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Bill Bennett

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Why I like short words

Winston Churchill said: “Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all.”

He was right.

Short words are best because they don’t get in the reader’s way. They are familiar.

This makes them easy to understand and easy to spell.

They are also easier to pronounce

Most short words in modern English come from Anglo-Saxon, not Latin, roots.

They mainly describe real-world objects and actions, not abstract concepts.

Help understanding

Short words get straight to the point. Use them. Forget the long ones, they get in the way of understanding.

The problem with this idea is that it has become a cliché. That doesn’t make it any less true.

Long-winded writing is tiring for the writer. It’s worse for the reader. Before long, readers drown in a sea of long-words.They have to read sentences or paragraphs over and over to decode them. The meaning gets lost.

A couple of tricks I’ve learnt. First, use a thesaurus to find better word choices. That often means shorter word. There is an excellent thesaurus that will suggest shorter words if you enter a long one. Bookmark it now.
Second, don’t fall into the trap of thinking flowery language is clever. It isn’t. All it does is shows off your vocabulary.
William Shakespeare wrote many memorable phrases. The one that sticks most in people’s mind is one of the simplest:
To be or not to be.
It would be hard to pack more meaning into six short words. It is a mere 13 characters.
The next time you are temped to reach for a sesquipedalian word think of Hamlet. And yes, I did use that long word on purpose. It looks silly. That’s my point.

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2 thoughts on “Why I like short words

  1. @freelance_unbound.

    I think the hardest part of teaching journalism students must be un-teaching secondary school English. After six years of being told long words are a sign of learning, good journalism style must come as a shock.

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