Sunday, May 16, 2004

Give yourself a test

James Kilpatrick's latest language column covers American Heritage's new "100 Words Every High School Freshman Should Know."

The words include accentuate, antibody, aspire, bamboozle, bizarre, boisterous, boycott, camouflage, chronology, commemorate, cower, decorum, deduction, deign, despondent, dialogue, divulge, eclectic...

More specifically, Kilpatrick discusses specialized vocabularies (the list includes the scientific phloem and xylem and law's tort and chancery). It's a topic copy editors -- and writers -- think about every day.
Those of us who write for a living - or merely love the written word - clearly have a vocabulary all our own. It worries me all the time in writing this weekly column. I have to assume that my readers understand such elementary terms as noun, verb, direct object, subjunctive mood and dangling participle. But should I define "comma splice" by a specific example? What about "redundancy" and "tautology"? Is everyone clear that "redundancy" implies an excess and "tautology" implies needless repetition? These are judgment calls. Every writer has to make them every day.
Kilpatrick moves into a discussion of regionalisms in the Dictionary of American Regional English. DARE has published four volumes so far and plans a fifth next year -- and brings us quandy, pipjenny, savagerious, rutchie and proddy, among others.


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