Sunday, July 6, 2014

Intimidating Words, Part One

  1. 1.
    tending to present a subject or problem in a simplified form, especially one viewed as crude.
    "such a conclusion by itself would be reductive"

This will be the first in a series of posts about words that I find intimidating, words that I've read over and over again and have heard in conversation but can never quite wrap my head around. They are words that confuse me, that I mix up with other words, that I stumble over, that I find pretentious or obtuse. I've been compiling a list for the last several weeks but am inspired to start this list today as I continue to muse over and wonder about the sentences strung together by Anonymous as comments on my last blog post. I have a good idea who this person is, and while I at first thought it was someone in the medical field, I am now pretty certain that Anonymous is a writer. Anonymous inspired me this morning not so much to write a better book but to add the following phrase to my list:

post hoc, ergo propter hoc
phrase of post hoc
  1. 1.
    after this, therefore resulting from it: used to indicate that a causal relationship has erroneously been assumed from a merely sequential one.

I should let it be known that Latin phrases always intimidate me, particularly the over-used ones. I go into a mild state of panic every time I hear quid pro quo, for instance. The above Phrase of Intimidation, though, is interesting because, according to Anonymous, I've ignored my conflict about Sophie's vaccinations and whether or not they had some role in her seizure disorder in my writing, at least in the mini-memoir recently published which makes it lack focus or direction. On top of that, according to Anonymous, I am afraid that writing through that will somehow link me to Jenny McCarthy and thus alienate readers. Poor Jenny McCarthy. According to our pediatrician, she is actually a very nice person. I have found the use of her as ground zero for the vaccination conflict interminably boring, maybe even reductive.

Anyhoo. Anonymous comments really get my goat. Maybe that's because if I have something to say, I want to own it with my name and my face. I think Anonymous' points were good ones, and I hope to always be the sort of person who even while flinching can learn from criticism. I am grateful, though, mainly to have been able to combine this long-planned blog series with Anonymous' comments from yesterday. What would I call that? Serendipity? Synchronicity? Making the best out of condescension? 

If there's a Latin phrase for it, please do tell.

Reader, are there any words that you find intimidating?


  1. Despite two years of graduate school in the late '80's when it was all the rage, I never figured out how to use "heuristic." I am pretty sure, however, that it is one word that we can really live without.

  2. OMG there are so any of them I can't even count!!! I wouldn't have guessed that of you. I find your writing so beautiful and so gut wrenching and honest --- and you use some words I have no comfort level using in conversation never mind writing. It's why I have referred to myself as an amateur writer!!
    Back to your anonymous commenter. That's totally annoying, rude and it's what's wrong with our society today. People can spew any vitriol they damn well please and it cannot be attributed to them. If you feel it's important enough to say--- own it!!

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  4. "Hegemony." I know this is a simple word for some, but I was once asked to teach a course, and was given the syllabus and when I got to the word hegemony I instantly decided the subject matter was smarter than I was, and I declined the offer. I swear to you it was because of that one word.

    And in a review, the word "tepid" will cause me to take to my bed for days.

    I'm inspired by your response to Anonymous. Anyone writing as he or she did should have the courage to sign a name. It's cowardice otherwise and can't be taken seriously.

  5. You are so much nicer than I am. I love you.

  6. I find lots of words intimidating these days. The other night I was laying in bed trying to say the word "lepidopterist" to myself. I couldn't figure out if it had a "b" in there somewhere.
    Okay. I realize this is not what you mean at all.
    I think, to be perfectly honest, that aging has caused my vocabulary to shrink dramatically. I spend too much time searching for the right word. A word on the tip of my brain, perhaps, but which remains a blank mystery to me and the harder I try for it, the more it retreats into the dark, pink folds of my brain. And thus, it is the entire world of language which is beginning to intimidate me.
    But right off the top, no. I can't think of any words specifically which cause me to cringe in anxiety. Oh well. Words like, "blood work," "doctor's office," "run a few tests," "colonoscopy..." those words do it for me every time.
    Again. Not what you mean.
    Here's the thing with words- they are just that. Words. And talk is cheap. Especially talk coming from someone who can't own up to his or her own identity when they use them. I know that I have been tempted in the past to leave "anonymous" comments on certain blogs (mainly the very religious ones) but I realized that if I didn't have the guts to put my name to them, they were meaningless.
    And that to post them, I would be craven.
    And so I did not and I feel that I am the better for that.
    I just looked up "heuristic" and "hegemony."
    Yes. I will happily live without using either of those.

