At What Price, Vocab?
from Madeleine L'Engle
Coming off a knock-down, drag-out battle with my final exams, I picked up Walking On Water, Reflections on Faith & Art by Madeleine L'Engle. It's a kind of therapy. This is from page 36:
We think because we have words, not the other way around. The more words we have, the better able we are to think conceptually. Yet another reason why [A Wrinkle in Time] was so often rejected is that there are many words in it which would never be found on a controlled vocabulary list for the age-group of the ten-to-fourteen-year-old. Tesseract, for instance. It's a real word, and one essential for the story.
Of course, the saga turned out well for L'Engle, who saw Wrinkle not only get published, but go on to become a Newbery Medal winner and win an enduring place in American children's (and adult) literature. But going in, she couldn't have known that success waited on the far side of a non-compromise. This is what you call strength of lexical conviction.
Would any of you adopt this strategy if you had multiple publishing houses pleading with you to make your writing "communicate better to a wider audience?" The latter half of that sentence doesn't apply to me at this point in my career, but this is something I'm turning over. The question should also be viewed with the help of G.K. Chesterton's counter-perspective:
Long words go rattling by us like long railway trains. We know they are carrying thousands who are too tired or too indolent to walk and think for themselves. It is a good exercise to try for once in a way to express any opinion one holds in words of one syllable… The long words are not the hard words, it is the short words that are hard. There is much more metaphysical subtlety in the word “damn” than in the word “degeneration.
So then, put yourself in the shoes of an aspiring author. Then ask, Is "tesseract" worth it? I await your opinions.
Cross-posted on BitterSweetLife.