Top 50 hardest words in the New York Times: 'This is journalism not philology'

The New York Times’ After Deadline column has published a list of the 50 words readers of its website find hardest to understand.

How do they know? Because of the function on the website which enables readers to click on any word and go through to a dictionary definition.

Find out whether you are smarter than the average NYT reader by seeing how you get on with the top ten:

1 inchoate
2 profligacy
3 sui generis
4 austerity
5 profligate
6 baldenfreude
7 opprobrium
8 apostates
9 solipsistic
10 obduracy

Don’t worry of you got stuck on number six, that one was made-up by the journalist concerned.

For my money, most journalism should be as simple and easy to read as possible. Which, like the prose of Ernest Hemingway, is a hell of a lot harder to do than it looks.

But then again, perhaps it is no great sin to force your readers to reach for the dictionary every now and again – especially if we’re talking about columns like, say, that of Evening Standard art critic Brian Sewell.

After deadline writer Philip Corbett says:

I don’t suggest banning any of them – in some cases they may be the perfect choice, and we refuse to talk down to readers or dumb down our prose.

Still, we should remember that this is journalism, not philology. Our readers, smart as they are, are often in a hurry. They may be standing on the subway or skimming a story over breakfast. Let’s not make them work any harder than necessary.

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