Gore Vidal once said, “As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too.” Certainly the media is accelerating the decadence of society; does it have to intentionally do in the language as well?
On ABC’s This Week, host Christiane Amanpour casually used the word “perspicacious.” Discussing the Constitution, one of Amanpour’s guests mentioned that Benjamin Franklin wrote that he wouldn’t mind being preserved in a vat of Madeira wine in order to see if the Constitution held up 200 years later. Amanpour responded that Ben was amazingly perspicacious when the Constitution was signed.
Apparently the word perspicacious stumped the 7th grade drop-outs in the booth, because suddenly a box appeared with the definition and pronunciation of the word under Amanpour. Then, commenting on the incident, the web site Mediaite wrote that Amanpour “might avoid using such fancy language so that viewers in the future don’t mistake her show for a Rosetta Stone class teaching the English language.”
What?? “Fancy language”? What is this, a network run by the hillbillies from “Deliverance”? (“Yew talk real purdy, boy…) If perspicacious is too “fancy” (Mediaite also says that the word is “SAT worthy,” “elite,’ and “big”), what’s next? Peccadillo? Mendacity? Spurious? Facetious? Cat???
perspicacious is a word any high school educated American should be able to use and understand, if not, in my case, spell. For ABC and Mediaite to side with the illiterate and monosyllabic dolts who think such a word is only for “brainiacs” who are showing off is irresponsible, and raises issues, not for the first time, about the IQ and maturity levels of the people who run the news media.
My son, who has a vocabulary that is not remarkable for his age, or shouldn’t be, was ostracized (oops–is that a fancy word too? Do I need to include a definition in case anyone who works at ABC is perusing the site? Wait! Is perusing too fancy? I don’t want to obfuscate my meaning—oh no! I did it again! ) by classmates at his public school because he didn’t talk in four-letter words, clicks and grunts. Behavior like ABC’s endorses their conduct and attitudes, rather than the civilized one, which is if you don’t know what a word means, look it up! Then use it.
Being erudite and articulate should not be a mark of “elitism,” but of mastering the art of expressing thought. The lazy, classist, self-destructive attitude that precise language—and perspicacious is a great example of that—is something that should be avoided, ridiculed and shunned is an impediment to discourse and complex thought. For ABC and media commentators to be embracing such an attitude is intolerable.
So keep it up, Christine. Don’t dumb down your conversation for the clods in the studio. Keep using words like condign and excogitation, George Will. We learn how to express ourselves better by learning and using new words, and discouraging useful words because listeners are too lazy and ill-read to understand them guarantees the decline of expression, then thought, then society.