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March 03, 2007


Jim Fitz

Great posting -- very trenchant.

Matt Caruso (The Daily Doormatt)

"No El Guapo, I have no idea what plethora means."

Every time I hear the word I think of The Three Amigos.

Nice post.


Thanks, and can we throw out the word "leverage"?

Mike Sieber

Plethora is one word that I would like to see banned from the language along with cornucopia. I never did like them and thought they were either overused or misused.

Dan Santow

Matt, great “Three Amigos” reference (wish I had thought of it). Here it is:

Jefe: We have many beautiful pinatas for your birthday celebration, each one filled with little surprises!
El Guapo: How many pinatas?
Jefe: Many pinatas, many!
El Guapo: Jefe, would you say I have a plethora of pinatas?
Jefe: A what?
El Guapo: A *plethora*.
Jefe: Oh yes, El Guapo. You have a plethora.
El Guapo: Jefe, what is a plethora?
Jefe: Why, El Guapo?
El Guapo: Well, you just told me that I had a plethora, and I would just like to know if you know what it means to have a plethora. I would not like to think that someone would tell someone else he has a plethora, and then find out that that person has *no idea* what it means to have a plethora.
Jefe: El Guapo, I know that I, Jefe, do not have your superior intellect and education, but could it be that once again, you are angry at something else, and are looking to take it out on me?

Joey, “leverage” is one of those PR-centric words that also drives me crazy. If we start going down this road, though, it’ll never end (utilize, secure, garner… PR’s hit list).

Mike, “cornucopia”? I have to admit, in my almost five years at Edelman I have never seen that word used indiscriminately, or used at all except around Thanksgiving maybe. You really see it a lot? In PR-related things?


Before I submit the following bit of smart-assed laced wit,I want to establish that I love this blog and your posts. So, please take the following in the spirit in which it is intended.

I find it very funny that, in a post about the needless use of big words in a blog post, you wrote the following:
"...which explored students’ predilection for using big words to sound intelligent."

Dan Santow

JVM, point well taken. "Predilection" is definitely a $10 word.


There are problems much worse than $10 words. Beware of vowel movements.

Your article condensed:

Never use a large word when a diminutive one will suffice. ;)


JVM - you beat me to the punch. I was going to write the same thing.


My guess is that at least 75% of the time people use the word plethora, they are referencing Three Amigos. Use the word, and people will smile and know exactly what you mean, even without having to articulate either the reference or definition. People do not know it means excess, because they have not looked it up in the dictionary (or they looked it up 20 years ago). They only know or believe it means "many" per the movie quote.


'Dimunitive'? How about small? ;)


publish a free newspaper for WI educators - would you be interested in sending small articles on Word Wise to our audience of teachers??? Thank you

Chad Stuchis

In "A Plethora of Plethoras," you quote Daniel Oppenheimer:
"Anything that makes a text hard to read and understand, such as unnecessarily long words ... will lower readers' evaluations of the text and it's author..."

Did he really use "it's" rather than "its" in this context? If so, it's quite a gaffe.

He should have used "its", without an apostrophe, because "its" is the possesive pronoun meaning "belonging to it". In contrast, "it's" is a contraction, short for "it is".

Dan Santow

Chad, thanks for your close reading. I stand corrected - and I've corrected the punctuation, as well. My mistake, not Daniel Oppenheimer's.

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Why "Word Wise"?

  • When I started to e-mail out a weekly writing tip to my Chicago colleagues at Edelman in 2002, little did I know how quickly how many people outside my office would start to request it. But word spread, as word is wont to do, and in 2006 the e-mail evolved into this blog. The tips, which are about grammar, usage and style, have a dual purpose – to remind my colleagues in PR of the power of the written word and, more generally, to support and perpetuate clear, concise, creative, honest, lively, stylish, compelling writing everywhere. In 2009 I started to add commentary about and links to stories and other blog posts related to the media, marketing, writing and, sometimes, just interesting stuff. For some reason, I also started Twittering (at SantowDan).