Big, Long, Stupid Words

Let’s talk about Brian.  (It’s okay, he’s not here.)  Brian uses a lot of big words.  Like, all day with the big words.  He’s walking around all, “Watching the Eagles last night was practically self-deprecating.  The defense is flaccid, the offense is haphazard, and the head coach’s method of strategy is archaic.  I mean, it’s just archaic.”

And that makes you mad.  And you say, “Damn it, Brian, that makes me mad!”

You know the word mad.  You use it because, here in the States, it conveys the emotion you feel.  You don’t think about it, it comes out naturally.  But, you also know the word angry.  You could use that too, couldn’t you?  It means the same thing; they’re interchangeable.

Before you made the statement, “Brian, that makes me mad!” did you think for a moment about whether you should use the word “angry” or “mad”?  No, dude.  One just came out.

It works the same way for Brian.  When Brian goes to speak, he is just like you; he doesn’t craft out his sentences beforehand, making sure to include as many multisyllabic words as possible.  When he goes to yell that he’s angry, his brain is still going to choose a word at random to express that emotion, the same way it did for you.  But for him, it will choose from mad, angry, incensed, piqued, irascible, irate, vexed…

Brian isn’t using big words to piss you off, he’s using big words simply because his brain has access to them.  So it uses them.  And the thing about it is, it isn’t even Brian’s fault that he knows so many big words.  Even that just happens.

Nobody actually expands their vocabulary studying for a spelling bee.  All a vocab quiz gets you is a lower GPA.  Everyone, regardless of where they sit on the standard IQ bell curve, learns new words through osmosis.

Like the word “osmosis,” for example.  You know how I came to know that word?  It was on a Garfield poster in my 7th grade history classroom.  Garfield is laying in his box with a book over his presumably sleeping head, with a caption “I’m learning through osmosis.”

(Of course my science guys are going “That’s not what osmosis is.”  Yeah, I know.  I took high school science.  The point is that it’s a transferable concept.  Now stop interrupting, you’re confusing the point I’m trying to make.)

We all pick up new words from the context of our daily lives.  Like how I was in the grocery store and Elle magazine was telling me that “Crop tops and overalls are here to stay!”  And I’m like “What the hell is a crop top?”  So I look at the picture and see a borderline-anorexic woman in overalls with this little half shirt.  From this I can infer, “Oh, that must be a crop top.”

Boom.  I’ve just expanded my vocabulary standing in line at the Piggly Wiggly.

The more intelligent a person is, the more readily their brain does this.  I needed a visual aid to explain “crop top” to me.  Someone smarter than me (pssht, like you could find one)  (…ha) might infer the meanings of the words “crop,” to cut off the ends, and “top,” a colloquialism for “shirt.”  Ergo, a crop top must be a shirt with the end cut off.  Which of course it is.

Brian isn’t going to be able to use shorter, simpler words without a lot of concerted effort on his part.  He would literally have to think about everything he said before he said it.  “Gina.  Are.  You.  Going.  To.  Starbucks.  This.  Morning?  I.  Would.  Like.  A.  Frappuccino.”  That doesn’t seem like much of an improvement.

How do we solve this problem?  How do we eradicate vocabism?  We get together, and we all agree that the Eagles are flaccid and haphazard, and move on from there.

The Neanderthal

Because you’re smart, you would tell me that a Neanderthal is an extinct species of the genus “homo,” and an ancestor of modern humans.  You would tell me that Neanderthals lived in the Pleistocene period of history, and fossils have been found in Europe and Asia.  You would also tell me that the Neanderthal’s brains were the same size as modern humans, sometimes even larger.

Then, because I’m smarter, I would tell you that it’s actually pronounced “NeanderTal.”

After this you would grumble the word “shithead” under your breath and walk away.

You’re smart.  I’m smart.  There are a lot of smart people in the world.  And the thing about being smart is that it is painful – like, actually, physically painful – to be around when not-so-smart things are being said around you.

Like when you’re talking to your coworker, who “doesn’t believe in dinosaurs.  It’s not a religious thing.  They’re just too big.”  Pain will actually start radiating through your chest while witnessing this.

Or when you’re at a party and you overhear the girl at the fat-free dip table saying, “I’m Chilean.  I mean, I was born in America, and both my parents are American, but I lived for six years in Chile.  That makes me Chilean.”  You may need a Tylenol.  Make it a Tylenol-3.

Or maybe you’re meeting your best friend’s new boyfriend who at one point asks, “is there a difference between irony and sarcasm?” and you are fairly certain that beating yourself over the head with an iron skillet would actually make you feel better.

What do you do?  The long and tried tradition of the highly intelligent (and learned in particulars and useless materials) is to correct those who assail the sanctity of knowledge and fact.

“Actually, the blue whale is the largest animal that we know of to have been on the planet.  And they still exist.  Here is a photograph I just pulled up on my iphone.  See how it’s next to a scale depiction of a brachiosaurus?  Clearly much bigger.”

Or, “Actually, living five or more consecutive years in Chile only makes you a candidate for Chilean citizenship.  To suggest that you are ‘Chilean’ implies that you are of Chilean decent, which would make you a Latina.  Which, clearly from your blonde hair and blue eyes, you are not.  It’s kind of a semantics thing.  See, you can say you’re ‘American’ and it might not have any racial implications because the US is a melting pot, and that’s accepted worldwide.  But with  pretty much any other country, regardless of your citizenship there, to say ‘I am this’ you’re making a claim to that country’s ethnicity.  Or whatever.”

And, “Actually, it’s ironic that you ask that.  See – that was sarcasm.”

People say dumb things.  And you give smart responses.  But then the question becomes – now who’s being the NeanderTal?

I once heard a man say that he didn’t bother turning off his lights because the energy it took to turn the bulb on was more than it took to run it.  That dude was clearly wrong, and yes, it was painful to hear.  But…so what?  Yeah, he’s an asshole for saying it.  But if I correct him – “Actually, your monthly electric bill is calculated by how many kilowatt hours you use.  So if you run a 60 watt light bulb for 60 hours, you pay for every hour that it is on” –  all I’m doing is taking over the role as asshole, right as I may be.

The hardest lesson a smart person has to learn is that correcting these kinds of mistakes is more of a detriment to yourself than a help to anyone else.  We all think, “everyone hates me because I’m smart.”  While it is true that, no matter what, a certain amount of resentment will arise at points of your life just on the basis of your, um, cranial integrity, to go around correcting these useless, albeit painful, mistakes in the end just makes enemies.

Before correcting another mistake, try asking yourself a question:  what is to be gained by me exposing this mistake?  Will it stop this person from being hit by a bus?  Will it prevent civil or international war?  Will it solve a currently unsolved crime?

Because while some misconceptions are definitely worth your conjecture:

“No, sir, raping a virgin will not cure your HIV.”

“No, ma’am, cola is not a working substitute for baby formula.”

“No, sir, releasing your pet alligator into the sewer will not recreate an environment like the Everglades, and no, your tiger would not like to go with him.”

Most of the time, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if we’re Neanderthals or NeanderTals – it’s important to know that we’re all wrong about something, sometimes.  Why go out of our way to piss other people off unnecessarily?