|Source: The Onion|
Okay, so the squiggly-line thing was just an Onion joke. But I think writers actually do feel pressure to choose simple words to avoid alienating readers.
Here's an example: A few months ago, after reading my manuscript to my writer's group, I got a quizzical reaction to the word "fortnight." No one knew what it meant (a unit of time equal to 14 days.)
Our group is made up of well-educated, professional people, so I was stunned that no one had heard of the word. Granted, fortnight is primarily used in Britain and the Commonwealth countries, rarely in the US. But still.
Grudgingly, I rewrote the line to use "two weeks" instead of fortnight. But the new version seemed flat. So I changed it back. (And anyway, my character has a British boyfriend, so there!)
I don't intentionally reach for "big" words to impress people. I select words for precision and rhythm. The best backhanded compliment I ever got was when a manager said, "You use big words, but unlike most people, you sound like you know what they mean." Uh, yes.
The first external pressure I got about vocabulary took place when I was writing Nancy Drews. The writers were discouraged from using words that might lose the young readers. I think that's a mistake. When I was reading Nancy Drews at age ten, one of my biggest joys was to discover new words. To check the kinds of words I looked up back then, I went back to my ancient copies of ND; I found the word "portend" on the jacket copy of one book. Portend! What are the odds that portend would make it into contemporary versions? Nada much.
Gradually over the years, vocabulary-stretching seems to have become less popular. If the "mainstream audience" doesn't know a term, the thinking goes, it must be a reader turnoff. Some writers self-police by avoiding the unfamiliar.
Maybe this trend will go away with the advent of ereaders with built-in dictionaries. Or maybe there's no trend, and I'm off base. So tell me: Do you feel pressure to rein in your vocabulary in your writing? Do you shy away from using a perfect word because you fear you might lose a reader?