Walking dictionaries leaving us speechless: OPINION

THOSE walking dictionaries who'd never think of using a one-syllable word when there's something fancier, are among us. They do it to watch you squirm when you haven't a clue what they're talking about.

Journos and others in the communications game know that if you want to get a message across you don't use high-flown lingo that needs a word bible to interpret.

Politicians speak of macro and micro economic downturn and the unique micro climate for niche markets. Things are upgraded, not improved; rationalisation has nothing to do with using reason; talks are bilateral, never two-way. I once heard a pollie arguing for people maximising their gain in money for infrastructure.

This use of gobbledegook gives them an advantage. If you don't know what they're saying they can't be blamed for putting their foot in it, can they? And while they sit in a government that continues to give us an army of kids who leave school struggling to read and write, our elected reps have a fair chance of getting away with it.

Their other advantage is that we try to look as if we understand what they are saying. None of us is going to admit they could be talking in Swahili for all we know.

Sam learnt that unless you are a bit of a dictionary yourself you should never try word-jousting. Sam worked with a Pom who was a Class One fully-fledged vocabulary snob who over the smoko sandwiches would use words intended to show he had a close association with the language his country invented.

Although Sam was about as familiar with big words as he was with believing in the tooth fairy, he decided to use one jaw-buster that'd beat the know-all Pom at his own game. He went to the dictionary and chose somnambulistic.

Next day he casually dropped it into the conversation. His workmates were open-mouthed at such unsuspected knowledge. But not the Pom.

"You are using that word out of context," he told Sam. "The right word is somnolent. Both are derived from the Latin root somnus, sleep, but somnambulistic pertains to sleep walking when you should be using somnolent, meaning sleepy."

That's when Sam gave up on big words.

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