Peccadillo – A Sin or a Good Deed?

Reading a personal statement recently, my eyebrows raised while reading the second sentence. The applicant used the word “peccadillo,” a word I hate to admit I didn’t know how to define. Encountering such an uncommon word, and one that was unfamiliar to me, led to the following thoughts:

Is this an instance of writing with a thesaurus? Using unnecessarily long, uncommon words is bad writing, and after I read that word I expected the rest of the essay to be peppered with similar words. I prepared to slog through the rest of the essay, happy that I had spent a few dollars on a reliable dictionary app.

Is this word the best word to use to convey the author’s meaning? In order for the author’s use of the word—or any word, for that matter—to be justified, it had to best convey the author’s idea. I wouldn’t be sure until I looked the word up myself and reread it in its context.

In short, using the word “peccadillo” was a risk: if that wasn’t the perfect word for the situation, I would have read the rest of the essay with heightened skepticism, expecting to find other instances of bad writing.

As I learned when I looked it up, though, a peccadillo is a small sin, and it perfectly conveyed what the applicant meant to convey. The applicant was a priest, and he was describing his experience taking confession from his congregants. Instead of turning me off to his writing, the applicant impressed me with his vocabulary and his spot-on use of a word I had to look up.

The rest of the essay was consistent with the beginning: clear, concise writing, appropriate use of uncommon words, and a compelling story. I’m sure that the admissions officers who read his essay will feel the same.