Big Words Make You Sound Smart, Don’t They?
Many people think that they sound smarter when they use big words. The truth of the matter is that smart communicators use words that (a) they understand and (b) their readers are likely to understand.
The purpose of writing is to communicate. Communication is the process by which meaning is created and exchanged. If the person who reads your writing doesn’t understand what you are trying to say, no communication occurs when he or she reads your writing.
In order to communicate effectively, you have to use language properly, and you have to use language that people are likely to understand.
Lately I have noticed many people misusing the word “detrimental” when what they really mean is “instrumental” or “important.” For example, I read a memo that someone wrote requesting permission to attend a meeting. The memo said, “It is detrimental that I go to the meeting next week.”
Ironically, the misuse of the word implies the exact opposite of what the person meant. Detrimental implies that some negative outcome would be associated with the person’s attendance at the meeting. What the writer meant was “important.”
A misused big word has the opposite effect of making you sound smart! A big word used correctly, but unnecessarily, has the effect of making you sound pedantic. If you have to go get a dictionary to see what “pedantic” means, I have made my point!