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Jewish World Review
June 4, 2008
/ 1 Sivan 5768
The Case For Short Words
When you speak and write, there is no law that says you have to use big
words. Short words are as good as long ones, and short, old words like sun
and grass and home are best of all. A lot of small words, more than you might
think, can meet your needs with a strength, grace, and charm that large words
do not have.
Big words can make the way dark for those who read what you write and
hear what you say. Small words cast their clear light on big things nigh and
day, love and hate, war and peace, and life and death. Big words at times seem
strange to the eye and the ear and the mind and the heart. Small words are the
ones we seem to have known from the time we were born, like the hearth fire
that warms the home.
Short words are bright like sparks that glow in the night, prompt like the
dawn that greets the day, sharp like the blade of a knife, hot like salt tears that
scald the cheek, quick like moths that flit from flame to flame, and terse like
the dart and sting of a bee.
Here is a sound rule: Use small, old words where you can. If a long word
says just what you want to say, do not fear to use it. But know that our tongue
is rich in crisp, brisk, swift, short words. Make them the spine and the heart of
what you speak and write. Short words are like fast friends. They will not let
The title of this article and the four paragraphs that you have just read are
wrought entirely of words of one syllable. In setting myself this task, I did not
feel especially cabined, cribbed, or confined. In fact, the structure helped me
to focus on the power of the message I was trying to put across.
For centuries our finest poets and orators have recognized and employed
the power of small words to make a straight point between two minds. A great
many of our proverbs punch home their points with pithy monosyllables: "Where
there's a will, there's a way," "A stitch in time saves nine," "Spare the rod and
spoil the child," "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."
The Bible is a centerpiece of short words "And G-d said, Let
there be light: and there was light. And G-d saw the light, that it was good."
You too can tap into the vitality and vigor of compact expression. Take a
suggestion from the highway department. At the boundaries of
your speech and prose, place a sign that reads "Caution: Small
Words at Work."
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JWR contributor Richard Lederer is a language maven. More than a million of his books, which have been Book-of-the-Month Club and Literary Guild alternate selections, are in print. His latest work is Presidential Trivia: The Feats, Fates, Families, Foibles, and Firsts of Our American Presidents
© 2008, Richard Lederer