Using Big Words: A Nice Triptych If You Can Pull it Off

As I gave my guest a tour of our little house, we got to the dining room. There I showed off my print of Longs Peak in Colorado. A photograph of the snowy mountain, framed by evergreens and golden Aspen, is spread across three panels. It takes up the better part of the wall by our dining room table. My guest said, “That’s a nice triptych!”


“A nice triptych!”

“I know the word, but you’re the only person I’ve ever heard say it!”

I explained to my guest…. Long ago, a grader in seminary gave me a bad mark for using “triptych” in an exegetical paper. I chose the word because it illustrated the structure of a certain Bible passage. But the grader was having none of it. “No big words for you!” The word Nazi had a point. Long before, my father had taught me to never use big words when little words serve just as well. But dadgummit! Nothing served as well as “triptych” in this case.

I admitted to my guest, “As you can see, I’m not bitter about what the grader said to me twenty-five years ago!”

“Clearly!” he laughed.

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