Eschew Obfuscation.

Pile of Books

Pile of Books

The title is taken from this wonderful list of tips on “How to write good”.  Very very funny list, and it’s actually a really good aide memoir of all of the mistakes we can make in writing.

Here’s the full list:

I recently found myself chatting, on Facebook (I know), and it was a fast chat, with a friend who has a very quick brain (for which I love him), anyway, so it’s a quick fire conversation, an exchange of swift wit – my absolute favourite kind of conversation.

I’m basically setting you up to understand why I made this most basic of errers (Joke).  I typed a sentence; as soon as I’d hit enter I realised my mistake, and was horrified.  It’s a commonly made one, but not by me !!!!  I’d typed YOUR, when I meant YOU’RE.  So so annoying.  I immediately admitted my mistake… I’m like that.

So, I then typed, “OMFG can’t believe I did that!!!”.  His response (smart arse as usual) – “YOU, YOU a mistake ????? No, can’t believe that, YOU – make a mistake ????”.  Yes, ha ha, most amusing my friend.  But it’s true, I do pride myself on not making mistakes, certainly in spelling and grammar – not only am I a writer by calling, but I was brought up in a family which (that ?  who ?) read a lot – I mean an awful lot, and who enjoy words and their meanings.

The “How to write good” list is very funny, as I said, but the point which I’ve used as the title ‘Eschew Obfuscation’ I happen to disagree with.

It’s having a dig at grandiloquence (yeah – get that for a stonkingly gorgeous word).  It’s saying if you don’t want to alienate part of your reading audience, then use language which is accessible to your target.  Both ‘eschew’ and ‘obfuscate’ are not words we use regularly, most of us, in our vernacular.

But that doesn’t mean they should be avoided… au contraire.  That’s just the ‘dumbing down’ of language.  I heartily disagree with it, and dumbing down in all its guises is to be avoided at all costs.

I once was having a conversation with someone about Shakespeare, and this person said, and I quote, verbatim… “Why did he have to write in that fancy language, why couldn’t he just speak normal English”.  Oh ha !!!  Sorry, yes I am being mocking – how could I not.  Of course, I wanted to say, “You dumb ass”.  But I didn’t.  What brilliant self-control I have (it’s not true – I really don’t, but in that case I managed it). I think it was more a case of exasperation made me not even bother to give a response – patronising ?  Yes, a bit, probably, but I really couldn’t help it.  Would you have been able to ?

However, the reason I disagree with eschewing obfuscation is because, how else do we learn new words (or old words we don’t yet know, but you see what I mean).  I LOVE coming across a word I’m not familiar with when I’m reading – absolutely adore it.  It doesn’t make me feel alienated, or patronised, it just makes me feel excited… Wow, fantastic, a word I don’t know, or a word that I’m not completely sure of it’s meaning.  Great, LOOKITUP.

My parents are clever people, as mentioned, they read a lot, and they have a very good command of the language (the English language that is).  When I was younger, I’d be reading a book (we all would), and I’d hit a word I didn’t know, so I’d ask my Mum what it meant.  Her always response, “Look it up”.  Go to the dictionary, or go to the thesaurus and look it up.

I realise now that she wasn’t just being irritating (!!!!), the whole point was to make it “go in” to my brain.  Her simply telling me was less likely to stick.

My friend Jeff keeps a bookmark sized piece of blank paper in the book he’s reading.  The first time I noticed this, he was writing, in pencil, on this blank piece of paper.  I said, “Wow that’s organised, are you writing down page numbers of things which resonate with you?”.  He said, “No, I’m writing down words that I need to look up”.

He wrote down the word, and then continued reading.  He didn’t LOOKITUP.  So I said, “When do you look up the word then?”.  He said, “When I’ve FINISHED the book” !!!!!

What ?  That’s crazy.  How can you read a sentence in which there’s a word you don’t know, and just keep on reading.  I cannot do that.  I have to know the meaning there and then.

So, for any reader who doesn’t know what eschew or obfuscate mean, and who hasn’t already looked them up… here we go…  LMGTFY…


Image credit © Freds | Dreamstime Stock Photos