Latin Gags: There’s Thrust in Brevity

Go Glad

Words that make me gag:

*micturate (to pee)
*macerate (to chew)
*parturition (birthing)

Writers studying craft tend to prefer the short, crunchy Anglo-Saxon portion of our lexicon over the more abstract latinates. Anglo-Saxon is pithy: Words like suck, chew, hit, piss, and fuck get to the point faster than their polysyllabic brethren. There’s thrust in brevity. The English language was not spared in the Roman conquests, and folks still use the language of its conquerors to sound important, sometimes laughably so.

I do like greco/latinates in the right place, but the words for bodily functions make me squirm. Whoever came up with “micturate” for gawd’s sakes? Ew. I will never run to the bathroom holding my crotch for fear of premature micturation. Maybe that’s why I dislike the word masturbation–a general clinical ickiness submerged in polysyllabic lip slapping (macerate on that one). The word sounds so clinical, depraved, shameful, nothing like the very human sport of jerking off that kids usually discover by age 13.

*sternutation: Who would ever think this means “to sneeze”? How about “snatiation”–this is sneezing uncontrollably on a full stomach, a recent amusing coinage; the Romance language lends itself to such unromantic pairings.

Latinates can give writers the perfect word in the right context; it’s a damned shame when writers and editors use it to obfuscate or, as in so much science/nonfiction writing, when they need to deploy the Squid Technique: that’s when you don’t know what to say (or how to say it) so you hide behind a cloud of ink.

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