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Washington Post (June 27) picked up Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s comment digging in Sen. Wendy Davis for her filibustering the abortion bill in his speech delivered at a convention of the National Right to Life organization in the article titled, “Rick Perry: Wendy Davis should know better,” and Davis’ counterblow.

Perry said in his speech;

“She’s the daughter of as single woman; she was a teenage mother herself. She managed to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School. -- It’s just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential, --”

Davis responded to Perry’s statement “is without dignity and tarnishes the high office he holds. They are small words that reflect a dark and negative point of view.” - http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/06/27/rick-perry-wendy-davis-should-know-better/

I’m drawn to the word, “small word.” It doesn’t appear in none of Cambridge, Oxford, and Merriam Webster English Dictionary.

Google Ngram shows incidence and currency of “small words” since 1980 up to date at an average 0.000002 to 0.000004 emergence level.

I used to be told by my English teacher at college 60 years ago(!) to use as much a plain and short word as possible and refrain from using a “big word” when speaking and writing in English, so I understood "big words" means lengthy and pedantry words like legal terms.

However, I don’t understand what “small words” mean. It doesn’t seem to be an antonym of ‘big words.’

Does it mean a short, terse, but poignant expression? Is it a common word, though I can’t find it in any of leading English dictionaries?

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2 Answers

up vote 19 down vote accepted

You are right to say it isn't an antonym of big words. The meaning used here is number 11 at the reference:

11. characterized by or indicative of littleness of mind or character; mean-spirited; petty: a small, miserly man.

with a possible additional implication of the twelfth meaning:

12. of little strength or force: a small effort.

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Is ‘small word(s)’ a popular word among Anglophones to mean a mean-spirited and base word and notion? Can I use it in daily conversation? Can Sergio Garcia’s reference on Tiger Woods, -‘We’ll have him ‘round every night. We will serve fried chicken,’- be categorized into ‘small words or simply a gaffe’? –  Yoichi Oishi Jun 28 '13 at 18:35
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@YoichiOishi, I don't think it is particularly popular, but it would probably be understood. I think (absent any evidence to the contrary) that Sergio Garcia meant that meant that he would do his best to make Tiger Woods feel at home, and his intention was misunderstood by persons possibly not altogether well-disposed. –  Brian Hooper Jun 28 '13 at 20:39
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A "Big Word" is a long (and probable not that well known) word which is why (depending on audience) you may want to avoid. "Now children lets be magnanimous to each other!"

"Big Words" is slang and is reference to a whole speech or statement someone makes which may be hard to achieve and would be very impressive.

"Small Words" is the opposite in that the statement is easily achieved and is not a show of commitment.

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