Big Words Make You Look Dumb?

from the Consequences-of-Erudite-Vernacular-Utilized-Irrespective-of-Necessity dept

When I was in junior high school, I had a teacher who tried to encourage students to expand their vocabulary. What she did was encourage students to try out “new words” in any papers they wrote for the class. However, because students aren’t always comfortable with those words, we were told to write (new word) after the new word — parenthetically pointing out that we knew that word might be awkward or flat out wrong. Ever since then, however, I tend to notice when writers use a “big” word where a small one would do and mentally add the (new word) marking to it. According to a new study, I may not be the only one. People notice when writers use large words where small ones will do — and it doesn’t make them think very highly of the writer. In fact, all those attempts to look smart tend to backfire and make people think you’re even dumber. It’s probably a case where the general awkwardness of the larger words make people feel that the writer is trying too hard. Of course, Clive Thompson (who we link to for this story) has another explanation. He feels that the test, which was done by simply swapping out actual simple words with thesaurus-picked complex ones, modified the original meaning just enough that it didn’t feel right — making people think the writer was less intelligent when, perhaps, a natural writer could use larger words effectively in writing the entire sentence. Perhaps it really depends on the context. In certain types of writing, short words just make more sense than others.

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Comments on “Big Words Make You Look Dumb?”

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JPerks says:

I agree that writing some thesaurus picked word may be a bad idea when a small word would do, but sometimes (New Words) seem to illustrate the point so much better.

For example, I used the word “Antithesis” the other day in the correct context and boy did my coworkers give me all kinds of crap for it.

I personally enjoy when writers use these words as I can add some new flavor to my vocabulary on occasion.

Of course stringing together a paragraph with a bunch of thesaurus picked words will sound dumb, but these (new words) expand vocabularies and make reading more enjoyable.

awkm says:

JPerks is right on the dot here and also brings up some unusual things about language nowadays.

A lot of the time, in writing, especially in the collegiate level, people tend to use overly complicated words where a perfectly simple one would have sufficed. Personally, I also use these words but only when the definition catches exactly what I want to express. However, simplicity is always better than complication.

The weird thing is… some people may thing you’re tryign to be smart. Even though JPerks may have used antithesis correctly, people might think that JPerks was tryign to be smart and coming off as a pretentious prick.

It’s a pretty fine line here… it takes practice to employ decent language to writing or speech. Usually people are more lenient with language over conversation though.

Wonko (user link) says:

Re: Re:

You mean like the use of the word “suffice” or perhaps “collegiate”?

The problem with above mentioned frame-of-mind is that it has the unfortunate tendency to dumb down general use of language. Worse this social inclination has the uncanny effect of masking a far more insidious language virus – that of the normalized made-up word.

Consider for a moment the use of the word “irregardless” which technically means “not-not-indifferent to.” This word has crept into general usage because its somewhere between a $10 word that might accurately express indifference to consequence (but which is considered too complex for average use) and a 2 cent simplified phrase or two that might express the same sentiment. It is a meaningless word sure to rankle anyone who understands even a bit of logic, yet its primary user base will be the first to express contempt for anyone “attempting to appear smarter” by way of concise and or accurate word usage.

This opinion, at its heart, is one that rejects precise expression of cogent, rational thought.

fooz says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:Imprper use of "nauseous"

See page 543, Modern American Usage:

“nauseous (inducing nausea) for nauseated (experiencing nausea) is becoming so common that to call it an error is to exaggerate. Even so, careful writers follow the traditional distinction in formal writing: what is nauseus makes one feel nauseated.”

This is exactly what this conversation is about, the proper use of words. If we are going to use more complex words, then we ought to take the time to figure out what they mean and use them in the proper content.

Darrin Brunner (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Except from the above URL regarding “nauseous” & “nauseated”:

“It can only be annoying (nauseating, even) for somebody who has painfully learned a distinction between words to find that usage has changed and their knowledge is out of date. Think of it as language evolution in action.”

I gave up when I discovered that dictionaries are now, almost exclusively, “descriptive” rather than “prescriptive”. So, the big books only seek to describe how the language is used rather than how it should be used. The final straw? The (non)word “ain’t” appears in most modern dictionaries–it seems it ain’t true that “ain’t” ain’t a word.

Chris H says:

Once in a while I’ll throw a word out you don’t hear very often in everyday speech. I got poked fun of by a friend when I used the word naysayer. They knew what it meant but just hadn’t heard anyone use it.

I think the key to “appearing” intelligent in your writing is to tailor it to your audience. If you’re speaking to a group of young teenagers it’s probably best to leave out words longer than eight letters. On the other hand, if you’re speaking to a group of Ivy-League professors I’m sure the word antithesis could fit nicely.