  7. I agree that I would never leave an anonymous comment on a blog, unless I can't figure out how to leave my name, but that's a whole nother subject. And I know "nother" is not a word.

    I love this as an idea for a series. I also love our language and how rich it is. I'm chided by people for using particular words that they don't know, but frankly, I like using all the tools at hand. I also like having to look up words I don't know. Or that I've been using wrong - I found out I used "enervate" wrong for years; also that "pedantic" is used in other ways that I'd been using it. And yes, the only time it's annoying is when someone is being pedantic, as perhaps anonymous was.

    Ad hoc. Never sure of that one. And "sublime" I had to look up 10 times over a series of years to remember what it was. Some words are just like that.

  8. Call it grist for the mill. Probably there are fascinating ways to say that in other languages and cultures and the etymologies alone could yield dozens of short stories.
    I used to keep a dictionary or two in every room. All those delicious slumbering pages. Though it was grating to realize I'd forgotten a meaning yet again or didn't know what I thought I knew (now, in the context of age, it's far more frustrating and alarming) the act of looking up a word usually drew me into an almost mesmerized state, hushed and contemplative. Essence of library. Rather regret giving that over to the seductive clamor of the internet, where the process can feel more like a roomful of jack-in-the-boxes.

  9. "Saudade" -- For many reasons…primarily, it's lack of direct translation to the English language and the intense way it resonates in my life.

  10. Elizabeth. I am not a writer. Nor am I in the medical field. I am an attorney who does study medical issues and from time to time tries to help children with disabilities on a pro bono basis. I originally started reading your blog as I tried to develop some understanding of the issues facing families of kids with disabilities. I have read your blog for years commenting infrequently. I am especially interested in issues of health insurance and issues regarding the legality of medical marijuana. I think your story on that latter issue is one that really needs to be told.

    I am an avid reader and I bought your e- book. When I read it I felt it was missing something but only made my comments in relation to your posed question about why your fellow writers weren't reciprocating. I felt like in your e book you were holding back and that this diminished the story. I certainly was not trying to intimidate you. And I apologize for doing so.

  11. I was reading something a few weeks ago when I came across a word -- an academic term I'd heard before, maybe "heuristic" or "deconstructivist" or "post-structuralism" -- and I thought, now THERE is a word I would never think to use. And in fact now I can't even remember what it was.

    For what it's worth, I think Anonymous was trying to offer some helpful criticism. The tone WAS a bit condescending (thanks for defining that Latin term for the rest of us, Anonymous) but I think overall that person was just trying to be honest and even complimentary. And hey, they read your book! Their feedback kind of falls into the there's-no-such-thing-as-bad-publicity school of thought. ANY feedback, any discussion, is ultimately a plus that lends to the overall buzz about your work. You think?

  12. Paradigm
    Or even worse: paradigm shift

    I gather it means something like a change in perspective.

    We could all use that from time to time!

  13. I love odd, rarely used words. Not to be condescending but to be more precise, at times. I especially love quid pro quo, something for something. Or you scratch my back, I'll scratch your back. I do suffer from the use of jargon though, especially at work and have to watch this. You have to gauge your audience.

    Sadly, I haven't read your ebook because I can't find figure out how to recharge my Kobo, can't find the cord.

  14. I do have certain words that I must look up again and again. For some reason they don't stick. Can't think of any of them right now.

  15. Anonymous: Thanks for your comment -- a sort of semi-reveal! Like I said, I appreciate your thoughts on my ebook and while it's difficult, the criticism as well. Oh, and YOU were not intimidating at all -- perhaps a bit pretentious, but that was tone and the fact that you're Anonymous. I do hate Latin thrown around, but that's just ME.

  16. Lots of them. Fortunately, now that I'm 55, I can't remember most of them - or is it because I just don't care enough? I love your writing, and the fact that it does not intimidate, but (au contraire) invites us into your life without pretense or pretension. Hugs to you.

  17. I like the word hubris but lack the ability to use it in any kind of coherent sentence.



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