Never Use a Large Word When a Diminutive One Will Suffice

Small words have the largest impact. Small words can become the hammer to drive your point home, while big words tend to soften the blow.

Culled from a recent paper: “The panel felt the Senator was being disingenuous.”

What? Lacking in frankness or candor? He prevaricated? Equivocated? Misrepresented? Fabricated? Do any of those words come close to the power of, The panel felt the Senator lied? Everyone understands the word lie. None of the other words carry the clear meaning that lie conveys.

Large words tend to creep in when we write because we’re showing off, or we think our writing sounds better, or we look smarter if we use large words. Trade your syllables for clarity.

Instead of utilize, use.

Trade terminate for end. Don’t eliminate larger words, get rid of them. Don’t substantiate the facts, prove them. People aren’t impecunious, they’re poor. The writer wasn’t assiduous, he took great care. The lady at the DMV wasn’t obstinate, she was stubborn.

No one wants to read the words of a lexiphanicist…

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  1. So DG…

    What does “Culled” mean?

  2. DG

    Culling is the process of selection. Usually, to kill off the culls. ;)

  3. DG, Spot on! Some folks love using big words unnecessarily when small ones can do the trick

  4. Hmmm. I do suffer from this problem occasionally. Is something I am trying to rectify. Have no idea why I use things such as ‘I want to defenestrate that ****” when “I’m going to throw him out the window” would have done :)

  5. Being disingenuous isn’t the same thing as lying. It means playing dumb, pretending you don’t know about some particular likely outcome even though you do.

  6. Apryl

    In the spirit of learning, large words expand the mind, using them and understanding them encourages brain activity that lends to brain cell production which in the end helps keep the mind sharp even in old age. So if we start eliminating large words we are restricting our abilities to learn and grow. Come on fellas I get that there are some pompus use of words out there but lets err on the side of learning and get over it!

  7. Darwin

    “Never Use a Large Word When a Diminutive One Will Suffice” would have more impact if it is: Never use a big word when a small one will do!

  8. Colco

    Disingenuoua and lying are 2 different things!

  9. Colco

    *Disingenuous

  10. HSB

    I’m not sure I agree with your post. The larger vocabulary a person has, the less likely they are to develop Alzheimer’s later in life. Furthermore, there is a such thing as Verbal IQ. Part of a verbal IQ test (VIQ) measures a person’s understanding of vocabulary; the more extensive the vocabulary, the higher the Verbal IQ. So having a large vocabulary is a good thing as it is a reflection of intellect.

    However, since this is language we’re talking about a person has to use his/her vocabulary in order to maintain it; language that isn’t used is often forgotten. So perhaps people should read more, actually attempt to learn new things (including new words), and try to have intelligent conversations with the occasional three or four syllable word instead of dumbing everything down.

    Perhaps it’s just me, but I’d much rather seem pretentious and have a lower risk for Alzheimer’s as I age.

  11. Ron "ThatGuy"

    I got hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia, and Im a sesquapedalian. ^_^

  12. :

    I think you meant “never use a large word when a shorter one will suffice.”

    :|

  13. Man

    How’s this for brevity (shortness): this is the most depressing thing I’ve ever read.

  14. You completed several good points there. I did a search on the topic and found a good number of persons will consent with your blog.

  15. Macka

    What a load of rubbish.

    Replacing some of the larger words makes you appear stupid; we shouldn’t be aiming to dumb down the population, we should be trying to smarten people up.

    What this article should be saying is “use language appropriate for the context and the company”.

  16. Rod

    I agree with the basic principle of the post. Trying to sound smart by using big words can backfire and make you look like you’re trying too hard, however using these big/less common words are important for many reasons. Like the others said, brain activity but more relevant to the present they actually do help your speech and writing.

    For example if you are writing a sentence, it would sound much better to use two synonyms rather than the same word twice, even if the same word is the best fit. Repeating the same words detracts more from your point than using a larger word. And probably the most paramount (joking) would be that you understand the words when someone else uses them and you aren’t like “Oh what does that word mean” and everyone thinks you’re an idiot.