Anonymous Firefox Fan says:

Firefox vocabulary solution

In its default configuration, Firefox helps you to understand any genuine “big word” or new (to you) word you come across:

1) Type Ctrl – T [open a spare tab]
2) Type “dict ” [where is replaced by the new word
3) Hit

Voila! The page for the word is displayed.
Congratulations! Your vocabulary is enriched!

(Now if only there was a solution for the grammar!!!)

Anonymous Firefox Fan says:

Firefox vocabulary solution - psuedo tags fixed

In its default configuration, Firefox helps you to understand any genuine “big word” or new (to you) word you come across:

  1. Type Ctrl – T [open a spare tab]
  2. Type “dict new word” [where new word is replaced by the new word]
  3. Hit Enter

Voila! The page for the word is displayed.
Congratulations! Your vocabulary is enriched!

(Now if only there was a solution for the grammar!!!)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Firefox vocabulary solution - psuedo tags fixe

“Type Ctrl – T [open a spare tab]

Type “dict new word” [where new word is replaced by the new word]

Hit Enter”

Sounds like a lot of work. In Opera, highlight word, and click on “Dictionary” from the context menu. Voila. No typing or manual new tabs necessary.

Zeroth404 says:

Its true. No matter how you use them, if they aren’t neccessary, you look like a moron.

I work with a guy that refuses to use common terms for everything, he’d rather make a sentence as complex as possible. instead of saying “could oyu burn this to a cd for me” he says “could you burn these onto a digitial multimedia form for me?” and sounds like a complete idiot.

I also had a friend once that, when in a debate about one thing or another, would try to win merely by using big words and confusing her opponent.

JSalas says:

Re: Re:

In your case, I agree; people who call a CD “digital multimedia” or whatever it was need a heaping helping of shut the hell up. They are merely modern-day sophists.

I must beg to differ, however, when it comes to using “bigger” words overall. I don’t care whether someone thinks I’m being presumptuous or not. If I feel like saying “fisticuffs” instead of “fight,” then I’m saying “fisticuffs.” If people have not clairvoyance enough to determine that I’m being jocular, then I want nothing to do with them.

Celes says:

Looking dumber

Although I agree that there are places where larger words seem awkward, it is most likely because the word is being used improperly or doesn’t have the same definition and connotations as the smaller word that could be used. It’s not because big words on the whole are awkward.

I must admit, however, that I’ve never found suitable context for “antidisestablishmentarianism”. Perhaps some big words should be restricted to spelling bees and trivia games.

LiLWiP says:

Re: Looking dumber

You don’t think that this sentence flows nicely???:

“I thoroughly enjoyed the book ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ if for nothing insomuch its floccinaucinihilipilification of the ideology of antidisestablishmentarianism”

It was the last sentence in an essay my best friend in high school wrote. The teacher gave him an ‘A’ because she didn’t understand the closing sentence…

annodeus says:

Using big words

Sometimes I enjoy using the thesaurus to replace words that seem overused or “boring”.

Yet, I wonder…is your writing really effective writing if you are constantly making your reader go to the dictionary to look up words?

I say know your targeted audience well enough to know when to use big words and when not to.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Audience

Yes, when I write papers and articles, I write to only one audience: The highly educated adult that understands ENGLISH. Screw you if you do not understand the BIG words. Maybe if you payed attention in school, those words would mean something to you.

It’s a good thing that ghetto English is taught in school now. Now you can sound as retarded as you dress and act. I swear that if my child ever comes home and starts that kind of crap, I will exercise the only abortion law that means anything: Abortion is legal till the age of 30. This is why I refuse to send my child to school here in GA. The board of education does not have a standard that allows the students to go beyond basics. They purposely leave the children in the dark so they cannot possibly question their lack of intelligence.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sounds like someone trying to rationalize and make themselves feel better about their lack of understanding of English.

Yes – when someone goes out of the way to use ‘big words’ it can sound corny – especially when they aren’t exactly correct on the definition.

As long as they are used in the proper place and in the proper context, I think they can significantly add to the phraseology of the composition.


*hint* go to and just look them up – try to remember them and you’ll actually know what the ‘big words’ mean…

GDog says:

Re: Spell Check


“I do not think that means what you think it means.”

“Plethora” is funny to me because El Juapo used it in “The Three Amigos.” I used it in a high school critique paper, and my english teacher said it really shouldn’t be used because it’s “trite.” Apparently, he had never heard El Juapo say it, but it still tickled me.

LiLWiP says:

Re: Re:

You are sick of people bitching about it?

Well we are tired of spending our hard earned cash in tax dollars to send kids to school so that they can speak ebonics, not learn to spell simple common everday words, and generally fuck up the english language. It takes 30 seconds to glance over a short post to verify that “the” is not spelled “teh” and “trying” is not spelled “tryign”. Come on! These are EASY WORDS. Even Microsoft spell check doesn’t miss them.

