After the conclusion of the violin concerto, the public radio announcer back-announced the piece by Antonio Vivaldi. The announcer confessed that Vivaldi is one of his favorite composers. He said that Vivaldi’s effulgence was manifested in his numerous compositions for solo instruments.
That word, effulgence, stood out from all the other words in the announcer’s description. It’s a rarely used word these days. The antiquated term seemed “period appropriate” for a Baroque period writer. On the other hand, the obscurity of the word tripped a mental distraction in my mind that caused me to miss the rest of the announcer’s description of the piece of music. The use of effulgence obscured any brilliance that may have been present in the announcer’s patter.
A large vocabulary is a wonderful asset to cultivate. Using just the right term can enable effective communication. On the other hand, using antiquated words can either enhance communication or confuse the listener. In the case of effulgence, I wasn’t quite sure about the definition of the word because I have very rarely heard it used nor seen it used in contemporary literature. The definition of effulgence could be guessed at by analyzing the context in which it was used. However, playing guessing games can be misleading.
To satisfy my curiosity, I had to look it up in the dictionary. My collegiate dictionary defines effulgence as “the state or quality of having or giving off light”. It is derived from the Late Latin word “effulgentia”. So, now I have a new old word to add to my vocabulary. I also know to use it very sparingly. It will probably come to mind every time I hear any music written by Vivaldi.
As I mentally critiqued the announcer’s back-announcement I wondered why he chose the word, effulgence. Why not use a more easily understood word like radiance, splendor, brilliancy, or ingeniousness? Effulgence seems to be a word that would be more at home in a music history class at a university. In my opinion, the use of effulgence in a radio back-announcement made the word sound like jargon. Hearing it triggered the judgmental portion of my mind.
While I’m on the topic of effulgence, it might be helpful to think about it in a positive way by using it in a modern context. An author of self-help or lifestyle books might say that if a person has something she is very passionate about, that’s their effulgence. Effulgence, as a word, is more appropriate in literature because books and essays are conducive to contemplation and reflection.
Perhaps the word, effulgence is unclear because it doesn’t sound like what it means. When we say “effulgence”, we hear dull, diffuse sounds. The consonants in the word are soft and juicy. On the other hand if we sound out light, brilliance, radiant, bright, incandescent, we find consonants that are crisp and sharp. Sharp consonant sounds seem more suitable for the quality of giving off brilliant light. To my ear, effulgence implies cloudiness or being muddy due to the “ul” and “juh” sounds.
In writing today’s blog post I felt compelled to say something about effective communication. It was not meant as a criticism of the radio announcer himself. I felt the need to point out that clearness in word choice enhances effectiveness in communication. Words should help us understand one another. Obscure, obsolete words tend to confuse people. Ironically, when we are effective communicators we are more effulgent.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes minimalist film director, Robert Bresson. “The most ordinary word, when put into place, suddenly acquires brilliance. That is the brilliance with which your images must shine.”