Why You Shouldn’t Ever Use Big Words

by Quek Zhao Feng | May 27, 2013 | 8782 views

or: Why the author advances the supposition advocating opposition of incessant repetitive inclusions of the verbose in the common colloquial vernacular.


Did you enjoy reading something like that? Even I had to read it through twice to make sure it meant what I thought it meant.

And even so I can’t really care. Sure, some would probably dissect that long tapeworm of a sentence to point out that:

“My dear fellow, in truth supposition refers to the uncertain belief of an idea, which means the sentence above is not consistent with approved grammar and vocabulary.”

Yes, these are the individuals I’m talking about.

People who care too much about how good their voice sounds, how nice their words echo in other’s ears, how superbly intelligent they seek to come across to other people, this article/write-up/pseudo-rant is a wake up call to you.

That sentence up was like a death sentence. It was butchered by wasteful adjectives and verbs that no one wants to listen to. This is increasingly evident among the intellectual student body. So excited are we by our ideas and eagerness to talk, it escapes us that when we finally deliver the package to our peers no one can even comprehend what we say.

Its one of the great tragedies nowadays, that the more intelligent we try to sound the less intelligent we come across. And this is not without good reason. 

1. Say what you need to say! (And not more.)

Ever heard this Grammy-winning song by John Mayer? It’s about having the courage to do what you need to do and ‘say what you need to say’ before the end arrives, so that you can pass on with no regrets. It’s about doing enough before it’s too late.

So many of us are guilty of this. We do not say enough. We talk weakly. Our sentences are frail. Not because we say too little, no. We say so much and mean so little that the strength of our words diminishes. It gets diluted. Diffused, like particles in so much empty air.

Everyone knows that one guy that just loves to brandish his intelligence. He keeps to himself until it’s absolutely necessary. Then when the time comes it’s also absolutely necessary that others know how smart he is. He probably views becoming a lawyer or a professional debater as his sole career prospect and sees each conversation as practice for the future. He argues for the sake of intellectual stimulation, but he is the only one stimulated. 

Allow me to coquettishly impress upon you the verbosity of my tongue.

The pen is mightier than the sword, but both are only effective when applied in the same way- directly. Words are only as strong as they are understood. Being too random and free with word choice destroys their strength. The great speeches of our time were anchored in simple slogans, because simple slogans were all they needed. This presents another simple rule:

2. Speak simply when you can.

Imagine if Martin Luther King had said:

“I possessed a fancy of outstanding conviction.”

Okay. How would this be better than “I had a dream?” Did the former involved higher language caliber? More thought? How does using more advanced words equate to higher intelligence, especially when one disregards the listeners?

His target audience, the tired and racially persecuted black Americans, was ignited by that short and simple phrase. King showed a lot more smarts using such a simple and relatable slogan, as opposed to a more verbose but detached one that no one would probably have understood. This brings us to simple rule number 3...

3. The occasion dictates the language used.

Sometimes intellectual speech is needed to properly describe things. But by using complicated terms, we are actually trying to make things easier to understand.

At least even something this long has a definite, specific use.

We need jargon to simplify ideas that are too long to be conveyed shortly. At heart, scientific and vocabulary jargon is a noble effort to summarize. The usage of acronyms too, signals our unconscious attempts to simplify things and concepts in speech. No one likes speech with lots of jargon.

Sometimes no words are even needed. In a battle, people throw the gauntlet or raise their blades to signal challenge. Words then were viewed as a sign of weakness. In verbal battles too, excess speaking is frowned upon, viewed as redundant, and a waste of time. Even body language and being animated during debates are more intimidating than just empty words.

Many people still have exaggerated responses for the occasion, especially those with low self-esteem. Yes, I know I’ll have a hard time proving this generalization but it is fair to deduce that people who constantly have something to prove really lack some self-confidence. There is a difference between talking intelligently and talking smartly. This is Rule number 4:

4. Be smart and stop being too intellectual.

This does sound conflicting, but it just means being sensitive to the dynamics of the conversation. Many people are extremely intelligent but they just can’t stop seeing the all the world world as a giant Who Wants to Be a Millionaire stage. Getting carried away with an obscure topic of your sole interest is the surest way to lose engagement.

Being smart = knowing when to say what at the right time = maturity and a better conversation.

Being too intellectual = letting the random urge to express your knowledge take precedence over the occasion = serious awkwardness.

Sometimes guys try to sound real intellectual and knowledgeable, and end up screwing up their first date because they dont know when to take the pedal off. They don’t realize the occasion doesn’t demand the hit points of Pikachu or the number of grand slams Rafael Nadal has. 

Because comparing yourself to him is a perfect first date strategy.

However, you can’t help but want the other to know you take them seriously, and that you value their presence with your thoughtful engagement! So how do you act smartly here? The key word is subtlety.

To be subtle is to be humble. It is to recognize that too much intellectual conversation always leads to confrontation. Sometimes it’s smarter in a friendly conversation to put on the brakes instead of raising the stakes.

Time to be sensitive and recognize the tradeoff. Is losing a friend’s goodwill worth winning an argument? Being subtle is also being patient. There will always be another time, another occasion to exhibit your knowledge.

Bottom line, coming across as someone intelligent at the right time, is a smart thing.

Coming across as an intellectual all the time is not a smart thing.

Summing up these few pointers:

We should always:

  1. Say only what you need to say
  2. Speak simply when you can
  3. Let the occasion dictate the language you use
  4. Be smart rather than intellectual.


Being bombastic will probably get you scorn. Being prudent will probably get you respect.

Nobody is impressed by sophisticated words. Most of the time, it comes across as pretentious and attention seeking. There is always, always strength in simplicity.

“If you can’t explain [the idea] simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

                                                                                                                   ~Albert Einstein

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