Gabriel Tane (profile) says:

Re: The Spell Checking Daemon

“by Zeroth404 on Apr 20th, 2006 @ 6:23am

‘For the love of, would you people learn to spell check your posts?’

No. Get over it. I’m sick of hearing people bitch about this. It’s been going for as long as the internet has been wired into the homes of AOL subscribers. The best you can do is STOP BITCHING”

No, the best thing we can do is not give up the fight. I’m not going to just roll over and accept the retardation of our society just because someone is tired of hearing people fight against it.

Sorry man, not going to happen.

Especially since the retardation is coming from laziness. I know most forums don’t have a spell-checker built in. But guess what… word processors do. And the magic power of Copy & Paste means that I don’t have to type something twice just to have it in a word processor and in a forum. Either type it in the WP first, spell check, then paste to forum; or, if you’re feeling adventurous, type it here, copy it to the word processor, spell check it, then paste it here again.

Stop being lazy.

–This message brought to you by the magic of F7 and [CTRL+C] plus [CTRL+V]–

Darren says:

Re: Re: The Spell Checking Daemon

Your jihad against misspellings, which apparently extends to postings in the comment section for blog sites, is farcical.

The fact that people don’t take the time to spell-check every little piece of communication they put out for consumption does not give any credence to your portrayal of the ‘retardation of society’.

People may indeed be getting dumber by the year, although I doubt it, but the fact remains that all forms of communciation have different standards (and always have) when it comes to appropriate levels of correctness, whether it be punctuation, grammar, capitalization, abbreviations, and yes, spelling. An article in a medical journal should be more formal than a novel, which should be more formal than an article in an entertainment magazine, which should be more formal than a business correspondence, which should be more formal than a love letter, etc. etc. And the fact remains that certain technological developments, most notably email, IMs and yes, blogs, have added more layers to this phenomenon by typically placing greater importance on the speed of communication over grammatical precision.

Frankly, since this is a blog for a reasonably intelligent and generally thoughtful audience, I do think that a little care should be taken when posting a comment, but that’s primarily a self-interested stance since I just don’t want to come across as an idiot. However, I am an anonymous coward, so who the fuck cares, really, and I’m certainly not going to get my panties in a bunch if someone fills a post with misspellings because they’re in a hurry?

Gabriel Tane (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The Spell Checking Daemon

“Your jihad against misspellings, which apparently extends to postings in the comment section for blog sites, is farcical. ”

– Darren

A prime example of overly-verbose. The Jihad comment, while inaccurate, was a nice touch though. It adds a new dimension to your impression of my ‘struggle against misspelling’.

The whole first sentence, when I read it, gave me the image of Mr. Howell from Gilligan’s Island. Just snooty and snobbish. I’m sure you were making a point with the tone, so if that was your intention, congratulations.

As to the rest of your post, I’m not going to continue beating this dead horse. Even if I do enjoy the satisfying ‘thunk’. So this is it all I have to say on it:

Yes, speed is commonly favored over spelling and grammar… but that does not make it OK. You can say ‘it’s the way of the times’, but I refuse to accept it as ‘the way it is’ just because others are lazy. I have two choices: go along with something with which I disagree, or fight against it.

Just because others have accepted something is not sufficient reason for me to accept it.

Jake (user link) says:


It is a strange tension in communicating. We write to communicate meaning therefore if the audience dsoesnt know the “big” word it doesnt communicate, yet we have a huge lexicon in order to capture the shades of meaning we want to communicate. Is this a dumbing down issue? Do we pick a basic word with a general meaning to keep from risking usin an unknown word which then has no meaning to the reader even if, had it been known, would have communicating a more exact meaning?

Will says:

Personally, I like variety in my reading and writing. I feel that the rarity of a word should be in direct proportion to its likelihood of its appearance in a piece. “Penultimate”, for example, should not be used more than once per (say) 3 pages. These words stand out and, for me, are distracting when used too many times. Conversely, smaller words or simpler phrases can make both written and spoken language more difficult and bulkier than necessary. Often times they are inappropriate, given the context.

zhanate says:

big words

I’m one of those editors who often replaces big words with small ones. There are two main reasons it happens. One is the appropriate-for-the-audience thing that’s been mentioned. The other is that a writer will rely on a thesaurus or dictionary entry for his or her use of the word and not have any actual familiarity with the word and its usage. The frequent result is that the word really isn’t appropriately used in the context in which the writer has used it. If marking “(new word)” next to a word one isn’t familiar with were standard practice, then maybe we could do such things. But as it is, a writer simply shouldn’t use a word for publication unless he or she is clear on both the definition and connotations of the word as it’s generally used.

Gabriel Tane (profile) says:

Just look at Penny Arcade

It’s a wonderful case-in-point

First, let me say I love Penny Arcade’s work.

Now… anyone here who reads the news posts on PA would have notice awhile ago that it seemed Tycho got a word-a-day calendar… and used every single one of those bastards. He uses far, far too many “big words” and comes off looking like a tool.

