Shakespeare is SO not cool

When I was in college I had William Shakespeare as an English professor. I’m not trying to be funny or symbolic. I’m serious.

William O. Shakespeare was pleasantly plump, bald, and had rosy cheeks a cherub would covet. He had a soothing baritone voice that occasionally lulled me to unconsciousness, even though he was a pretty interesting teacher.

I can’t pinpoint anything specific that I learned in his class, or name all the works we studied, but I do remember one very interesting piece of information. Prof. Shakespeare said, “Americans only use one-third of the vocabulary words that people used during The Bard’s time.”

I’m not sure how accurate that stat is, since the mass populace was illiterate into the 18oo’s. But I do believe that the educated folk of the 16th century (and the three following centuries) were more literate than we are today.

Honestly, what else did they have to do? Have you read Pride and Prejudice? Rich people sat around all day and discussed books, politics and art. They memorized huge chunks of text to recite at parties – quite different from our modern day keggers.

What is the point of this whole post? I’m tired of dumbing down my WIP. If we don’t expose our youth to words like morass, assuaged, pariah, our vocabularies will continue to diminish. (Yep…I just edited all of those words out. Bummer.)

Wouldn’t writing be less fun if we couldn’t use synonyms?

Well, I’m off to teach my five-year-old Latin and Greek roots. Since he probably won’t be exposed to any tough vocabulary words in contemporary literature, at least when he gets around to reading Shakespeare he’ll be able to figure out some of the words based on their roots.

(P.S. I was totally kidding about teaching him Latin and Greek. That can wait a few years. But if any of you are interested here’s a link to the flashcards on Amazon. They’re AWESOME!)

5 Comments

  • Cat

    I agree with you. It’s kind of funny, because my coworker and I were just talking about this subject the other day, about how dumbed down books are.
    Me, I like an expansive vocabulary that encompasses a plethora of synonyms. I enjoy perusing my vast shelves of words whenever I speak to someone, to select the perfect word that best expresses my feeling.
    I think it’s sad that we have to be so careful about the words we choose. If I had the words “deep” and “unfathomable” and I had to choose between them, I’d prefer “unfathomable.” It’s prettier, it’s more expressive, and it contains the whole array of images I want to convey.

  • Trisha Leaver

    I couldn’t agree more. You shouldn’t dumb down you. YA readers today are educated enough to comprehend a complex sentence and a multi-syllable word. And throw pariah back in — it is a fine word to use!

  • shelly

    I so totally agree with you. It amazed me when daughters number four and five didn’t have to spell anything correctly per their teachers. I was appalled and whenever I tried to have one of those parent-teacher conferences, I ended up looking like the person at fault.

  • Becky Wallace

    @Cat: This whole post started because someone very close to me didn’t know the definition of “sans,” as in without. WHAT?!?

    @Shelly: I just had that discussion with a friend. She had the same issue and was totally the “bad guy” when she was done with the PTC.

    @Norma: WHEN I’m promoting my books? Let’s hope…

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