I’ll Choose Pithy over Pedantic Every Time

Look at three different ways

  1. Using fancy (high-falutin’) words to sound smart
  2. Using complex words to appear intelligent
  3. Using pretentious language to appear erudite

I’ve heard or read lot of chatter about Americans using simpler words or having a smaller vocabulary or something vs. British or Europeans. This brings to mind a ludicrous example, a history book I read in college by a British author where the author was trying so hard sound um, erudite that instead of using commonly understood terminology like widespread or dominant hierarchy to reference the hierarchical class system, he used the term monolithic dys-something, I can’t even find it in the thesaurus to ring a bell. But when I looked it up, it was essentially classical class hierarchy. Really dude. And he used this over and over. Kind of feels like when you are writing a paper and have over used a word so you use the thesaurus to find something fancier.

Anyway, this sort of point of view irritates me. Don’t misunderstand me, a good vocabulary is important. But if a person’s main concept of intelligence of vocabulary is the number of multi-syllabic words you can stuff if a sentence, perhaps intellectual appearance is more important to said person than accurate communication.

The word must be appropriate. That is the key. A fancy word used to express a simple thing is not clear communication, it is an attempt to be snobby.

Complex words/sentences structure SHOULD be used to express complex, nuanced thoughts. Simple, straight-forward language ought to be used to express the simple, straight-forward thoughts. Using long words to obscure meaning is abhorrent.

  • Oversimplified language=loss of shades of meaning, loss of depth
  • Over-complicated language= loss of meaning by obscuring and dishonesty, smoke and mirrors, false complexity, false depth

BOTH are a loss of expressiveness. Choose pithy (oh, me, I wish I had that skill) over pedantic or simplistic.

Next up, “like.”

4 comments

  1. I enjoy words, but I don’t like when people use them to make other people seem dumb.
    It’s nice to have a big vocabulary I guess you just have to be careful not to come across as pretentious.

    1. Yeah, its a balance, it should be down in a way that meaning isn’t obscured but you can pick up some idea from context. That is how I learn words. But I’m sure I sound pretentious sometimes and dumb others.

  2. I love odd words and honestly I wish I could use them more naturally. It’s annoying when someone is clearly using ‘fancy words’ just to sound important. It happens a lot whether it’s in books or just people in general… At the same time though, I probably am that person as much as I’m annoyed by them

    1. I love expressive words whether they are sort of colloquialisms (Mom recently used “tumpted” or something and then had to look it up to see if she made up a word) or actual “erudite” words. But I don’t like when people deliberately confuse or hide meaning with them to sound pretentious rather than accurate. I’m sure people think I’m pretentious though at times (I’ve had a comment when I used the word pretentious). It’s a tightrope walk.

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