Are you using too many big words?

Reading time: About 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the internet to help other writers. Today I discuss a post about using too many big words…

Every once in awhile, I will admire a big or unusual word. But far more often, I’m suspicious of it. Why did that person write ‘evince’ when they could have said ‘show’ or ‘demonstrate’?” I will wonder.

I remember hearing the word evince for the first time as a grade 12 student. I was taking part in a national debate competition and one of my partners had used the word to describe how he was going to make a certain specific argument. Another partner and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes. We both thought less of him for being such a show-off.

Writers can get themselves into similar sticky wickets by using language that’s far more complicated than necessary. In a recent article in the Atlantic, writer Derek Thompson describes the pitfalls of being too verbose. Here is how he puts it in his article headlined, “Why simple is smart.”

Complicated language and jargon offer writers the illusion of sophistication, but jargon can send a signal to some readers that the writer is dense or overcompensating. Conspicuously sesquipedalian communication can signal compensatory behavior resulting from suboptimal perspective-taking strategies. What? Exactly; never write like that. Smart people respect simple language not because simple words are easy, but because expressing interesting ideas in small words takes a lot of work.”

And he goes on to write about the need to be interesting, and the value of writing musically before he wraps up saying, “…writers of all ages should stay away from the extremes of hypersensitivity-to-feedback and obliviousness-to-feedback.”

Read his entire piece. It’s very wise. And if you like his writing, consider subscribing to his twice-weekly newsletter, Work In Progress. I have and it’s really good.

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