Today once again we had a group critique exercise, and a few times, as happened yesterday, someone was told to use a “simpler” word. Not one simpler in meaning but one more likely to be understood by more people. I can’t remember the example, I forgot to write it down but the basic idea is “this word is too tough, lets bring it down a level.”
I totally and completely understand that journalism’s job is to communicate. I also understand that I am not representative of the average American consumer of news: my high school had weekly vocab quizzes for 4 years, that’s not normal. (Actually, my vocabulary, in English at least, has never been as good as it was when I was 18. That school rocked.)
But at what point is it almost condescending to insist on simpler and simpler language? It’s really something I have no final opinion on, I wouldn’t know how to decide this, so I have to go with what seems to be the industry standard obviously. But part of me will continue to wonder “Well, how are people supposed to gain a richer vocabulary if most of the media they consume doesn’t use it?¨
Might this not be a vicious circle? We reduce vocabulary, people are less challenged by it, they go through life using fewer words, so the industry later feels they must reduce vocabulary again. I’d love to know if there’s any linguistic study done on the relative difficulty of mainstream press vocabulary over time to see if this is a trend or not.
On our second day, our speaker emphasized the importance of careful usage since we are “the stewards of the language.” But if stewards let words diminish and disappear out of general usage (and ours is supposed to be general, not the rarified world of academics, poets, etc…) aren’t we letting some of the language’s richness, and nuance fade? This really is a question, I don’t pretend to have an answer. It could be that language changes quickly enough, and produces newer forms, words and phrases to keep it as rich as ever. But it’s just what I thought about today.
Oh, and I definitely thought about it when all that criticism of Obama’s Gulf speech came out whining that he spoke to the public at a 10th grade level.