This guest post is from a very talented young writer that I’ve had the pleasure of communicating with. I look forward to more posts from Tessa as her time permits. Enjoy! ~ Judith
Being intelligent has no bounds, as there is no one way to define or determine whether or not someone is smart. But everyone “knows” that smart people use big words. Throwing around ostentatious terminology to show one’s luxuriant vocabulary is momentous, especially when attempting to authenticate and substantiate one’s distinguished level of proselytism.
Did you get all of that? It’s completely fine if you didn’t, because nobody speaks like that in the real world, let alone writes like that. Using “fancy” words is the best way to show that you have access to a dictionary or thesaurus. However, it in no way proves that you are smarter than anyone else, so you should never treat it that way.
Be Smart by Using Only One or Two “Smart” Words
Everyone wants to be smart, or at least they want to come across as being smart. Now, using heightened vocabulary isn’t always a bad thing, in fact it can set you apart from others in a professional setting. The key is not to go overboard.
For example, that previous sentence that reads like a bunch of aimless word vomit would be absolutely fine to use if there were only one or two of those “smart” words instead of eight. By only using a few carefully placed words for emphasis you can move your communication expertise up a level.
Back in 2005, Princeton conducted a study that involved the impact big words have on assumed intelligence. The experiment had several essays that all had the same information, yet they were all written differently, and varied from simple, everyday language to using as many big words as possible, and the end result had the paper with the simplest vocabulary graded the highest.
This was a very important “discovery” that revealed something scholars had been saying for quite some time…
If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. ~ Albert Einstein.
Educated conversation is mostly about content, so using everyday jargon is acceptable even on a professional level. As long as it fully and adequately explains the information to where it can be understandable in the most basic terms. This is not to say that big words should be thrown out completely, just used sparingly. Used too often they have the adverse effect of making the user look unintelligent, ignorant, or pretentious.
Vocabulary = Pretentious?
I want to take a look at vocabulary making one look pretentious, especially when it comes to something of high importance. Communications such as a job application cover letter, an email conversation with one’s supervisor, a business proposal, or the like.
It’s one thing to use large words when speaking, because tone changes everything, but when written there is a greater chance of a misunderstanding. Which is the last thing you would want to happen in any professional setting.
Using big words in an email to a superior, or similar situation can give the impression that you are being disrespectful or showy, which can cause a rift between you and the recipient. The same thing can happen if you use simple words too loosely, as slang or too-casual conversation can make your email look less like it was written by someone who cares about what they are trying to communicate, and more like you would rather be doing something else. Seeming lazy or disrespectful isn’t something you should ever want someone to assume about your professionalism.
The words we use to communicate with one another, especially in email/text/etc. format, are a window into our intentions. An email conversation has the potential to go off the rails if intentions are not taken into account, and can make or break a professional relationship. The more time spent trying to come off as “smart” instead of being yourself, the greater the chance of a misunderstanding happening.
Intelligence has its place in the world, but our vocabulary isn’t necessarily one of them, so use it wisely.