Big Words Make You Sound Smart, Don’t They?

By Mary

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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!

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126 Responses to “Big Words Make You Sound Smart, Don’t They?”

  • Woj

    Fuck you Dilan. I did write a big response up for you, but the fucking cock sucking admins deleted it for some reason. Fuck you admins, you fucking nigger lovers. I’d type it up again, but you know what? You’re not worth it, you filthy nigger.

  • Georgina

    Going back to the topic. I am an Interagency Program Manager who is required to communicate with the cities and counties within Arizona everyday. Even with a master’s degree, most people communicate at a level that others understand. Prime examples are emergency management, homeland security, military, and law enforcement use terminology and acronyms which are universal throughout their field, however, when they need to communicate with the public, they must alter their frame of thinking and communicate in a way that the general public can understand the message. You need to be able to communicate, big words not common to the general population hinder effective communications.

    Just because one knows what big words mean, does not mean they should use them. They look great on paper and may make you look intelligent, but if the reader needs to look up a big word in every sentence, then the message you are trying to convey, will be lost. you ever wonder why newspapers avoid the use of big words? it’s because they want people to read the material, not throw it in the trash.

    Using big words in conversation is more complicated than in writing because the audience doesn’t carry around an instant dictionary. Really, how smart do you think big words make you sound, you won’t get paid any more money and in-fact, people will avoid working with you altogether if effective communication fails, think about it. Ever notice that the president of the United States and heads of government speak in terms that are digestible? Watch political debates or televised government meetings, big words are few, far and in between.

    Right now, there is a fellow student in my class who uses a big word in almost every sentence. I avoid responding to his posted forums. He was writing a letter to FEMA. If I was FEMA, I would have pushed his letter to the side because he failed to communicate in a way that grasp my attention to the subject at hand. Instead, I would have to spend the next 20 minutes looking up 23 words pulled out of a three paragraph letter. Which I just did before posting this comment, and I’m far from being a dummy. I write state policies and procedures for a living.


  • Woj

    Fucking Georgina, shut the fuck up. You think anyone in their right mind will want to read that fucking useless wall of text you posted??? Fuck you whore bitch.

  • Dilan

    Like your post Georgina, magnificent comment…

  • Woj

    Fuck off Dilan, you’re not allowed you speak…you fucking dumbass nigger piece of trash!!

  • Dilan

    “you’re not allowed you speak….” whats the meaning of that? I thought you are bookish and am the dumb one… What type of error is that…? Obnoxious Woj error…?

  • Woj

    Dilan, my fucking retarded friend…that is called a typo. (It happens to the best of us.) And the only error here, Dilan, is your existence. You’re a fucking worthless waste of organic flesh. Dumbass nigger trash.

  • Woj

    I wish they’d ban monkeys like Dilan from using the internet.

  • Craig

    I agree that a good vocabulary is necessary, and I think everyone should be well rounded and affluent in their own language. But the laughable thing I see when I read certain things, such as comments on a science blog etc., is that people tend to use words that they probably had to look up in a dictionary while writing it, just to try to sound intelligent. I usually see right through it and see that the writer is over-compensating for a lack of a good vocabulary, which doesn’t necessarily mean you are any less intelligent, I regress. I think you should just write about what you want, and how you want, and try to learn how to write better by taking a class or (stay with me here) actually going to college and getting your full potential.
    Anyway, sorry for the rant, I guess it’s just a pet peeve of mine to see people trying too hard and not being themselves.

    Also, Dilan, you need to grow up; you’re acting like a brat.

  • Dilan

    Likewise Craig and thanks…

  • Woj

    Dilan is a fucking faggot ass nigger bitch. Hey Dilan, you are a fucking shit-slinging monkey. It’s amazing you can even type, you dumbass ape.

  • Dilan


  • Woj

    Fuck you nigger.

