(1/2) Purple Prose

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Sep 24, 2017 00:53
In China, most non-native English teachers like to tell their students that they should use big/long words when writing -- the more, the better. They tell their students that using as many complicated words as possible will make their English seem more impressive. One of the reasons why using these words might seem impressive is that it admittedly takes a lot of effort to memorize them. However, pragmatically appropriate use is essential. You should fully understand their meaning, and take into account writing genres and social register. Otherwise, what you write might be confusing and awkward.

I used to have such a misconception. While studying the Barron word list for the GRE (America's Graduate Record Examination), I thought many of the big words were very cool. In some cases, a single word could succinctly express a complex concept. I couldn’t wait to use them while writing entries here, regardless of whether they were being used entirely correctly. A Lang-8 friend asked in a comment on one of my entries whether I was trying to tortue my readers with purple prose. I suddenly felt embarrassed. I hadn’t expected this type of writing to be annoying. From then on, I decided to use low-frequency words sparingly. With my reading experience increasing -- I read the likes of the Washington Post a lot -- I started to have a better understanding of how these big words are used. I kept thinking, “Wow. I just learned this word. Now I see how it’s used.” “A great choice of words! They all perfectly fit in here!” I noticed how professional writers had considered the context and desired undertones.

A few months ago, I saw a Lang-8 user who seemed to be a Chinese student practicing writing GRE essays. He used complicated words all over his essays, trying to make himself sound smart. The editors advised him to use words he fully understood, but he didn't seem to be trying to follow their advice (because his essays were still full of complicated words). The other day, I met a student preparing for her TOEFL exams in an English-practice session. I asked her how she was preparing for the writing section. With a sparkle in her eyes as if she had discovered some magic trick for good marks, she replied that her teacher told her to use as many complicated words as possible. Seeing her reaction, I didn’t know what to say.


我曾经也是其中的一员,认为难词越多越好。在学习GRE巴郎词汇的时候,我觉得很多大词很有意思:仅仅一个词就可以表示很深刻的意思。然后在Lang-8上写文章的时候,我迫不及待地想用到它们,不管用没用对。然后一个好友在修改我的文章时,评论道:“你是在用purple prose折磨我们吗?” 我顿时觉得很不好意思,我之前也没意识到这样的写作形式会令读者生厌。从那以后,我决定不再随意地大量使用。后来,随着我的阅读量增大(比如看《华盛顿邮报》),我才开始明白如何使用这些大词。“哇塞!刚刚学到这次词,现在就碰到了!” “这个词选得好,很适合这里!” 同时,我也注意到,这些作者在使用这些词汇的时候,不仅考虑了语境还考虑了笔调。

几个月前,我碰到一个中国学生在这个网站上练习GRE写作,他在文章里面大量使用难词大词,想努力表现一番。然而,网友在修改他的文章时,建议他使用自己完全掌握的单词,但这位学生好像并没有听取意见,依然我行我素。几天前,我在英语角碰到一个准备托福考试的学生。我问她怎么准备写作部分,她回答道:“我们老师说多使用难词就可以了。” 她说这些话的时候,眼里泛着光,好像是找到了高分诀窍。看到这一幕,我一时不知道说什么好。