From the Preface:
This is a book about language as well as about writing, for people who write in any capacity or who care about the effective use of language. The book has a human focus and is written with human interest, based on the experience of “Grammarphone,” the nationally recognized service that answers questions about writing and language from people all over the United States. This human focus and the intent to be read for enjoyment set it apart from other books on writing and usage.
From Chapter 1, “The Words of Our Language: Old Words and New”
An unabridged dictionary of English has about a half million vocabulary entries. Most of these have a very limited use. If you write well, at least two-thirds of the words in the sentences you write will be short, gutsy Anglo-Saxon words, though such words are less than one-tenth of the words in an unabridged dictionary. The reason for that is simple: those are the oldest words in English, and are its heart and soul. Words of more than two syllables in English (“polysyllables”) are chiefly Latin-derived and are rhythmically ponderous in juxtaposition to Anglo-Saxon or “Old English” words. An English sentence that isn’t mostly native words ceases to be English as we know and love it in everyday life.
. . .
Most of our everyday work and play assumes a familiar routine. So we hanker for ever-more fantastically stultifying gadgets (from ping-pong to “Pong,” from Pong to Pac-Man). But life and language are most meaningful if we resist the temptation to excess. Gobbledygook is born when we use more words and bigger words than are needed to express the idea at hand. We find it in many places, amongst others and speaking for ourselves. We say, “What is the proper course of
action at this point in time” instead of “What shall we do now?” We write, “Notwithstanding the aforementioned oversight” instead of “Despite my mistake.”
. . .
If an idea is worth communicating, it deserves being stated clearly. If an idea is vague, abstract, or complicated in the writer’s own head, he or she should think it through till it becomes clear enough mentally to be expressed precisely and directly.
. . .
The lyrics of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” for example, have lived because they are appropriate to their audience. Consider the ludicrous effect of this takeoff (I translate it from memory of an informal recitation by my friend, the composer Larry Willingham, my thanks to him):
Rudolph, the crimson-proboscised reindeer,
Was possessed of an exceedingly effulgent nasal appendage.
Assuming you perceived it visually,
You would discourse upon its luminescence.
The balance of the reindeer, collectively,
Convulsed with jocularity in concocting epithets.
They invariably excluded socially-deprived Rudolph
From engaging in typical reindeer diversions.
Subsequently, a certain miasmal Christmas Eve,
His Munificence arrived and addressed them:
“Rudolph, possessed of proboscis so resplendent,
Please provide sleigh-guidance services this evening.”
Pursuant to this, the reindeer displayed affection,
Euphorically verbalizing the following:
“Rudolph, the crimson-proboscised reindeer,
Historical immortality will ensue for you.
So when we write with big words, we need to remember that too many of them in succession quickly become a parody of language rather than effective or efficient communication.