Words People Use to Sound Smarter (We’ve All Done it)

Emily Mazo, Staff Writer

The scene: Its 7:20 AM. You lean against the concrete and plaster wall of the JSL, trying to look as nonchalant as possible while talking to your friends about your least favorite teacher, whose class you are about to attend. The conversation segues from his or her classroom demeanor to the way he or she pontificates in front of the class. Your friend interjects, “He or she is so bombastic!”

You turn to scrutinize your friend, mild stupefaction pronounced on your face. The others present display less gentle reactions and appear truly flabbergasted. “No one uses words like that in normal conversation!” you think to yourself. Your grandiloquent friend quickly grows abashed, as your tacit disapprobation of your friend’s pronouncement is palpable. To relieve the discomfiture now tangible in the air, you gently transition the conversation to your latest exploits in Skyrim. The moment passes.

We all use words outside of the vernacular, be they new SAT vocabulary words we have learned and wish to use, or merely a word that is fun to say (ubiquitous, anyone?). I doubt that the above situation occurs very often, but it is a suitable exaggeration of the effect one’s vocabulary has on a conversation. For example, a friend once mocked me for using the word “jubilant.”

When peppering your conversation with flowery language, you should keep your context in mind. Are you discussing poetry in your English class? In this case, describing a food as redolent of another piece would add to your analysis. Are you talking to your friends about your favorite pizza place? Maybe describing your favorite breadsticks as “redolent of my childhood” would be unfitting. Using certain vocabulary to increase the comprehensibility of your ideas is useful, but using a big word just for the sake of using it can be confusing and bothersome for your audience. Daily Writing Tips remarks, “A big word used correctly, but unnecessarily, has the effect of making you sound pedantic.” Unfortunately, highfalutin language is at once fun to say annoying to listen to.

On the other hand, using uncommon vocabulary sets your discourse apart from everyday dialogue. This can have a double effect of impressing your listeners and giving the overall impression of a heightened intelligence, although certain clarifications must be made to the latter statement. Wikihow’s article on “How To Sound Intelligent” states that finding alternatives to common words can make your exchanges more interesting. With a word of warning, it suggests, “Look for less often used words, though don’t use words you don’t understand. If someone asks you what it means and you don’t know, you’re just going to sound stupid.” Another good recommendation is make sure you know the correct pronunciation of any words you wish to use in conversation. Pronouncing “indefatigable” as “in-deh-fagitable” will have the opposite effect from the one you are looking for.

Finally, I would like to say a word for those who often find themselves on the other end of this phenomenon, or as I like to call them, the audience. So your friends use big words, what can you do about it? You can retort with bigger words, that’s what. Here are a few choice phrases to throw back at your flowery-worded friends.

“Stop being so bombastic.” Bombast (n): high-sounding language with little meaning, used to impress people.

“That makes you sound pompous.” Pompous (adj): affectedly and irritatingly grand, solemn, or self-important.

“Using the word grandiose in conversation makes you sound pretentious.” Pretentious: attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed.

On an unrelated note, I would like to thank Apple for including a thesaurus application on our school Macbooks.