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Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Friday, January 31, 2014

A Scrivener Explicates: Whence the Juncture Whither Obscurity Transmogrifies Itself Unto Opacity?

I'm going to talk about a metaphor from this article today. I'm including the link so you don't think I'm addressing a strawman, but there's no compelling reason for you to read the whole article, especially if you dislike politics.

So, here's a quote from this article:

"If he can don the toga praetexta of a statesman, [Mr. X] may think..."

If you're thinking, "What the hell does that mean?" well, you're not alone. I immediately went to Google to learn that a toga praetexta was a toga with a red or purple lining worn by boys, priests, and sometimes as a kind of informal honor. None of these options made any particular sense in the context used, so I went and asked someone smarter than me.

I ended up contacting two trained classicists I know, one of whom is now a university professor, and between the three of us we were still unable to come up with a certain answer. Which is why I took to my blog today!

I understand that everyone has a different frame of reference, and I don't expect The Daily Beast or The Economist to be on the same intellectual wavelength as The New York Post or USA Today. But if you've written a metaphor for mass ditribution that can't be understood by three relatively intelligent adults, including an author and two experts in the terminology you're using, then who the hell are you writing for?

I would never encourage anyone to dumb down their writing. In fact, I think a lot of writing today could stand to be...smartened up? (Is that the right term? Who the fuck knows? I'll bet you understood what I meant, though, right?)

I don't really apologize if I've ever thrown around any $0.50 words or complicated references that made my writing tough, assuming it's something that a person with access to Google or a good dictionary could look up. I used to enjoy learning new words and new bits of history from reading above my level.

But I will say this: if you've come up with something so complicated that only you can understand it, then you're not elevating discourse, you're just being an asshole. Your purpose is to make people come to you and ask you what you mean. It doesn't even really necessarily signify that you're any more intelligent than anyone else. It just means you exposed everyone to a riddle that only you know the answer to.

I once served with an officer in the army who began one day, out of the blue, to begin using the term "FYSA" in all of his correspondence. None of us knew what the fuck it meant, and when he began dropping it into conversations and then leering at us, we all understood that his point in using it was to make people ask him what it meant. The acronym, as it turned out, meant "For Your Situational Awareness." In other words, FYI. But said douchebaggily. So your takeaway from this article? Be smart in your writing, intellectual even, but try to avoid the douchebaggery.


  1. Having now seen the questionable sentence in context, I think the meaning is clearer than you implied. The key words are "of a statesman," suggesting that the toga praetexta (what is that?) is something that a statesman would wear (oh, I sort of get it). But it's definitely a stretch when other metaphors would suit the same purpose.

    1. Right. I think it's telling that we have to make a guess based on context clues alone because independently the metaphor makes no sense.


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