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Opinions of Thursday, 23 September 2021

Columnist: Abdul Rahman Odoi

The introduction of new words and turgidity

As a reader, don’t feel so dull to open your dictionary when reading As a reader, don’t feel so dull to open your dictionary when reading

The other time, on Success Book Club (SBC), an interesting discussion was stoked. It was, per my understanding, a grudge between the introduction of “new words” and “turgidity.”

Turgidity means a sentence or paragraph loaded with ‘big words’, which thereby makes understanding and communication very difficult for an average reader. The below is an example of a turgid sentence: “Don’t use a big word when a singularly unloquacious and diminutive linguistic expression will satisfactorily accomplish the contemporary necessity.”

The thing is, when you start as a young writer, with all the vocabularies at your dispensation, you’re likely to load a paragraph with them, without considering the average reader. If I ever made you feel that way, forgive me. I’ve changed. I’m not going to sin anymore.

That notwithstanding, people read for many reasons; to enrich their vocabulary, strengthen tenses construction, enjoy the storyline and subject matter, derive information, wordplay, pun, etc. Therefore the need does differ among readers and writers, most certainly. And always the targeted audience should be considered in this regard.

Having said that, my boss mentioned this word to me, “Perhaps”, in 2015, while we were having a conversation. Though I understood it contextually, I didn’t know the literal meaning. I bet you, I’ve chanced upon “Perhaps” a number of times in my reads, in Senior High and Tertiary, but never did I make an attempt to get to know its meaning beyond my normal reading.

It was that awful day, as irksome as I was, then I learnt to check the meaning of “Perhaps”. Lord! I realised that it’s the same ‘maybe’, and ‘probably’ I know and do use always. Like you’d also say today, ‘prolly’.

Now come to think of it, to my Boss (and, perhaps even you), “perhaps” is a common word but to me then, “my boss is a sesquipedalian; he likes using big words because he’s always reading voluminous books.” You’d wonder if I was thinking right because ‘perhaps’ is a household word but I didn’t know, I swear. This was me, doing my National service, 2014.

What I have realised, in hindsight, is that our unwillingness to understand words literally is always the “problem”. I remember telling a friend that we have all come across thousand and one words, but because of understanding them contextually, we don’t pay attention to the literal meaning, and thus it impedes the urge to enrich our vocabulary. And as such, when what appears to be an average word passes by our noses then we fume. Therefore, we are still finding it difficult to know what constitutes Turgidity or big words. Maybe not.

To the writers: our first duty before the people is to ‘simplify, and not to mystify’, as said by Hafiz Laryea. I believe this is an honest way to go.

However, to the reader, don’t feel so dull to open your dictionary when reading. Smartphones have made it easier. Just note a word down and find its meaning just by a click.

Whenever I read Chinua Achebe’s book, even with the dozen of words I have in my notes, I still could get no more than 50 new words I add to my dictionary for just a book. So You see? We all do a search. That’s part of the reading science.

In the last poem I shared: ‘The Jealous Partner’, I had to use the word “preening” due to the structure of the poem. Line (8): “As I put it on, and began preening myself” The word ‘Preen’ means: admiring oneself before a mirror.

I could have settled for ‘admire’, but I felt ‘preening’ will do the job perfectly well, if you’re following the context of the preceding lines of the poem before the line (8).

So, sometimes certain factors inform the choice of a word, not writers, deliberately wanting to bombard readers with words.