Image provided by: University of Oregon Libraries; Eugene, OR
About The daily Astorian. (Astoria, Or.) 1961-current | View Entire Issue (April 21, 2017)
THE DAILY ASTORIAN • FRIDAY, APRIL 21, 2017
Laura Sellers | Weekend Editor
It’s HUGE! Words are GREAT!
your sales person to quickly locate another
patron to assist, leaving you in relative peace
to ponder the wisdom of your potential
To handle a language skillfully is to prac-
tice a kind of evocative sorcery
— Charles Baudelaire
By GAIL HENRIKSON
The Daily Astorian
ecent events have focused my
ears on the fact that American
discourse is rapidly sinking into
an inky sea of inanity. It is not
only that our discussions cen-
ter on accusations and deﬂ ections, but also
that our vocabulary has become pedestrian at
best, and meaningless at worst.
We are becoming a nation of superlatives.
Everything is the best, the greatest, the big-
gest — words that only allow the world to
be seen in black and white, with no distin-
guishing shades of gray. Superlatives do not
allow for nuance or complexity. Superlatives
do not encourage us to read between the lines
and to understand what is not being said.
Social media may be partly to blame for
this. After all, limiting yourself to 140 char-
acters is not particularly conducive to the use
of multi-syllabic words and reﬁ nement.
Everyone has a vocabulary. Linguis-
tic limberness, like a ﬁ t physique, can only
be achieved through continuous training. In
order to ﬂ ex and grow our lexicon muscles,
we must ﬁ nd ways to incorporate a variety of
words into our daily discussion diet.
To that end, I proffer some everyday sce-
narios where we can begin to exercise our
wordsmithing skills — think of it as the Jane
Fonda workout for the dialogue challenged.
As everyone secretly loves the shocking
changes evinced by the infamous “Before
and After” tabloid pictures, each scenario is
similarly broken into two parts — “BV” or
Before Vocabulary and “AV” After Vocabu-
lary. If we routinely replace a simple word
with a more nuanced or appropriate word in
our daily conservations, our verbal muscula-
ture will begin to bulk up.
So, let’s momentarily set aside our smart
phones, iDevices and other forms of elec-
tronic candy, and retrieve the thesaurus from
underneath the leg of the dining room table.
BV Scenario: While eating pizza at your
favorite restaurant, your server comes to
your table and asks you how everything is.
You reply, through a mouthful of spinach and
pepperoni, “It’s great!”
This is not the type of response that is
likely to get one a gig as a restaurant critic.
It doesn’t address what makes this partic-
ular pizza “great .” Is it the subtle blend of
herbs and spices in the sauce? Is it the arti-
sanal charcuterie from a local, organic, and
sustainable farm? Is it merely the taste ver-
sus price factor?
This is important feedback that your
server has been tasked with obtaining.
Simply telling him or her, in a poor imita-
tion of Tony the Tiger, that it’s “grrrrrrreat”
won’t assist the chef or enlighten the restau-
rant manager. Thus, the next time you ﬁ nd
yourself in this situation, try out the AV
In the Workplace*
AV Scenario: Indicate to your server that
you’ll address their question as soon as you
have completed your mastication.
Upon swallowing, proclaim to your
server that “The gastronomic delight embod-
ied by this ﬁ ne pizza far exceeds the mone-
tary outlay that I will be required to produce.”
Another possible response might include
adjectives such as “succulent ,” “culinary ,”
“savory ,” “epicurean” or “salivating.” Try it.
I guarantee that your wait person will imme-
diately go back to the kitchen to convey your
BV Scenario: A sales person tells you
that you look “absolutely awesome” in that
dress. (For non-wearers of dresses, substitute
your object of choice and be assured that the
sales person will tell you that it is “absolutely
Everyone has been cornered by an overly
zealous retail clerk. This is to be expected,
Submitted Photo Graphic
because many work on commission and
therefore have to close the sale in order to
provide basic necessities. It is in their best
economic interests to convince you that the
item you are considering is not only THE
BEST but, by association, it will also make
you THE BEST.
If you buy this item, everything you
touch thenceforth will turn to gold, your
children will become prodigies and all your
ex-spouses will suddenly pay all their back
Don’t fall prey to that Madison Avenue
incantation. Instead, consider responding to
your retailing assistant with the following:
AV Scenario: “Do you have documen-
tation to verify the claim(s) you have just
asserted regarding the virtues of this item?
If so, would you kindly produce them for
my perusal? Also, do you realize that casual
misrepresentation or overstatement of the
qualities of this item may result in future
This ﬁ nely crafted message will induce
*Although entitled “In the Workplace”
this scenario is equally suited for educational
institutions, or, indeed, any situation which
requires action in response to a directive
from a ﬁ gure of authority.
BV Scenario: At one point or another
during our lives, most of us will likely
encounter an employer who insists on task-
ing us with an assignment that is mind-numb-
ingly mundane, pointless or both. These
projects are often prefaced with phrases such
as “Oh boy, do I have a job for you” or “Your
mission, should you choose to accept it …”
We often meekly accept such tasks,
because we have either been raised to not
question authority, or we have learned in the
school of hard knocks that resistance is futile.
There is, however, an alternative path —
thanks to the power of a strong vocabulary.
AV Scenario: Rather than grudgingly
and dutifully undertaking said assignment,
why not engage your employer in a discus-
sion about the logic of the request.
For example: “That is certainly an intrigu-
ing assignment. However, in order for me to
provide a ﬁ nal product that will positively
reﬂ ect on your status as a leader and mentor,
could you please explain how this task will
increase the long-term resiliency, sustainabil-
ity and ﬁ duciary health of this organization.”
It is extremely critical that the above be
politely stated with a very straight face and
a slight hint of concern in your voice. At this
point, your employer will likely launch into
a corporate-speak diatribe, comparable in
enjoyment to a Vogon poetry reading.
Alternatively, they may be so impressed
with your erudition and obvious concern for
the success of the company that a promotion
is sure to be imminent.
Note: Each individual should carefully
consider the possible ramiﬁ cations of this
course of action prior to proceeding.
All jesting aside, it is imperative that
we remember that words have the ability
to change a situation. We have all heard the
phrase “ The pen is mightier than the sword”.
That power stems from the subtle, some-
times bordering on subliminal, connotations
that words carry.
Marketers understand this. Careers can be
destroyed because of a poorly turned phrase
or inappropriate choice of words.
Unlike wealth, however, language does
not belong to the 1 percent. We have the
ability, and the right, to reclaim and elevate
language. We need to become vocal about
Gail Henrikson is happily and gainfully
employed as an ad designer at The Daily
Astorian. In addition to previous contribu-
tions to the paper, her poetry has been pub-
lished as part of the Hoffman Center’s Word
and Image project; in the North Coast Squid
and Rain magazine. She is the proud owner
of two thesauri and several dictionaries.