2. The Right Word

Only a pusillanimous writer is afraid of the right word.

I often read advice to writers to use simple, familiar words. An editor might tell me that my first sentence would be better if I had used “timid” or “cowardly” rather than “pusillanimous.” But the Latin source of this SAT word literally translates as “small mind.” No other word in English that I know conveys the dual sense of timidity and a lack of imagination. Only “pusillanimous” will do.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with simple, familiar words. Indeed, you cannot write without them. But to proclaim that a writer should only use such words is to rob the English language of its richness. Sticking with the easy words and writing to an adolescent reading level is fine for a business memo.

Writers who aspire to develop their craft should not limit themselves in the same way. Use the right word, whether it is ornate or simple. Your writing will be the better for it.

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