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October 30, 2011


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Jonathan H. Adler

I think it's very good advice, whomever said it.

Longer, fancier words are appropriate when they are terms of art or when they impart additional meaning, perhaps because they impart an additional nuance the more generic word lacks, but the general rule quoted above is definitely a wise one.


Steven Lubet

Might be George Orwell; might be Sam Clemmons; but it is not always good advice. Audiences differ and some people (like me) enjoy learning new words.

It is easy enough to avoid saying "emolument" when you mean "tip," but what about when you really mean emolument. Or should the Constitution have prohibited "tips," rather than any "Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State."

English is a rich language with many wonderful words. We ought to preserve and use them, rather than consign them to the dust bin.

Barbara Burke

Stephen King offered that advice in his book On Writing. We use his book on the high school level for teaching.

Jacqui Lipton

We have a winner! Well spotted, Barbara.


You often see this when people use the word "utilize" rather than use.

Orin Kerr

I think the merits of King's advice depends on your goals. If you want your work to be widely read and widely understood, then yes, follow his advice. If you want to obscure your argument and want fewer rather than more readers, then don't follow his advice.

Steven Lubet

If you want to write a best-selling novel, there is no better model than Stephen King. As Barbara Burke notes above, his advice is also excellent for high school students.

But Orin, there are plenty of widely read books that do not shy away from interesting, multi-syllable words. One I've read lately is Mukherjee's "Emperor of All Maladies." Or do you think he should have called it the "Emperor of all Sicknesses"?

Simplicity for its own sake: always good for jury argument; not so important for literature.

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