Monday, March 8, 2010

Casual Conversations: The Sesquipedaliarian and I

Friday night I had a conversation with a gentleman who referred to himself as a "sesquipedaliarian."  The conversation went something like this:
Sesquipedaliarian: The wife and I are sesquipedaliarians.
Me: Oh?  What's that?
Sesquipedaliarian: It's means a person who uses long words.  Like, do you know what iambic pentameter is?
Me: Yes.
Sesquipedaliarian: And how a line of pentameter is five feet? 
Me: Uh-huh.
Sesquipedaliarian: "Sesquipedalian" translates literally to "a foot and a half."  Basically a syllable and a half.
Me: ...okay.
Sesquipedaliarian: We use a lot of big words.
Me: Huh.
First, let me say that the sesquipedaliarian had consumed a considerable amount of scotch, so he may have been making less sense than he would have been otherwise.  (For example, a foot is not the same thing as a syllable in English verse, but I think he probably knows that and just mispoke.)  Secondly, let me say that I don't think "sesquipedaliarian" is a real word, since, as far as I can tell, "sesquipedalian" is an adjective when it is not being used to mean an incredibly long word and I found no evidence online that adding a suffix to it makes it a noun in proper usage.  Therefore, I suspect that this gentleman--and his wife--may, in fact, have made up the word.

That is not, however, the problem.  The problem as I saw it was the fact that the self-proclaimed sesquipedaliarian didn't seem to see the value in using short words when short words are needed.  Rather than focusing on how many syllables a word has in determining its value, I think that one should focus on how accurate or appropriate said word is in the situation.  In addition, being able to pass a vocab test is not the same thing as having something interesting to say.  (I therefore find it entirely appropriate that one possible definition of sesquipedalian is "given to the overuse of long words.") 

Therefore, from now on within the realm of Not-So-Gentle Reader, the definition of sesquipedaliarian shall be as follows:
ses*qui*pe*da*li*a*ri*an: (noun) A person who is pedantic to the point of pretension and finds it necessary to tell others how much he knows rather than simply engaging in conversation that would be mutually satisfying. 

Synonyms: pedant, didact.


Greg Zimmerman said...

Pedantic to the point of pretension: HA! Nicely said. :)

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

Thanks. I had a hard time not rolling my eyes when his explanation started with, "Do you know what iambic pentameter is?"

We're all very impressed. :)

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