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wordiness: Is English too wordy?


Question: An ASL student asks:
Coming from an educators perspective Bill, do you think English is too wordy? Like "cameo" why not just show "guest" (for a guest starring), or "car" and "automobile". My 1st language is English and Spanish, and I find English likes to be a bit showy. Like folks coming up with fancy words just to make themselves feel all important and smart. - Joel





"The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter--'tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning." (Twain, 1890)

Having a large vocabulary allows fluent speakers (or signers) to save time and effort when conversing with other fluent speakers by choosing words that precisely match their meaning and intent.

If you need to fix a phone you might need a tiny screwdriver. If you do not have that particular tool in your tool kit you will be unable to accomplish the same thing as someone who has that tool available to them. Worse, you might try using the wrong tool and do some damage.

Languages are like toolboxes full of tools capable of conveying meaning.

Having many tools available to you is not the same as choosing the wrong tool or using two tools when one would have done the job. Let's not blame the toolbox for the errors or inadequacy of the mechanic.

- Bill
(William G. Vicars, EdD)



Twain, M. (1890). Letter to George Bainton, 15 October 1888, solicited for and printed in George Bainton, The Art of Authorship: Literary Reminiscences, Methods of Work, and Advice to Young Beginners, pp. 8788.

Twain, M. (2016). The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain. United States: Chartwell Books.


Note: Samuel Langhorne Clemens was popularly known by his pen name Mark Twain.


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