Sep 27, 2010


Summary: If you're a fan of this blog—especially on Mondays—you more than likely enjoy learning new words. How would you feel if you saw a word you didn't know as part of a headline in your local paper? And can you even think of a time when this has happened to you? If you live in Baltimore, it may have been recent ...

Last week, while reviewing some promotional material I wrote for my colleague, there was some discussion over a few word choices I'd made. Not surprisingly, some of the decision-makers around the table at our review meeting believed that not all readers would 'get' those words in question. And yet we were unanimous in our desire to use the words.

Some of the people at that meeting thought that it was important to "dumb down" the writing, in order to play to the "lowest common denominator." Most newspapers take this approach, believe it or not, writing to people with an 8th grade education at best. But what happens when a paper stops following that rule? Today's WOW Word of the Week sparked a controversy at the beginning of this month when The Baltimore Sun did just that, running a headline with the word limn front and center—literally on the front page and in the center of the title.

According to the article about this on, letters and messages came pouring in from impassioned readers who were split over their opinions: Many were offended by what they thought was "arrogant and patronizing," but others were thankful for the opportunity to expand their vocabularies.

Limn (LIM) - (v.) This word has three different meanings, all stemming from the root word for illuminate: (1) to draw or paint on a surface, (2) to outline in sharp detail (The Sun's usage), and (3) to describe. Interestingly enough, the modified version limning is pronounced with the "n" sound in the middle.

As I'm sure you can also imagine, my argument at our meeting was for teaching people, instead of assuming or contributing to their ignorance. And ultimately, we came up with a compromise that made everyone happy (hopefully, including the readers): We used the words in question, and we explained their definitions within the text. This week, I encourage you, if you don't know a word, just ask!

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