I saw a thread in a writing group the other day where a writer was told that her large vocabulary made her seem pretentious and that readers didn’t appreciate having to look things up while reading. Some commenters in the thread defended her but most seemed to think that using difficult vocabulary in writing wasn’t the way to go.
I have to disagree with that sentiment. Reading is the best way to improve your vocabulary and to encourage intellectual curiosity, especially at a young age.
I learned to read at an early age. And growing up in the 80s and 90s before the era of Google and smartphones, if I encountered a word I didn’t know, I had to look it up in a dictionary. I didn’t mind doing that, and I picked up that habit early. I’ve been watching Star Trek since I was 3 and the show utilizes a lot of high-level vocab, and it sparked my need and my curiosity to learn things.
I may not have had the internet growing up, but I knew how to do my research. I always had dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, and a host of various reference books at my disposal. And I knew how to utilize my local library. If I encountered a word or a subject I didn’t know, and I didn’t have the resources at home, I’d wait until we could go to the library and I’d seek out books I needed. Even as a kid.
This is a habit that has carried on to this day. I still have an extensive collection of reference books at home, but now I also have the internet. And so do most other readers. Information is so easily accessible these days, anyone can have knowledge, and that’s extremely powerful. There is never a reason to shy away from learning something new.
So if this is the case, why is it such a hang-up to encounter a word you don’t know when you are reading? It’s not the author’s fault you don’t know that word, and it’s not so hard to pick up your smartphone and look it up on google.
As an author, I keep a thesaurus on hand on my bookmarks at all times, and I constantly have google on standby in case I need to research and look things up. I rely heavily on facts and information when I write, and I’m not going to invalidate those efforts by lowering my vocabulary to appease to the masses.
This is the age of instant gratification, and people expect to get the results immediately without having to do much work themselves. They want everything handed to them, and they want authors to spoonfeed them their words, and I find that attitude of entitlement to be counterproductive to both the reader and the writer.
There really is nothing better than knowledge. I’ve believed that from an early age. It’s the one thing to be treasured and protected and sought after. Humanity is driven by the need to know. There’s a certain sense of gratification that comes with pursuing and acquiring knowledge, and it’s a pursuit that never ends. You can be learning until the day you die and just barely scratch the surface of what the universe has to tell you. Knowledge is the real source of wealth, and with it, you can achieve anything. It’s the epitome of what it means to be human.
If you don’t have an extensive vocabulary, with a little hard work, you can change that by building a habit of seeking out facts and knowledge. If you see a word you don’t know, look it up. If you encounter a subject you don’t know a lot about, learn it. Make the extra effort yourself and appreciate the author for presenting your mind with something that challenges it. If you don’t have the internet at your disposal, turn to your library. That’s all I had growing up, after all. Keep a notepad on you at all times and jot down words and subjects you want to look into and then, when you get the chance, go to the library and look it up.
My mother can vouch for the enormous late fees I racked up and the stacks and stacks of books I’d carry out of the library as a child. It was my favorite place to be; I could literally spend hours there.
So, as a writer, don’t shy away from using challenging vocabulary words. You aren’t pretentious; you are doing your reader a favor whether they want to admit it or not.