Why does the English language…

Posted on February 4, 2009


… have no word for mot juste?**

In her thought-provoking and highly entertaining journal, Canadian author Holly Phillips has been talking this week about the frustration of having to choose when to employ the extent of your vocabulary. Whether it’s in fiction or conversation, the fact is that there are occasions when using exactly the right word for something will lose you readers or label you a smart arse. It’s kinda rubbish, but it’s just the way things are.

It’s even worse for me. In my day job as a technical writer I have to make everything I write as clear and simple as possible with the spectre of Plain English hovering constantly over my shoulder.

Personally, I hate readers who grumble about words they’ve not come across. Like Holly’s friend, I’ve always rather enjoyed coming across a new word in a book, taking the time to find out what it means and (usually) being pleasantly surprised at its aptness, but it seems we’re in the minority.

The author reason I enjoyed Holly’s journal this week was for her admission to enjoying the Nero Wolfe detective stories. I’ve never yet managed to happen upon a copy of one of the books, but a couple of years ago the BBC ran the excellent TV adaptation featuring Maury Chaykin and Timothy Hutton, and I thought they were fab. Worth seeking out if you’re a fan of the genre.

**(Or if it does – please enlighten me!)

Posted in: Writing