WORDS to think twice about - Make a Powerful Point

Words to think twice about

Once we hit puberty, we seem to go through a transition. We utilize multi-syllabic confabulations to affect perspicacity and intellect*. This continues through university into working life and results in the epidemic known variously as weasel words, buzzword bingo, jargon monoxide and corporate pig-latin. I’m not against big words, but please use them judiciously sparingly. Here’s a handy chart, culled from a Quora discussion, of certain words that are the verbal equivalent of nails on a blackboard.

WORDS to think twice about - Overused Jargon

*Translation: We use big words to show off.

Gavin_Animated-GifGavin is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at makeapowerfulpoint.com. You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.

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  1. Peter | March 15, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Supremely sagacious Gavin!

  2. nickskellon2013 | March 15, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    Gavin – I agree about the judicious employment of polysyllabic words where their monosyllabic cousins would suffice. But you shouldn’t floccinaucinihilipilificate* about long words; you’ll make your readers hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobic.**

    * treat something as worthless
    ** afraid of using long words

    For a collection of unusual, long and seldom used English words (e.g. an ultracrepidarian is someone who offers opinions on things he/she knows nothing about), see http://www.speaklikeapro.co.uk/Unusual_words.htm

  3. James Kennedy | March 15, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    This is wonderful. I love simplicity.

  4. Susan K Becker | March 16, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    Very cogent animadversion, Gavin.

  5. Larry Constantine (Lior Samson) | March 18, 2013 at 8:11 am

    The real issue, Gavin, is not the length of the word but its meaning. Big words _should_ be used judiciously, that is, with good judgement. Moreover, jargon that obfuscates is useful when the objective is ambiguity more than clarity. (Sowing confusion and promoting puzzlement are occasionally useful strategies.)

    The ultimate meaning of our words is in how they are received. Speaking plainly in words of few syllables can, in some circles, be interpreted as a sign of limited intelligence, and eschewing popular jargon can be read as not being in tune with the times.

    As a writer and mentor to other writers, I would argue that the best word is the deliberate word, one chosen with aforethought and for its anticipated effect.

    –Larry Constantine (pen name, Lior Samson)

  6. Larry Constantine (Lior Samson) | March 18, 2013 at 8:19 am

    Great three-axis infographic! Or 3D chart. Or picture.

  7. nickskellon2013 | March 18, 2013 at 9:49 am

    In his unpublished ‘Scaffolding of Rhetoric’ Churchill wrote:

    “The unreflecting often imagine that the effects of oratory are produced by the use of long words. The error of this idea will appear from what has been written. The shorter words of a language are usually the more ancient. Their meaning is more ingrained in the national character and they appeal with greater force to simple understandings than words recently introduced from the Latin and the Greek. All the speeches of great English rhetoricians–except when addressing highly cultured audiences–display an uniform preference for short, homely words of common usage–so long as such words can fully express their thoughts and feelings….”

    When he refers to the ‘more ancient’ English words he is taking about those of Germanic origin. Much of everyday English comes from German and French, but the more basic words we use tend to be Germanic. This is because after the Norman conquest, the 95% of the population who were commoners still spoke Anglo Saxon while the only people who spoke French were the ruling elite.

    The result is that for many things there are two words in use: a short, plain, ‘Germanic’ word and an alternative, ‘fancy’, French one. For example: door (from the German ‘tur’) and portal (from the French ‘porte’); house (German ‘haus’) and mansion (French ‘maison’); make (German ‘machen’) and fabricate (French ‘fabriquer’); fat (German ‘fett’) and corpulent (French ‘corpulent’).

    So if in doubt, ditch the French and go Anglo-Saxon!

    • Gavin | March 18, 2013 at 12:15 pm

      Great info Nick – thank you!