  • Woj

    Dilan, have you taken leave of your senses? Because you sound like nigger bats in the belfery, you are undoubtedly getting on my last nerve… Likewise, better flatter a stupid nigger than fight him, this page is not an institution of your nigger-speak, anyway, i guess a nigger cannot change its skin color, you are no great shakes… Lets leave this page for a civilized companion, let not your stupid nigger ass deter those who wish to comment. And I apologize to everyone for Dilan the nigger. Please forgive that monkey for his errors, may the good Lord bless you in as much as you take a bookish view of life.. Meanwhile, try and forgive yourself, Dilan.… (RATED NO REPLY).

  • That uni student

    I agree vocabulary is fun and needed but going too far as to make the sentences not make sense at all is going too far. Such words as “detrimental” do teach the audience to use such words and educates people. But when reading something the words have to fit in otherwise it has the opposite effect

  • Woj

    Shut the fuck up faggot.

  • JEH

    One important point, especially when the form of communication applies to a larger audience, that I haven’t seen mentioned:

    Sometimes the speaker or writer intends to communicate to only a subset of those listening. As a stark example, a dentist may tell his staff to go get some articaine. He has effectively communicated his need to the desired target without the patient freaking out by his use of the word “shot” or “injection.”

    Different, yet ostensibly synonymous, words also have different connotations and emotion reactions. The use of each the one is often intentional. To stick with the above example, dentists are trained to use the word discomfort instead of pain. This diction is not so they may sound smarter, but rather to prevent an increase in patient anxiety. “Discomfort” generates much less emotional reaction or fear and nearly all patients will still understand the message.

    Last, sometimes the speaker/writer intentionally only wants to help the portion of his audience that is willing to put some effort forth. Hence, they may embed some “5 dollar words” as a price of admission for the recipient to benefit from the communication. Similarly, our dentist friend may use a word during an interview of a prospective employee such that the applicants response will either demonstrate their current dental knowledge level and/or their willingness to learn by asking for clarification if the do not know the word.

    In conclusion, a sesquipedalian’s intentions may be good/bad or intentional/unintended. One can entertain themselves with trying to make those assessments when they encounter a perceived superfluous word. However, the point could be made that there is more to learn about yourself by assessing your willingness to participate in the conversation by asking for clarification or by investing the time and effort to look up the word. Ultimately, you either perceive value in what the person is trying to communicate or you do not, and that says a lot about both parties involved.

  • Woj

    JEH, fuck you, you stupid fucking bitch. Let this fucking piece of shit article die already you stupid fucker.

  • Outcast

    I find it extremely unfortunate that, as far as I have been able to ascertain, there exists no online community or forum for individuals with advanced/large vocabularies. It would prove a wonderful place to exchange dialogue and colloquy with people of outstanding to superlative vocabulary level, and to usufruct our panoply of lexicon without unintentionally abashing or derogating those with average vocabulary size. It could be an oasis to disemcumber ourselves from societal prepossessions and conventions which discourage sequipedalianism or usage of low-frequency terms. Also, it could be a hot-spot to practice high-end vocabulary and its germane/apropos application by reading and composing in such. We would learn new words from others, and be admonished when not utilizing a specific term correctly.


  • bee

    I like your article and I couldn’t agree more. I just read an answer to a question on a forum that stated, “It has been shown that these students matriculate well in college.” Meaning that the student is successful in college. Matriculate means the act of enrolling only. So everyone matriculates well! lol.

  • Bort

    Labeling one as pedantic due to the breadth of their vocabulary? I’d characterize that as less a valid criticism and more an ad hominem. Isn’t it some what hypocritical to demean someone for being learned? Which is what a strong personal lexicon would be demonstrative of?

  • Woj

    Outcast, well done…you have proved to us that you are capable of using

    Bee, you’re an annoying bitch.

    Bort, you’re a faggot ass.

  • Woj


  • Woj


  • Woj

    You’re all a bunch of faggot-fuck-tards.

  • Blake de Raat

    When you say to not use big words, people should not go around using simple vocabulary that makes you look babyish or stupid.

    It really means that you should not use a big word for the sake of it – use the word that fits the context.

    And yes, perhaps a long word may actually fit the context (in which case you would use); however, this word has been chosen for a purpose, to deliver the most precise meaning possible.

    Therefore, to communicate effectively, you need to make a discerning selection of words (i.e. well-chosen vocabulary) to communicate your point.

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