Will Self floccinaucinihilipilificates critics of his wordiness…
Both general readers and specialist critics often complain about my own use of English – not only in my books, but also in my newspaper articles and even in radio talks such as these. “I have to look them up in a dictionary”, they complain – as if this were some kind of torture.
…although the subject matter of my stories and novels – which includes such phenomena as sexual deviance, drug addiction and mental illness – has become quite unexceptionable, the supposedly difficult language they are couched in seems to have become more and more offensive to readers.
There are indeed anti-intellectual voices that react against displays of erudition as if someone else’s knowledge is a personal affront. In the interests of accessibility prose can be reduced to pools of terms so miserably shallow that the ideas and experiences they’re conveying can’t be accurately still less adequately expressed. This is not merely boring, it’s dangerous inasmuch as their implications can be elided under a carpet of facile phrases. (Think of people who fill tinkertoy verses with baffling terms like “progress”, “moderate” and “fairness”.)
On the other hand, there’s an opposite extreme…
English, being a mishmash of several different languages, ha[s] a large and exciting vocabulary, and…it seem[s] a shame not to use it – especially given that it [goes] on growing all the time, spawning argot and specialist terminology as freely as an oyster does its milt.
Specialised terms and obscure words can be employed to express the profound if enigmatic implications of formidable theories. On the other hand, they can also be used to present dull and disingenuous theories as more intriguing than they are: tarting up their claims with promiscuous polysyllables and gratuitous jargon that makes theses that might otherwise be thought trivial, absurd or ugly hard to answer. (The Sokal Affair has been referenced so many times that, like a classic Fawlty Towers scene, it can grow tiresome to revisit – yet that doesn’t mean its quality has been diminished.)
Oversimplification and overcomplication are agents of obscurantism inasmuch as they render the fathomable communication of one’s views far harder than it needs to be. And, of course, they fail to appreciate the textual and phonetic richness of the English tongue. Which is to say that they’re, like, totally boring.