I love linguistics… hell, I consider myself to be a cunning linguist (hehehe), but I don’t want to have to have a damned thesaurus just to read a news post; especially when it’s geared for younger audiences.

I know PA has an older fan-base too (like me), but its way over the top with the big words. And I’m not advocating the dumbing-down of communications. But one extreme is as bad as the other.

Tycho, you look like an idiot. Sorry man.

Oh, SKippyboy, the quote is


“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Don’t want to sound like a hardass or something, but I love that movie. 😉

RedBeard says:


It seems that it depends on the teacher. I had some that want you to use a more elaborate word. It drives me buggy having to read a book and have a dictionary to see what the author meant.

As one of my teachers put it, “Why use a $3 word when a 50 cent one would do?”

Jessie Jackson is a great example of one who uses words that larger than needed. If any of you remember “In Living Color” when they spoofed his speech in trying to explain a statement, “Let me proctolagize myself.”

Wolff000 says:

Big Words Are Fun!

If a writer wants to use “big words” to show off their erudition I see nothing wrong with it. If you are a skilled enough writer you can use whatever you like and it won’t make you feel dumb. I have the opposite feeling when I see a “big word” since most people are too stupid to use them. Of course the word must be applied correctly or the writer does look dumb. As for the “big word” I used in the beginning, it is part of my vocabulary I try to learn a new “big word” every day and use it as often as possible. Besides why does a wrtier care what the reader thinks as long as he is reading the book the writer’s job is already done.

Orwellian says:


If a large vocabulary is for idiots, then the Webster’s dictionary should be considered illegal.

Works of literature that use complex language should be reformatted in the new “more intelligent” reduced-language -style.

The use of a large vocabulary will be evidence of mental retardation.

In an effort to fix the old, retarded, larger vocabulary system….all previous works of literature, history, and such will be rewritten in this simplistic style, deleting useless details.

Big Brother says thanks to all the communication students who don’t take a day out of their lives to read 1984.

People should have more means to express, digest, and communicate other than the conversational/magazine article/internet blog length of expression/thought.

I know, I used some big words.

“Suck on it.” Just seemed to lack detail.

Gabriel Tane (profile) says:

Re: Double-plus-good

I think some people are drawing the wrong conclusions in regards to some of the intended points made herein.

Orwellian (good name, by the way), what most of us are trying to illustrate is that putting unnecessary words into a sentence, for the sole purpose of ‘sounding smarter’ or ‘sounding more sophisticated’, is a bad thing. It is counterproductive and confusing (intentionally so, sometimes).

I am not advocating the dumbing-down or retardation of our society by making all media use smaller words. I am advocating the proper use of larger words. Using a larger word to make a more colorful point is great. Using larger words for circumlocution is bad.

Bill says:

Where do we go from here?

Where do we draw the line between using a “common” word and a so called “new” word in colloquial conversation? Should we try and dumb ourselves down to facilitate individuals who possess limited vocabularies? Pretty soon we’ll be speaking in code, like “haxor” speak, just to make it easier on the people who refuse to learn!
I believe that everyone should try to improve their understanding of their language by experimenting with words that aren’t commonly used… in the proper context of course. Please, for the benefit of the English language, read the dictionary, learn some new words, and try to use these newfound words correctly! Do you really want to sound as dumb as everybody else? Where has individuality gone?
Maybe instead of constructing phrases we should shorten our thoughts into a series of numbers that would represent predetermined speech. Why the hell not? It’ll be just like ordering a #4 at McDonalds!!! That’s an interesting thought, how many of you have already been programmed to know exactly what a McDonalds #4 is? Or perhaps we should just watch commercials on the telly and pick up on catch phrases; at least everybody would know exactly what everybody else is talking about. Remember that whole “wazzzzzup” thing? The corporate programming has already started. Please, PLEASE for the sake of your unborn children… read a friggin’ book, learn a new word, and teach the less fortunate.
I hate to bring up George Orwell, but this sounds a lot like “newspeak” to me. And to slightly divert from the subject at hand, I’d also like to bring up how the use of technology has caused penmanship to entropy over the years. Now, seeing how popular instant messages, text messages, and social networking sites have become we don’t even need to open our mouths or leave our homes to meet and communicate with people! Call me old fashioned, but I like to look someone in the eye when I communicate.
You know what, I have to stop… I’m becoming vexed, oops I mean incensed, you know daft… what I’m trying to say is that I’m pissed!

Gabriel Tane (profile) says:

Re: Where do we go from here?

A good example of improper use of ‘larger’ or ‘less common’ words:

And to slightly divert from the subject at hand, I’d also like to bring up how the use of technology has caused penmanship to entropy over the years.


Entropy is a noun (see here). I believe the word you were intending is atrophy.

