I’m Not a Fan of Fancy Words; Plain and Simple Is All I Need

I’m not a regular reader of The New Yorker (probably no surprise there), but thanks to the Apple News app on my phone, I came across a headline yesterday that seemed intriguing enough to warrant me clicking on it for further reading. As it turned out, the story, “The Real Backstory of Why Trump Ordered the Killing of Suleimani Is Becoming More Clear“, was from The New Yorker.

I won’t get into the details of the story here, you can read it for yourself if you are so inclined.

But what really caught my attention was the following sentence: “Any deliberative policymaking process appears to have been replaced by a combination of belligerence, toadyism, and saluting the Commander-in-Chief.” (emphasis added)

I have to admit that I had no idea what toadyism meant, but the word was interesting enough for me to go out to good old Google and look it up.

Here is the definition I found:

toadyism: a fawning flattery, obsequiousness, or sycophancy.

It’s a good thing the definition included the first part “a fawning flattery”, because if all I saw were the words, “obsequiousness or sycophancy”, I still wouldn’t know what it meant.

This led me to look up sycophancy, which means, “self-seeking or servile flattery”, as well as obsequiousness, which means “full of or exhibiting servile compliance; fawning”.

And if you still aren’t clear what all these words mean, the free dictionary offered some synonyms for “obsequiousness” which put it in terms I could completely understand.

  • apple polishing
  • ass-kissing
  • boot-licking
  • brown-nosing

So there you have it, one person’s down-to-earth description of how policy gets made in Washington these days.

I just wish the story had used one of these four phrases instead of toadyism, it could have saved me a few minutes of time, as well as not making me feel uneducated.

But I guess people who read The New Yorker want to see words that not many people know the meaning of, including themselves…

*image from the National Wildlife Foundation

20 thoughts on “I’m Not a Fan of Fancy Words; Plain and Simple Is All I Need

  1. while I don’t like to use words like that, I am fascinated by them and their origins. I am a huge fan of the alphabet, words, language and how they are all used. I love unique words and learning them, but have yet to use most of them. I agree, when trying to communicate, why not use terms we don’t have to research? makes the reading so much better.


  2. I am as guilty of this as any writer. I often use words they may not be part of the average person’s vocabulary. In the pursuit of writing poetry, often unusual words are the only thing to meet meter or rhyme requirements. If writing editorially, sometimes it is just a punch up to otherwise average reading. Either way, that are not a sign of greater intelligence, just a larger vocabulary. And although you may have spent a few minutes looking things up, in the very brief amount of time you invested, you have added “toadyism”, “obsequiousness”, “sycophancy” to your readily recognized list of words. That seems more an accomplishment, than a hinderance. Of course, I, like Beth, love words, so I will admit to obvious bias.


    1. As an outsider, I’d agree that poets seem to require a large vocabulary. And I do like learning new words, it’s just that I’m not always in the mood to have to look up what they mean. That is one of things I like about reading on my iPhone or Kindle – the ability to look up a word at a moment’s notice.


  3. I tended to use fairly erudite words in everyday speech as well as in my writing. It’s interesting how much of my writing I’ve had to re-word by either a) editing my story with children in mind, or b) changing my story’s ‘point of view’ character to a poorly educated criminal.
    Of course, the other consideration is that I so often can’t find the word I’m looking for in conversation these days.


    1. I had to look up erudite 🙂 I guess I’m that poorly educated criminal you are writing for. And it is a challenge trying to come up with the right word at the right time…


      1. The criminal was my character. (Griller in my December blog story). I had to change my phrasing for the first scene when I re-edited it to be viewed through his eyes.
        I’m getting better at writing like a normal person now I don’t have to write annual reports any more. The more ambiguous and unintelligible words I could get in those the better, the objective being for my line manager’s eyes to glaze over before she got to the bad news.


    1. I do enjoy learning new words, it’s just that it is frustrating sometimes to come across a new word and have no sense what the writer is trying to say.


  4. Thanks for adding new words to my vocabulary. Though, I have to admit, these are words which I will most likely forget. But the image of the toad will help burn it in my memory. As to why toads kiss ass… I don’t know… hahahaha


  5. I like plain and simple and straight to the point. However learning something new is always intriguing to enhance my dialect 😂😂 .. I think the New Yorker was being professional…


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