables. Pusillanimous? Not me.

Not too long ago, I overheard an elderly woman describe someone as ‘blowsy’, pronounced blau-ze. That one, too, got past me. I just had to know what that meant but felt pretty sure it had nothing to do with women’s clothing. Trust me, fellas, never describe your mother, wife, sister or girlfriend as blowsy. If it gets back to them, you’ll pay dearly. Better look it up.

Even our governor upped the vocabulary ante a bit when he used the word ‘sanguine’. It’s not that this word is so uncommon. But if he wanted to say he felt confident that his budget proposals would move the state in the right direction, then why didn’t he just say so? But “I’m sanguine about it”? It just doesn’t work for me.

A student I know was asked, as part of a college application essay, to describe some personal quality about himself that he would want to improve. This important personal statement would be read by admission officers at some of the most competitive colleges in the country. Now this student indicated that he wished he was less ‘cunctative’. A little more than baffled as to what he could mean, I searched out the meaning of this unusual word. It took me about half an hour to find out. As this applicant barely met all required deadlines, I came to understand his self-analysis.

Now call me old-fashioned but I like simplicity and plain talk that everyone can understand. When our words are misunderstood, well, that can cause a ‘kerfuffle’.

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