I don’t like being an anal-retentive correction-monger, but that was a prime example of incorrectly using a less-than-common word in an ‘everyday conversation’.

Bill says:

Re: Re: Where do we go from here?

Nope, I’m pretty sure I used it correctly!

n. pl. en·tro·pies

1. Symbol S For a closed thermodynamic system, a quantitative measure of the amount of thermal energy not available to do work.
2. A measure of the disorder or randomness in a closed system.
3. A measure of the loss of information in a transmitted message.
4. The tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to evolve toward a state of inert uniformity.
5. Inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society.

at·o·py (t-p)

A hereditary disorder marked by the tendency to develop immediate allergic reactions to substances such as pollen, food, dander, and insect venoms and manifested by hay fever, asthma, or similar allergic conditions. Also called atopic allergy.

parched says:

Re: Where do we go from here?

Should we try and dumb ourselves down to facilitate individuals who possess limited vocabularies? Pretty soon we’ll be speaking in code, like “haxor” speak, just to make it easier on the people who refuse to learn!

I believe that everyone should try to improve their understanding of their language by experimenting with words that aren’t commonly used… in the proper context of course.

I viddied what you you wrote. Real horror show for some rassoodock uplifting.

Ray says:

Big Words = Pompous Ass

To me, the strategic placement of common words offers greater success to the writer or speaker than does the random placement of uncommon or big words.

I don’t know a user of uncommon words who is not a pompous ass. These self-important jerks know full well they are causing confusion. And how is that impressive? Most importantly, how is it effective?

JPerks says:

Ray, of course the RANDOM placement of uncommon words makes people look stupid.

If I were to ostentatious RANDOMLY place an uncommon word, as I just have, it makes me look stupid.

When I am talking to an educated group of individuals, saying “That house sure does have some ostentatious woodcarvings in it.” sounds about right.

Sure I could have said “elaborate” or “intricate”, but if I am sure my audience knows what I am saying then how do I sound like a “Pompous Ass”?

Ballenger says:


from Webster’s


1 : causing nausea or disgust : NAUSEATING

2 : affected with nausea or disgust

– nau·seous·ly adverb

– nau·seous·ness noun

usage Those who insist that nauseous can properly be used only in sense 1 and that in sense 2 it is an error for nauseated are mistaken. Current evidence shows these facts: nauseous is most frequently used to mean physically affected with nausea, usually after a linking verb such as feel or become; figurative use is quite a bit less frequent. Use of nauseous in sense 1 is much more often figurative than literal, and this use appears to be losing ground to nauseating. Nauseated is used more widely than nauseous in sense 2.”

Øystein Alsaker says:

This is interesting. Using many words makes you sound pretentious. There, I used a big word. Wow. Now I’m dumb. This article makes little sense, since it seems to cover at least two different problems/situations.

Some people may feel stigmatised by your choice of words, since you’re making them feel inferior, therefore making you sound “better than them”.

There is, of course, another possibility, you could be cramming in useless words hoping to sound smarter in which case, you sound like a moron. The message is, use your brain and make sure the message reaches the receiver. If you’re talking to some academics, use a different style than if you’re talking to professionals.

snoo says:

This whole conversation is making me feel nauseated.

Being a teenager is no excuse for not knowing what “naysayer” or “antithesis” means…take a break from the video games and read a book once in a while.

When I was your age, I would have surelly been mocked for not knowing such simple vocabulary. What exactly are we teaching kids in school these days, anyway?

Parsing says:


I find it amusing how self-conscious people are about vocabulary. The number of posts this subject provoked is the evidence offered for that observation. In writing, it is important to consider audience and good form, but not so much that the writer cannot inject some personality into what they are saying, there should be limits to the tyranny of doing things “correctly”. On the other hand, in conversation, use the word that comes to mind and if someone cannot follow, they are either lazy, ignorant, jealous or disabled. Be kind to the disabled, inform the ignorant, compell the lazy and openly jeer mock and abuse those who deride you for using the vocabulary you possess, they are simply responding like a schoolyard bully when confronted with someone else’s refinements. There is little excuse for abusing people for knoweing what they are talking about. On the rare occassion where someone is trying to put on airs, interrogating them on the finer points of their utterances will usually quell their presumption to impress through pretense. Just my opinions on the matter.

Reader says:

Big Words - phewy on them

I believe an intelligent and secure person can take a complex subject and turn it into words the least educated person can understand. Those that aren’t truly intelligent have to memorize vocabulary lists to try to make themselves seem superior to their audience. It depends a bit on your audience. If you are talking to a bunch of medical doctors and “dumb down” the technical talk, you’d be laughed at, but to talk to average people using huge words for no reason is just silly!

Orwellian says:

Audience awareness isn't the only priority, by far

I think tailoring one’s language with the priority being simplicity to the audience (be them MENSA or morons), guided by the fear of being labeled ‘dumb’ by using a challenging vocabulary, is just the sort of ‘contempt for the intelligentsia’ crap (disguised as ‘stupid chic’) that makes totalitarian societies.

