Requiem for a Wordie

My dad sent me this one (clipped from the paper, in an envelope, via post. John Sr. kicks it old school). It’s the obituary of Eugene Ehrlich, a self-educated lexicographer and the author of 40 dictionaries.

Ehrlich wrote “The Highly Selective Dictionary for the Extraordinarily Literate,” “Veni, Vidi, Vici: Conquer Your Enemies, Impress Your Friends with Everyday Latin,” and “Les Bons Mots, or How to Amaze Tout le Monde with Everyday French.” Shortcuts to tarting up your vocabulary without having to read lots of books or learn other languages.

I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, but Ehrlich sounds like a bit of a snob*. His aim seems to have been teaching people how to appear smart by showing them big words. I wonder what he would have thought of Wordie, which is full of people who know they’re smart and enjoy words in all sizes. Erudite people snickering at poop.

He probably would have hated it, but still, hats off to a guy who wrote 40 dictionaries, and on his deathbed was correcting the use of “who” as a prepositional object.

* Of course I’m talking out of my ass again, seeing as I’ve never actually read any of Ehrlich’s books. If anyone has, could you enlighten us in the comments?

5 thoughts on “Requiem for a Wordie

  1. Wordie is also full of snobs, like me (and you), who like to show off big words.

    I disapprove of this snobbery comment.

  2. Yeah, I’m a snob. And Wordie is the house that pedantry built. It’s just that I’m equally impressed by the excellent use of a small–or stupid, or crude–word as I am by some 10 cent, fifteen-letter, rococo pomposity.

  3. Big words entice. Small words do most of the work. That’s why they’re small — all the edges and extra letters have rubbed off through use.
    I still try to entice students using the big ones. Pneumanoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis is good for at least a half an hour with an average grade four class. But I don’t think it’s aout showing off. Since the average high school graduate is equipped with a vocabulary of between 25000 and 40000 words, and there are more than 600-thousand in the lexicon, I think it’s more a matter of getting your money’s worth. I mean, using that little of the language is like having a whole alphabet and spelling everything using ‘e’ and ‘s’. As you can tell that would be kind of esse. And eseesees. See?
    Cheery bye,

  4. It’s too bad we remain unenlightened by those who know the work of Eugene Ehrlich.

  5. isn’t the impulse to make exciting vocabulary accessible to the masses a decidedly un-snobby impulse?

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