On Choosing Words

In a single sentence, Ben Franklin summed up the wisdom involved in choosing words. He didn’t write, “Lexical decisions resulting in the arcane are decidedly inferior to aforesaid decisions resulting in the mundane.” He could have written it that way (he certainly knew all those words), but he didn’t. Ben was a clear thinker, and he knew that unusual words obstruct understanding. Because he wanted people to understand him, he wrote, “Never use a longer word when a shorter word will do.”

The good writer won’t quibble with that. He won’t fiddle with the definition of shorter and pretend that since nexus has only two syllables, it’s a short-enough word. If he’s writing to a general audience, he’ll use link. He won’t pump helium ...

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