A few people have tried to explain the difference between what the article says:”big words are stupid”

and the truth: “big words, used out of context, are stupid”.

The story, especially the headline, fails to make this distinction. It suggests some people are retarded enough to believe a thesaurus is a book of redundant words, as opposed to similar ones. Hopefully, no one had to pay someone to state the obvious.

If I had to consider how stupid everyone else around me was (or how dumb I am) every time I opened my mouth, why say anything?

Here’s what I think:

1)English teacher with spare time makes stupid program (with thesaurus data file that he lifted from someone else, who’s gonna write their own thesaurus?) to state obvious point.

2)fairly useless geek site gets story and publishes 2 paragraphs on it.

3)”tech” overview site (like techdirt) cites the geek site and says basically the same 2 paragraphs with a link

4)we argue like sea monkeys about a subject that deserves pages of discourse, maybe deserving a few big words…nothing happens…everyone is right. No real opinions are made. Everyone thinks they’re a friggin’ genius and we all go to sleep feeling like we’re Albert Einstein’s/Gertrude Stein’s lost love-child: “Dumbass Einstein-Stein”.

Elzeard (user link) says:

Stilted Criteria

Why has no one said anything against the Way that study was conducted? It was set up to Prove the point it was supposed to be “investigating”.

Quoting: “Daniel Oppenheimer . . . took a handful of writing samples and used a thesaurus to replace the simple words with needlessly flowery ones

“He created a “highly complex” version of each original text by replacing each noun, verb and adjective in it with the longest synomym.”

So he intentionally Made it Look like a pretentious poser was writing. What if he used another sample of text where the Big Word was used properly, perhaps by a respected professionsl writer?

Let’s not take the wrong lesson here, which most previous posters seem to be focussed on.

He did not show that Big Words make you look stupid. He showed that OVERUSE does that, just as it ruins almost everything.

EW says:

Nauseous/Nauseated and Ostentatious/???

This has been a fascinating thread. A few people have danced around two points I think are worth making.

First, the nauseous vs. nauseated debate highlights the fact that we speak and write a living language. Usage changes with time. What is considered correct changes, too, albeit at a slower rate. And what is considered correct is heavily affected by usage and effective conveyance of meaning. The editors of style manuals and dictionaries have recognized the shift in usage regarding nauseous/nauseated. So the occasional purist waving his/her arrogant flag demanding that we all must feel nauseated (when we’d rather feel nauseous) has very little real ammunition anymore.

Second, back to the original post, sometimes using larger words is simply more efficient speech. For instance, one poster made the following point using the word “ostentatious”:

“When I am talking to an educated group of individuals, saying “That house sure does have some ostentatious woodcarvings in it.” sounds about right. Sure I could have said “elaborate” or “intricate”, but if I am sure my audience knows what I am saying then how do I sound like a “Pompous Ass”?”

What is the speaker really trying to say? The woodcarvings may, indeed, be elaborate or intricate, but “ostentatious” makes me think they might be excessive, flashy, over the top. The word further implies something about the person who owns the house. Perhaps he’s pretentious and egotistical, maybe even flamboyant.

That’s a lot of meaning packed into one word. So I would argue that if you have a complex meaning, a complex word may be the ticket after all.

Bill says:

Hey Gabriel Tane, maybe you should look at a dictionary.

n. pl. en·tro·pies

  • 1. Symbol S For a closed thermodynamic system, a quantitative measure of the amount of thermal energy not available to do work.
  • 2. A measure of the disorder or randomness in a closed system.
  • 3. A measure of the loss of information in a transmitted message.
  • 4. The tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to evolve toward a state of inert uniformity.
  • 5. Inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society.

at·ro·phy n. pl. at·ro·phies

  • 1. Pathology. A wasting or decrease in size of a body organ, tissue, or part owing to disease, injury, or lack of use: muscular atrophy of a person affected with paralysis.
  • 2. A wasting away, deterioration, or diminution: intellectual atrophy.

    Gabriel Tane (profile) says:

    Re: I did look at a dictionary

    “Hey Gabriel Tane, maybe you should look at a dictionary.”


    I did look up the definition of entropy before I made my post. I even linked to the web pages from which I found the definitions I used in my defense in the post. Thank you.

    As far as the correction of your usage, I still stand by that. Your statement was:

    “…I’d also like to bring up how the use of technology has caused penmanship to entropy over the years”

    This gave the impression that your meaning was that technology has led to either 1) the decline in the use of penmanship, or 2) the decline in the quality of penmanship. In either case, ‘entropy’ is the wrong word.