  17. Alisha

    completely agree with you. What I hate is how teachers and professors tell you to stop using big words when a smaller one will work and they penalize you for using big words. Then, they make you read these impossible articles and textbooks that are like 20 pages long and you have to look up every other word in the dictionary!!!! Then they tell you not to look up every word you don’t know, but to try to guess what the word means. A) YOU TELL ME THAT I SHOULD BE DOING AT MINIMUM 50 HOURS OF HOMEWORK PER WEEK, AND I SHOULD BE GOING TO ALL 18 HOURS OF CLASS I HAVE PER WEEK. YET I SHOULD TAKE THE TIME TO SLOWLY FIGURE OUT WHAT YOUR 40 PAGE ARTICLE/CHAPTER IS TRYING TO TELL ME WHEN I HAVE TO LOOK UP EVERY OTHER WORD
    B) WHY DO YOU MAKE ME READ BIG WORDS BUT TELL US NOT TO USE THEM WE WE WRITE??!!?!?!

  18. neverusewhat

    People exaggerate things too much. Orwell didn’t say NEVER use a big word and sometimes a small word just will NOT do. “lied” could not be used instead of disingenuous because they don’t have the same meaning and sometimes the “big” words fits the sentence better, its used probably as euphemism, or to pinpoint an exact idea or feeling, maybe it just SOUNDS better. whatever the reason, big words come in handy. it doesn’t mean you should overuse them and sound like a pompous @$$ but they’re not to be downplayed. besides, what makes a word “big” anyway? the syllable count or how often its used? because to me disingenuous is not a big word and i’m only 24.

    Even dragon ball z (whose audience is largely kids & adolescents) use words like “proverbial” ,”carnage” and a whole host of words I know kids don’t know yet. and its not because they’re incognito English substitute teachers, these words just sound better, have the best meaning, etc etc.

  19. neverusewhat

    sometimes a SMALL word is the one which softens the blow and a big one would fit perfectly and have the best effect.
    trading terminate for end is not a fair trade. the movie would have less appeal if it was called the “ender”, you can just hear how lackluster that sounds. there wouldn’t even be “governator” just plain old governor. people just have to know when to use one word instead of the other. because every word has at least 10 words that can be used instead of it. its all a matter of which one fits the sentence better and what effect you want to achieve. some columnists don’t use their words in good taste and the entire article is just awkward, that’s the only problem I can think of when it comes to this small word big word dilemma.

  20. dj

    I must say I concur with the commentators who bemoan the debasing of civil discourse by villianizing those who possess and choose to utilize a more extensive lexicon for the enlightenment, or more precisely the erudition of our fellow citizens. Perhaps the pursuit of a more extensive vocabulary for the denizens of this great nation is a Sisyphean undertaking at best. Yet, still I prefer to ruminate on the potential collective intellectual force of a civil society empowered by complex language and fueled by a desire to expand the frontiers of our cognition through the expansion of our lexical proficiency. Perhaps my aspirations are misguided and thoroughly, utterly unattainable. If so, how disheartening!

    Translation:
    I agree with doz guys who tink using big words is a good idea.

    ;-)

    Seriously… I prefer to be precise when I speak. “Small” words tend to be less precise, so when I have a “large” word at my disposal it seems natural to apply it when expressing my ideas. It’s not some game to say “I’m more literate than you are” — it’s an attempt to communicate effectively. And I will not be embarrassed by that or accept criticism over it.

    I also take issue with the characterization of “large” and “small” words. What we’re really talking about are simple / common words vs. less common words. Word length has little to do with it. Less common words are very helpful when not used to excess.

  21. I had to chortle at this one….I know somebody who finds the need to extol her vast knowledge on the masses by using
    extended grammar. She derives extreme pleasure in pointing out grammar and spelling errors on the “innocents”….who have no clue as what she is saying. I understand clearly her statement. “I am better than you, you are stupid, I am superior.”
    I think this her way of boosting her ego, while keeping real people at bay……
    Then, this same person wonders why people don’t like her!
    Um-mm-could it be the facade of her main existence? Dunno,
    I for one one, would prefer to be understood by everybody, the first time I speak……

  22. my favorite phrase is KISS! KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID! <3 (Said to me years ago)…..

  23. CK

    use all you can dont be dumbed down with little words the nes telling you not to use them DO !!

  1. 1 Me Use Big Words « LocalMN Blog

    […] that said, Doug from Speaking Freely writes a post labeled Never Use a Large Word when a Diminutive (small) One Will Suffice. Example – “fabricated” = […]

  2. 2 A Time for Everything | BreakfastReading

    […] use a big word when a small word will do” — or any of its bazillion variations — is one of the best writing rules around. And one I share with my kids.  Nice to know they’d […]




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