There’s a letter going around on Twitter in which the philosopher A.C. Grayling talks about Brexit.
I started reading it. Then I stopped reading it.
Why? One word – nugatory.
That’s right. It just means ‘useless’.
I don’t doubt the world’s leading philosophers are brilliant thinkers. But they’re not brilliant writers. The effort/reward ratio of their writing is often shamefully low. In good writing, that ratio should always be high.
If you’re writing about complex ideas for an audience of people who understand obscure terms, have at it. But when you’re writing for us ordinary folk, we’ll take the plain English version please.
I spend my life immersed in the complexities of the English language. If I can’t read your letter without having to pick up a dictionary, then your language is waaaay too obscure. And it’s hindering your own ability to get your point across.
Golden rule: use the most specific word your audience with definitely understand
There are times when a fancy word can help you convey your point. ‘Extrapolate’, for example, is a lovely word. It says in one word what you might otherwise need ten words to say. And it doesn’t really have any exact synonyms. So as long as you’re confident your reader knows what ‘extrapolate’ means, it’s really useful.
But ‘nugatory’? Why make your reader Google a definition when you can just say ‘worthless’?
Boo, A.C. Grayling, boo!