Using Big Words Doesn't Always Make You Sound Smarter

Using Big Words Doesn't Always Make You Sound Smarter

You might think that using big, fancy words will make you sound smart, but it can actually have the complete opposite effect.

Photo by Mike Burns

It's good to emphasise what you know when you're trying to sound intelligent, but the way you talk about it matters. A study led by Daniel M. Oppenheimer at Princeton University, and published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology suggests that using long, academic-sounding words instead of simple, more easily-understood words makes people think you're less intelligent. The study's participants found that the more they could actually understand what was being communicated, the more intelligent they considered the message.

Essentially, the more complicated language you try to use, the higher the chance it will backfire on you. You might come off sounding like a phony, or like someone who isn't intelligent enough to understand their audience. Keep things simple and focus on getting your message across, not trying to sound impressive.

Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilised Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly [the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology via Business Insider]


    I'm sorry, Dumbing down your vocabulary to make yourself sound smarter to others, is just so much bullshit!

      It didn't sound like you're sorry. Apology accepted none the less.

      Last edited 19/10/15 10:09 am

      Yet, you seem to have wholeheartedly embraced the theme of this post. The information you communicated was both dumbed down and easy to understand. I'm not sure why you are sorry for this success.

    I always say 'second last', rather than 'penultimate', as I don't want to seem pretentious. But I still want to say penultimate.

      Look, if you've got the best writing implement ever, don't be afraid to tell people about it!

    I sometimes like to use big words in order to sound more photosynthesis.

    I once said a big word but then the boss gave me more work because he thought I knew what I was talking about... I don't say big words anymore.

    Let me leave this here:

    The prolongated application of a polysyllabic vocabulary infallibly exercises a deleterious influence on the fecundity of expression, rendering the ultimate tendency apocryphal.

    (Memorised it from an old Readers Digest in my youth.)

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