One of my sisters has accused me twice in a month of intellectual snobbery. Here’s the context:
In the first instance, we were discussing ways to keep our elderly father from over-exerting himself. Though he seems healthy, he’s in his mid-70s, and our mother and all of our father’s siblings have died in the last few years. Though I understand my sister’s worry, I have concerns about us doing so much for Dad that we take away his independence. While we were discussing this, I quoted something our mother said to me (and our youngest sister) in the year before she died: that she often felt infantalized by the way we treated her, and that emotional stress made dealing her her illness harder. (She was explaining why she insisted on washing the dishes herself if she could.) “Infantalize” was Mother’s exact word, but when I used it in talking to my sister, she insisted that I should have chosen a simpler one.
The other instance was last night. My sister and most of our family belongs to the Church of God in Christ, which is having its annual convention in our city this week. Each year, most of the Rhymers gather on the closing Sunday of the convocation. I’m not COGIC, so I decline to go. My sister asked me why, given that I’ll go to church with my wife. I replied that I simply can’t stand the company of so many members of such an obscurantist denomination. Again, my sister objected, saying I should use words everyone knows.
Now my sister has at least two college degrees, one of which is a graduate-level degree in sociology or some such. Given that, I don’t think it unreasonable to assume she knows the words in question; it’s not as if I’d said that to my 10-year-old nephew, or started spouting off abut the 0th law of thermodynamics or the difference between baryons & leptons, both of which would have been unreasoanble. But my sister seems to think I should remove certain 50-dollar words from my vocabulary.
I have heard but cannot cite that the only factor that consistently correlated to success in business management was a large vocabulary. It is essential to know the right word.
It is also essential to speak to the level of your audience.
I once went through a rigorous management evaluation in my company, a three-day simulation of project management scenarios where they observe and record your every move. In the out-brief I was told that I should not use so many large words because even though I used them correctly and appropriately, some people didn’t know what I meant.
In a writing class I took once, they said that regardless of education, most people are most comfortable reading at a ninth-grade level. So don’t assume that your sister’s advance degree makes her receptive to “big words.”
I will admit I had to look up “obscurantist” despite my suspicions based on the latin root. But it is the perfect word for that situation. (You might like to get William F. Buckley’s book “The Right Word.”)
And sometimes, “asshole” is the right word! But not this time. I think your sister might be a wee bit insecure. And I wouldn’t call you a snob.
Apropos of nothing: when I worked in retail banking, my boss once jokingly asked me to talk “black.” (Both of us are black, by the way, as, oddly, were most of our co-workers at this branch.) I tried for a moment, and she said that I should never, ever do that at work; I couldn’t make it sound natural, and she could tell I was having to rephrase everything in my head before speaking
Oh, sure. I’m just saying that “infantilize” is a perfectly normal word to use in everyday conversation with just about anybody and you can feel confident that they’ll know what you’re talking about. But if you dumb down your vocabulary the terrorists have already won.
The reason I wrote “asshole” in the thread title is that I think of certain words as “asshole” words. These are uncommon and usually multi-syllabic words with a simpler and more common synonym that exactly matches the first word’s most common meaning. To me, the zenith of this is the word “perspicacious,” which is so similar to “perceptive” and “observant” that any increase in specificity does not compensate for the loss of momentum in the reader or hearer’s thought processes when the word is encoutered.
Of the words I mentioned, “obscurantist” seems most definitely NOT a true asshole word. There is simply no simpler or more common synonym; if you truly mean to communicate its dictionary sense, the only way around it is to recite the fairly long definition. “Infantilize” strikes me as similar, but if anyone can rebut tht position I’d like to read it.
“Infantilize” is the right word to express what you meant, isn’t an obscure or rare word, and isn’t at all hard to figure out as it contains an ordinary English word and a common suffix.
I had to look up “obscurantist” and I’m still not sure what you meant. “Deliberately vague” or “seeking to stop the advancement of knowledge” or both? Hey, you weren’t being deliberately vague when you said it, were you?
I don’t think the word “infantalize” is snobby sounding, but “obscurantist” seems like a far less common word and could therefore be construed as snobby by someone who was sensitive about that sort of thing.
And for what it’s worth, I also have a masters degree, but that’s the first time I’ve encountered the word. At first I thought it was a synonym for obscure, but it seems closer to exclusionary. As in, unless you’re one of the inner circle for this religion, we’re not going to tell you about our rituals. Kinda like Scientology. Maybe you could use that instead (exclusionary, not Scientology), even though it’s not quite the same thing.
I don’t think it’s a bad thing to use uncommon or difficult-to-understand words, but if you’ve had a problem with your sister accusing you of intellectual snobbery and don’t like it, you might use something simpler or at least more common. If you don’t care, keep on keepin’ on.
Not to mention I was quoting our non-college-educated mother.
Seeking to stop the dissemnation of knowledge. COGIC is a Pentecostal church, and among other things, I know several COGIC clergy who’d like to stop the teaching of evolution in biology classes, which irks me, and which we had just been discussing. And of course there’s the people from this post, whose photographs should adorn the definition of that word in the American Heritage Visual Dictionary.
Like most people with somewhat large vocabularies, I imagine you know the difference between situations where you simply use the word that comes to mind because it is the most appropriate word for what you desire to say, as opposed to when you might be flexing yur vocab for any number of reasons.
The first situation is perfectly fine, the second, well, depends. I don’t see a benefit from presuming illiteracy on others’ part. No need to speak down to them until/unless they prove themselves to have a small vocab. Which maybe the case on your sister’s part. But if she does not know a word you use, she should have no qualms about asking “what does that word mean?”
I remember my wife getting called out for “fungible”, and I for “faux pas.” Heck, one time a lawyer called me on “soporific.” Hell, they had a young kid at the time, and it appears in Beatrix Potter!
I actually recall the “faux pas” incident as as a pretty unique triumph for me. I just casually commented on a “faux pas” and my buddy said, “That’s not a word. What does it mean?” I said, “Well, it means faux pas - which is why I used it instead of another word. I guess it is a social blunder.” My buddy huffed off to locate a dictionary, and when he found one it said “faux pas - a social blunder.”
My first thought was that this is another data point against the sociology-degreed; sorry. If life afforded us instant replays, you could retort that you are merely resisting the infantilizing, anti-intellectual, and downright obscurantist trends in modern society to belittle and marginalize the high-verbals and other eggheads. Then you lend her a copy of Idiocracy to watch that evening.
I’m an enthusiastic user of both words, although I’m more likely to use “obscurantist” WRT bad writing – and especially academese – than any organized religion, however much the latter often merits it.
The specific sentence was something along the lines of “Your bishop’s repeated propounding of the need to teach creationism in the public schools is typical of the obscurantist bent of the entire COGIC church. Plus the hats frighten me.”
This thread reminds me of the recent post by another Doper, who used the word “gerrymander” at the office and was accused by his boss of making the word up. Said boss refused to be assured by all the other workers who told him that it was indeed a word, and looked it up in the dictionary. Of course, he found it, and found that it meant just was out Doper said it meant, but he forbade the Doper from using it ever again because he had never heard of it before.