    “Caused penmanship to entropy” puts ‘entropy’ as the verb in the sentence. In your own dictionary Copy & Paste (feel the magic, people), ‘entropy’ is listed as a noun. Yes, ‘entropy’ means decay and decline, but the word ‘entropy’ itself is not the action of decline or decay. It is the decay. That’s like saying “I car to work in the morning” No, I drive to work in a car. ‘Car’ is the noun, ‘drive’ is the verb.

    I’m not going to use your exact Copy & Paste for ‘atrophy’ in my defense, because you left out the part that shows it to be a verb as well as a noun (something your dictionary did not show for entropy… yes, I found the source you used.) So here’s the rest of it:

    v. at?ro?phied, at?ro?phy?ing, at?ro?phies

    v. tr.

    To cause to wither or deteriorate; affect with atrophy.

    v. intr.

    To waste away; wither or deteriorate.

    To imply that penmanship is not what it once was is to say that it deteriorated or withered. Although, you would not be able to just substitute ‘atrophy’ for ‘entopy’… you would have to reword the sentence as: “technology has atrophied penmanship over the years”. According to this dictionary, the verb form of ‘atrophy’ does not include a word-form that would properly fit the order you used.

    So yes, I look at a dictionary. And yes, I can use one.

    Bill says:

    I worked for this guy a few months ago who used to make fun of me for using, ahem, big words. Of course, he would demolish the language my using a combination of Ebonics and stupidity.

    “Ya see Bill, you don’t gots the proper intelligent yet to know what the real meth-ology is that you need to know. Once you gots that, then you know that you know that you know!”

    Talk about confusing. Later, he fired me after having a conversation about religion. First he called me a HONKY though. Now that’s a word that’s rarely used anymore, but you know what? I knew exactly what he was talking about!

    Bill says:

    I worked for this guy a few months ago who used to make fun of me for using, ahem, big words. Of course, he would demolish the language my using a combination of Ebonics and stupidity.

    “Ya see Bill, you don’t gots the proper intelligent yet to know what the real meth-ology is that you need to know. Once you gots that, then you know that you know that you know!”

    Talk about confusing. Later, he fired me after having a conversation about religion. First he called me a HONKY though. Now that’s a word that’s rarely used anymore, but you know what? I knew exactly what he was talking about!

    ChocoTuar says:

    Big words without a thesaurus?

    Sometimes I’m writing or saying a sentence and as I’m speaking a larg(er) word pops into my head as I’m about to say the word that it would replace. Most of the time I use the larger word, but I don’t believe it makes me look stupid. In fact, it usually makes the other person detach themselves from the conversation, because they have nothing to say in return, perhaps because I have intimidated them (I’m not being vain, just trying to prove a point).

    The point is that you shouldn’t go out of your way to act smart, because it just backfires, especially if you do it wrong. The best way to sound smart is to actually be smart. Try and learn a few new words every day, and you can sound like Stephen Hawking in weeks.

    Gabriel Tane (profile) says:

    Re: Entorpy vs Atrophy

    “Hey, Gabriel Tane, You muscles ATRPOHY while systems generally ENTROPHY.”


    ::sigh:: I don’t know why I have to repeat this. ‘Entropy’ is a noun. A system cannot ‘noun’.

    Also, ‘atrophy’ is not restricted to purely medical use. Anything that is subject to decline or degradation can atrophy.

    If you wish to stick by the assertion that these words are limited to what you wrote above, then you invalidate your own argument, since as you put it: “Systems generally entophy” (which, I’m sure you meant ‘entroPY). Penmanship isn’t a ‘system’. Penmanship is an ability or skill, and a measure of how aesthetically pleasing someone’s writing is.

    Bill says:

    I am aware of the differences between the two words in question, but here’s the thing… you’re an ass! It’s as simple as that. Do you systematically sign you name the same way every time you write a check? Sure you do. Should I ask if you disagree that the use of technology has made the task of writing with a pen near obsolete? I’m sure your penmanship is has been in a state of entropy since grade school! I still believe that my original use of the word entropy makes perfect sense. I’d also like to remind you that I did submit my original post at 7:27am… before work and without the use of a word processor.

    Let me get right down to it, I’ve had fun annoying you. You’re a good sport, but a poor loser. Now listen, I’d love to continue this little philosophical debate with you about the differences between the two words, but the truth of the matter is that I have simply lost interest in you and this whole discussion. My point has been made. It’s obvious you possess the mental capacity necessary to understand my point exactly… and even though you insist that I have used the wrong word, I know that I have not.


    Anyhow, I whole heartedly commend you on your inability to control your mouth, errr, I mean your fingers, especially on an internet message board, but here’s the thing… in a perfect world we could have had this conversation face to face, let’s say, IF MODERN COMMUNICATION WASN’T IN A CONSTANT STATE OF ENTROPY.

    How about this, next time you’re in sunny Detroit, feel free to drop me a line and perhaps we could finish this conversation in person. Thanks for your interest, your alternate suggestion of possible nouns, and your insistent badgering. Shalom and goodbye! No seriously, goodbye!

