Today I used egregious in a sentence and scared myself half to death. It’s not as if I walk around throwing big words into the air in the hopes I’ll impress someone with my superior knowledge and command of the English language. Instead, I’m far more likely to lapse into the vernacular of the day and say things like, “What’s the haps?” which I’m not even sure means anything, but at least it’s short.
But there I was, looking over some numbers with a client, and I as I looked I said, “Well, I don’t see anything particularly egregious here,” and then realized what I’d said. I followed up with, “Wow, I actually used egregious in a sentence correctly.”
I wasn’t even sure I knew how to pronounce it up until the time I pronounced it.
My client looked a bit stunned too.
Look, here’s the thing. I’m the anti-accountant. I’m the one who uses small words and doesn’t try to overwhelm people with my vast store of knowledge, which is only vast if you compare it to the store of knowledge my dog, Ash, has. He’s smart, but his knowledge of words is restricted to the basic necessities of his life. Walk. Play. Toy. Ball. Snack. Ride. Potty. Tell him he’s egregious and he’s likely to lick you to death, thinking you said, “What a nice doggy!”
Most of my problems with words have come about because I read them somewhere, starting from when I was too young to read, and I never heard the actual words, so I never knew how to pronounce them. We didn’t believe in big words in my family. It went against our philosophy, which was something along the lines of, “we’re not smart enough to use big words, except for those of us who think we’re smarter than everyone else.”
I wasn’t allowed to be smarter than everyone else, by the way.
Later on, I heard the words I’d read and could use easily in writing, and was astounded by the pronunciation. No one had told me!
So now I’m not likely to use big words in conversation. Of course, the fact that I can barely carry on a conversation with little words may be partly to blame. But what does it mean when I start tossing in words like egregious? Am I going to turn into a smartass know-everything who goes around smacking people with big words?
Do me a favor. If I do, please tell me to knock it off. I suppose an egregious here or there won’t hurt anyone, but if I start sounding like I’ve been reading the dictionary in my spare time, which actually is not a bad hobby to have, then I’ve started down the slippery slope to becoming unbearable.
And once one has become unbearable, there is little hope left.