There is no RationalWiki without you. We are a small non-profit with no staff – we are hundreds of volunteers who document pseudoscience and crankery around the world every day. We will never allow ads because we must remain independent. We cannot rely on big donors with corresponding big agendas. We are not the largest website around, but we believe we play an important role in defending truth and objectivity.
If everyone who saw this today donated $5, we would meet our goal for 2021.
| Fighting pseudoscience isn't free.|
We are 100% user-supported! Help and donate $5, $20 or whatever you can today with !
| Cogito ergo sum|
Logic and rhetoric
"Big words" (a.k.a., sesquipedalianism or argumentum ad sesquipedalia verba) is a common snarl word used by people too lazy to get a dictionary. Its implication is that anything that can't be described in plain English is not worth talking about y'all, which makes for considerable difficulty for the speaker being challenged when the "big word" is pretty much the only available word to describe what's going on. Sesquipedalianism is, at its core, the act of using long words, especially habitually. It can be done for a variety of reasons, with one of the common ones being because you believe that the words are more precise. Sesquipedalianism can also be used in an attempt to make oneself sound more educated, or like one knows what one is talking about. Cranks are a common user of it in that way. Sesquipedalianism, whether argumentum ad sesquipedalia verba or not, has an increased tendency to become word salad.
Anybody familiar with any kind of jargon — and jargon that leaves outsiders stumped exists even in blue collar jobs — will know that "big words" are just damned useful. Saying "black hole" is just much handier than having to explain "Extremely dense object of matter collapsing into itself with a gravity so high not even light can escape it" every single time you mention it and even subtly getting that explanation wrong for the sake of brevity. Unfortunately, many "big words" are Greco-Roman and "plainspoken folks" have an irrational aversion to Latin.
On the other hand, "big words" can also, if properly misused, be a powerfully distracting form of bullshit, thus making the argument against somewhat understandable if misguided (after all, such apparent populism certainly sounds good to confused audiences, even if it's really a veiled appeal to stupidity). As above, the proper solution is to invest in an appropriate dictionary.
Sesquipedalianism comes from a Latin adjective, sēsquipedālis, which means unnaturally large or long, plus suffixes to make it the right form of the word.. One who uses sesquipedalianisms is either a sesquipedalian or a sesquipedalianist. The word was used, likely first in the Ars Poetica of the Roman poet Horace.
Argumentum ad sesquipedalia verba
The argumentum ad sesquipedalia verba, literally the argument from excessively long words, is an occasional tactic of cranks and their ilk. It is related to Quidquid latine dictum, altum videtur, in that many sesquipedalianisms are words from Latin, or Greek, or, upon occasion, other foreign languages. Very few of them are primarily of Germanic origin (e.g., Schadenfreude), though some come from German. The argumentum ad sesquipedalia verba is often an appeal to intellect or an Appeal to novelty. Argumentum ad sesquipedalia verba can be considered a kind of word magic, though not the common kind highlighted in the entry.
These are some people who are noted sesquipedalians to some degree
- Scott Alexander
- William F. Buckley, "Sesquipedalian Spark of Right"
- Jacob Rees-Mogg, held the record for using the longest word in the UK parliament, "floccinaucinihilipilification"
- Alan Sokal
- Sesquipedalinism. Wiktionary, retrieved from https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/sesquipedalianism
- Sesquipedalianism. Dictionary.com, retrieved from http://www.dictionary.com/wordoftheday/2010/05/02/sesquipedalianism
- William F. Buckley Jr., 82, Dies; Sesquipedalian Spark of Right by Douglas Martin (Feb. 28, 2008) New York Times.
- Jacob Rees-Mogg hails schoolboy who used longest word in Parliament a ‘hero of our times’, iNews (UK), August 1, 2017