Thursday, November 16, 2006

How the words we use betray us, part 132

The other day I read a letter on a problem page from a woman whose partner had recently left his wife and children, to be with her.

Not content with having won her man, she felt powerfully aggrieved by his insistence on continuing to give a large chunk of his income to his first family - money she felt he should be spending on her and her children by an earlier relationship.

What's more, she had a clinching argument: her new partner's ex-wife was a professional woman with "ample funds" at her disposal.

Ample funds? How, precisely, is that different from "enough money"?

Usually, the reason for using this kind of language is transparent: a desire, on the part of the writer, to make something sound impressive. ("We received in excess of 10 applications for the job", for example, sounds so much better than "more than 10" or even just "11".)

But here, I think, the motive was probably quite different. "Ample funds" sounds coldly formal. "Enough money", in contrast, has an everyday ring to it that brings to mind - well, the opposite of having enough money. Kids going to school in shoes that don't fit. A woman sitting with her head in her hands, wondering how she's going to pay the electricity bill. That kind of thing.

I think that, quite unconsciously, she wrote "ample funds" to insulate herself from the pain she knew she was partly responsible for causing. I'm pretty sure it didn't work, though.


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