By K Raveendran
Shashi Tharoor has just been beaten in his own game by another smart alec, who has outsmarted the sesquipedalian, probably without his even knowing about it. Yes, some people are capable of devouring their victims without them being aware until they are about to be digested. A new word has been added to Urban Dictionary to denote how lovers of jabberwocky like Tharoor dig up one-and-a-half footer words that will help establish their gadzookery. The new word is ‘shashisesquipedalianism’, which stands for an ‘author’s tendency to find and use the longest and weirdest words in the dictionary by means of android apps and or Google to impress readers and listeners’.
The explanation of the word has one guy asking another about what he thinks of the words ‘floccinaucinihilipilification’ and ‘hippopotomonstrossesquippedaliiophobia’ used by Shashi Tharoor while introducing his latest book ‘The Paradoxical Prime Minister. The second guy says ‘it is a case of shashisesquipedalianism’. Urban Dictionary also has a word spelt as Tharoor to mean ‘someone who uses unnecessarily tough words to express rather simple ideas, basically trying to show off his superiority’. The next one in his circumlocution may well be ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’, which takes a minimum of two breaths to say, but just means ‘extraordinarily good’.
Shashi Tharoor’s ‘intimidating vocabulary’ had set the media, particularly social media, on fire. He claims he chooses the language that best conveys his ideas, although the more discerning readers and netizens saw in this nothing more than an attempt to present himself as a polyhistor. He probably gave himself away after winning admiration for describing PM Modi’s speech in parliament as an ‘exasperating farrago of misrepresentations ’ by adding the two tongue-twisters, although some media units dubbed it as Tharoor’s vocabulary challenge.
Fellow author Akash Banerjee, appearing as a self-styled Prof Macaulay and claiming to have taught Shashi Tharoor English in college, has blasted him, saying he got it all wrong and warning him not to ever ‘throw around his words’ like what he is currently doing.
In English-speaking western democracies, politicians are known to avoid being selcouth and mealy-mouthed as that is supposed not to go down well with their voters. But Tharoor does not risk much on this count as a majority of voters in his babuji-dominated constituency don’t make head or tail of his loquacious performance with language.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are transforming the way we are communicating to each other and the day is not far off when we would leave much of the writing work to AI. Hundreds of Washington Post articles are already written by AI-driven robots, which have also become experts in deciphering balance sheets and producing stories and press releases. Articles can be produced on the basis of topics, which the robots will research and come up in no time with complete content as per requirement.
For the purposes of this article, a write-up was ordered with a content creator robot on the ‘need to use simple language for more effective communication’. Within a couple of minutes came a fairly well-researched piece, which only required minor editing and re-arrangement of paragraphs to read as follows:
“Experts tell us that communication is most effective when the language used is direct, simple and expressed in an ‘easy to understand’ manner. Conscious complexity is only an excuse for excluding ordinary people who use language for uncomplicated communication. Avoid flourishes and frills in your text. You need to take responsibility for ensuring that your audience understands the language you are using.
It’s time we grew up and gave proper thought to the way we use email and all our other means of communication. And in today’s digital age, nowhere is this truer than in the design of a company’s digital presence. There is converging evidence from multiple strands of research including sociolinguistics, language acquisition, and computational cognitive science suggesting that language tends to minimize unpredictable or unconditioned variation. Also, users respond more to a memorable graphic than they do to a long piece of text, and for mobile users, the difference in response is even larger.
When communication is focused and simple, it can add value by challenging your prospects’ status quo, expanding their options, and helping them to see things in new ways. Reviewing your communications for simplicity can mean the difference between merely producing a communication and producing a communication that people actually read, understand, and act on. Clearly written business documents ensure reader comprehension and quick response, which is important with the high volume of information that gets passed through offices each day.
Unclear or confusing writing is an accessibility barrier to all readers, but can be especially difficult for people with reading disorders or cognitive disabilities. To complicate matters, the ‘rules’ of clear and simple writing in English may not apply at all in other languages, or even between cultures that speak the same language. Public speakers have to compensate for these limits by using the principles of repetition of content, clarity of structure, and simplicity of language. Finally, oral language needs to be less dense and jargon-laden then some kinds of written language, especially academic language. Verbal and nonverbal communication is important in public speaking, helping to make a speech clear and compelling to an audience.”
AI may be the next frontier for Shashi Tharoor to try his hands on to avoid any kakorrhaphiophobia.