Defending the Chamois

The extraterrestrial has moved from the gardener to the blogger. If the gardener baffled, the blogger bewilders. Once again the Human Ambassador is summoned.

ET: Why is the blogger frustrated and unhappy?

HA: She feels pressure to remove some favorite things from her writing.

ET: What things?

HA: Words. Rich and lovely words. Words full of texture and life which she has been collecting since childhood. You see, she has been advised that her writing is inaccessible.

ET: Inaccessible? Explain, please.

HA: Not everybody will enjoy or understand her if she uses the words she yearns to. She finds herself therefore practicing a form of literary self-mutilation which is intensely painful.

ET: But this is illogical. What if the intelligence levels vary in the human? They do, don’t they?

HA: Rumor has it.  But no blogger wishes to post into a vacuum.

ET: Ah yes, the black hole. I’m familiar with it, you know. But tell me, if a reader encounters a word with which he is not familiar, are there not ways to define it?

HA: Of course. In a matter of seconds, actually, the word can be defined and pronounced. In all of our languages.

ET: Why you have so many languages and a metric system are still beyond my understanding, but I digress. So let me get this straight. The writer, in order to attain a wider readership, feels it necessary to strip the work of linguistic power and beauty by reducing it to a more facile and spineless version of its former self?

HA: Yup.

ET: And do you not see the parallels in this type of thinking with the decline of the Mediocrian people in the neighboring galaxy?

HA: Excuse me?

ET: Oh, never mind.  A sudden surge of melancholy has me in its grip.

HA: You mean you feel bad?

ET: Look it up, will you?

It’s obvious where I fall in the discussions swirling about the blogosphere lately on using “big” words in our writing. I first read of it on Carrie Rubin’s blog.  She’d been urged to remove the dastardly “fugue” from a novel she’s writing as it slows the reader down too much, evidently, to be confronted with an unconventional word. Sigh.

There’s plenty of room for all of us and our writing styles on the blogosphere. From poetry to pâte à choux, blogs vary as widely as we do ourselves. Some of us are just looking to have a good time posting our daily doings in a casual and loose format. Groovy.

But some of us are in danger of hiding our light under a bushel.

There’s a term in real estate development: highest and best use. The writer who deliberately guts his work in hopes of attracting more readers is like the developer who builds a faceless storage unit on a prime piece of waterfront acreage. The highest and best use potential is forever vanished.

Worse, if our writing becomes flat and tame, we will lose the lovely “self-annihilation” which author Ian McEwan described as the sensation of sinking into words and leaving oneself behind, wallowing blissfully in it all.

I’d miss that terribly, wouldn’t you?

My writing hero, Mr. P.G. Wodehouse, presumed his reader was equal to his own mental agility. I can picture his arched brow and icy gaze at the very idea of making Blandings blander. What ho! Rubbish.


Were old Plum to have tried, unfathomably, to make his writing more universal, we would be left with this atrocity:

Like most American rich guys, he married a lot, going from one girl to another like a mountain goat jumping from rock to rock.

Compare that to this sublime version which cannot be read without the highest admiration for the magic seeping from his pen:

Like so many substantial citizens of America, he had married young and kept on marrying, springing from blonde to blonde like the chamois of the Alps leaping from crag to crag.

Mountain goat? Accessible and painfully mediocre. Chamois? Deliciously and perfectly inaccessible.

Thank you for reading,


About Silver in the Barn

Life in a 1915 farmhouse in Central Virginia. And the odd thought or two.
This entry was posted in Humor, Random Ruminations and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

163 Responses to Defending the Chamois

  1. cat9984 says:

    I believe Mr. Wodehouse is correct. Additionally, if we all start using the same words, the writing will become “dull as dishwater” (an outdated simile). My animals will continue to be erudite, as I hope your writing will continue to be.


  2. honoria plum says:

    I can’t remember ever reading a blog post that gave me as much pleasure as this one. I may even print it off and post it above my desk.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. honoria plum says:

    Reblogged this on Plumtopia and commented:
    I’ve been springing from blog to blog this morning, like the chamois of the Alps leaping from crag to crag, but have momentarily ceased leaping in order to share this excellent piece with you. I submit it as further evidence (see previously reblogged pieced for more) that blogs, derided by some as the stuff of fools and amateurs, can be brilliant!


  4. Pingback: Writing Without Distracting | Spirit Lights The Way

  5. Mike Lennard says:

    On “big words”, why not double down and just refer to them as polysyllabic instead?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love Wodehouse, so I’m going to agree with you

    But I think it also depends on context. If you want to communicate complex concepts clearly, keeping the language simple might help. Similarly if you have an important message you want broadcast to the world. However, if you want to entertain and write beautifully, as Wodehouse did, let wiser councils prevail. Arguably, he wasn’t that concerned about reality full stop (to pick one example, I imagine his comments on Ghandi would be considered politically incorrect nowadays).

    I’m also not sure that your simpler version is what we would end up with. It captures the form without capturing the substance, but if you’re just going for simplicity even the form would go. Maybe something mundane like “Like many rich Americans, he had been through several marriages”.


  7. Pingback: Leads For Contractors by Dr. Karl Ruegg » A Quagmire of Obtuse Construction

I welcome your comments:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s