Write to Explain, Not to Impress

Yesterday, I was editing the Introduction to my “Rehabilitating Lochner” book, and I needed a word to fill in the following sentence: “Lochner itself is now considered the ___ of the liberty of contract cases, though the opinion has not always attracted such disproportionate attention.” After some thought, I came up with the word “apotheosis.” I thought it looked good, and, given that this was an early sentence in the book, made me sound erudite.

But then I remembered that I’m trying to write for the readers’ benefit, not to sound smart or well-educated. (William F. Buckley, who was an excellent writer but often used obscure words, was trying to sound smart, in part to counter the image that conservatives are ignorant.) And I noted that even though I have a pretty good vocabulary, I had to look up apotheosis to make sure I was using it correctly, which likely meant that many of my readers would be unsure of the word’s meaning. So I deleted apotheosis, and replaced it with “epitome,” a much more common word. The sentence may sound less erudite, but it’s much more comprehensible.

UPDATE: On further reflection, I changed the sentence to “Lochner has come to exemplify the liberty of contract cases, though the opinion has not always attracted such disproportionate attention.”