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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Bad Words 

Another reason I enjoyed this trip is that I didn’t have to self-censor and could use my full vocabulary in English. I make an effort to avoid using words like “meretricious, castigate, pastiche, laudatory, etc” back where I live. The reason I self-edit is not that I suspect people there of not knowing these words but, rather, because nobody expects a person with an accent to have a rich vocabulary. 

The more tactful folks just stare at me like I’m a trained monkey who suddenly started reciting Shakespeare. The more direct ones actually ask, “How come you know the word precipitous?” It’s tiresome, and I prefer to avoid these situations altogether.

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6 thoughts on “Bad Words 

  1. Ah, yes — another one of my pet peeves. A few weeks ago someone who really should know better (because he’s a senior academic and has presumably had many foreign-born colleagues) said, “Foreigners usually don’t have large vocabularies.” He was talking about a woman from Japan who’d been in the US for 20 years. I don’t know her, but I know myself, and I felt offended on account of both of us, because I guarantee I have a vocabulary comparable to that of my American-born colleagues. (Though it’s likely that none of us are as good as literature professors, though.) Just because someone has an accent doesn’t mean that they don’t have a good command of the language.

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  2. Out of those five words – “meretricious, castigate, pastiche, laudatory, precipitous” – I knew only the (approximate) meaning of “castigate” and “laudatory.”

    How did you learn them? Is it just a natural result of living in an English speaking country, reading newspapers and books, and watching TV ? Or were you taking some special measures by reading special newspapers and books with rich vocabulary?

    If I knew some special and interesting sites, I would read them. But free news websites or blogs I read usually don’t use those words.

    Btw, the funny and sad result of only reading in English led me to a situation in which I know many written words but am unsure how to pronounce them.

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    • I learned Latin. Most of the “difficult” words in English have Latin roots. Latin is so useful in so many ways. But yes, the pronunciation is not always easy, especially figuring out which syllable to stress.

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  3. I get those comments about my French and Spanish, and it’s ridiculous, because the learned words in those languages are generally derived from Latin and they are so close to the English that they’re laughably easy. What I have to work at are “ordinary” words: I need to go to (for instance) a hardware store and read labels and study the words for tools, which almost never come up in literature. If you’re crossing language groups, that’s another story, but still would depend on a person’s field of expertise.

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  4. Spiderbaby on said:

    One thing that most native english speakers -at least, most of the ones I’ve met- don’t realize is how hard phrasal verbs and collocations, to a lesser extent, can be. Ugh!

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