    Love Billy C.

    p.s. keep in touch sweetheart!

    Gabriel Tane (profile) says:

    Re: Re:

    Well, Bill, I’m glad we can agree that this argument has gone on for far too long. Neither one of us is going to (openly) admit defeat, but I’ll claim a victory anyway. I’ll feel better that way.

    There are glaring faults in your logic. Some I’ve pointed out, some I haven’t. But to paraphrase REM, “I’ve had my fun, but now it’s time” to go. I’ve wasted enough time on this and I’m satisfied with my victory.

    Thanks for being such a fun opponent.

    Love, luck & lolli-pops


    Tane's not the ass... says:

    Re: Re:


    No dude, you’re just plain wrong, as any former HS physics student could tell you. Nothing philosophical about it. You are, however, correct that it isn’t a big deal; I wouldn’t have even bothered to back up Tane if you hadn’t been blustering and just admitted that you were mistaken (or ignored the comment completely).

    PS: It’s okay to sheepishly laugh at one’s own f-ups rather than to go into some silly ad hominem tirade. I’m certain that even the most intelligent wordsmiths have made mistakes, or at least that they haven’t always been totally sure of themselves before using a new word.

    Aaron says:

    Unnecessary use of big words

    In my opinion, the use of big words is not always a bad thing. An author with a large vocabulary can sometimes use bigger words in appropriate context, keeping their sentences fluent while displaying the intended message more accurately than with a smaller word. Should a person with a small vocabulary attempt to make themselves appear intelligent by replacing small words which fit properly with the rest of their sentence with larger words adopted from a thesaurus or which they have heard but simply don’t understand, the fluency of the sentence may be damaged and therefore will decrease the author’s demonstration of intelligence. The important thing is to choose a word that correctly enforces your point; the size of a word is completely irrelevant to the accuracy of a word in a sentence. My summary and conclusion is: “the size of a word does not relate to the correctness of it. The improper use of a large word as an attempt to boost one’s displayed intelligence will damage the sentence, as well as its fluency and accuracy, and will decrease the author’s display of intelligence.”

    Alisha says:

    Re: Unnecessary use of big words

    Big words to me are hard. I never went to high school nor college. I was home-schooled and my mother didnt think it was important to teach her children how to use a big vocabulary because she thought my brother, sister and I would go to college. I’m college age (20) but I sure cant afford it! I’ve always struggled to find bigger words to make my sentences smaller. I can confuse the heck out of someone for lack of a big word when explaining some thing to them. You can probably tell by the way I’m writing that I dont have a great vocabulary. I try to learn as best I can by reading books and seeing how the sentences just flow easily. I cant seem to do and it just aggrevates me to death! I’ve even tried to write my own historical romance book, but when I read back over what I have written, I’ve not only confused whoever is reading it but myself as well, for lack of words that explain a whole sentence in just one word . I dont think big words make someone look dumb. Although, it would help if authors recognized the big words they use in the book and included a page at the beginning that tells you what these words mean. I’ve only seen this done once and it majorly helped me.

    A confused big word admirer says:

    I've just had a shocking revelation!!

    Why not just use subsequently gigantic words in abnormally preposterous locations just for the trecherous contamination of looking like a geek?

    Although zilch of the flabberghastedly big words make sense or are even fiction I still find great wonder in making the blank page look a little colourful, metaphorically speaking.

    So, instead of being mindbogglingly proper, let us try the plagurism of nerdiness and let thy super duper scientifical medicine warrior dude burst out from within.

    jon says:

    inflated language

    Everyone on here is debating the extent of word usage, however, my wife and I have been searching for that single word that defines the verbose writer. For the life of us we cannot remember, or find it to refresh our memory. We are trying to find the word that defines our number one culprit discussed in this forum: the person that uses excessive, or flashy words to look smarter than they actually are, or to impress another. What is that word? The word that has baffled us for the last couple of weeks? Please help us in our hunt.

    Elise says:

    In the late 70’s, our firm hired one of the first African-American department heads in the County. As his Executive Assistant, I liked him immediately, considered him extremely competent, and enjoyed working for him; but his speech patterns and word usage when addressing DH meetings took some getting used to. One memorable phrase was “I would like to ‘intelligize’ you…” The 15 other department heads started a flurry of snide inter-office confidential memos on the subject, but were politely told by the CEO that he appreciated the brevity of the word, as it replaced ‘I would like to make you aware of…’ and suggested they try to be as creative in order to save time.

    Some person says:

    This came from a person that is consistently using “BIG” words. It was intimidating at first but after several years he sounds like an idiot to me.

    Here is an example:
    “Can you put the remediation you have been employing into the defect”

    The problem is that he is actually a pretty intelligent person that I respect. But really, why does he have to go off and say crap like that.

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