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Worst Case Scenario: Stifling the big-word urge

Kyle Niemi

Issue date: 10/17/08 Section: Focus
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This week I am taking a break from my usual hilarious antics to present a very important message. For the sake of yourself and mankind in general, I urge you to heed the following: big words are for chumps.

Like most college students, I have encountered a lot of unnecessarily complicated words. Whether it's from a fellow student or a professor, the use of long, little-known words seems to be a recurring theme from class to class. Utilizing these words most likely stems from an attempt to make oneself seem more intelligent than one actually is at the expense of clear communication. It's all about insecurity, folks. But do the advantages of appearing smart really outweigh the disadvantages of looking like a total jackass? I think not, and I will tell you why.

I can count myself among those who have tried to pass themselves off as persons of higher learning by using words like ubiquitous or auspicious. How obnoxious! I'm almost convinced that there is some kind of secret plot perpetrated by the creators of dictionaries worldwide to convince people that complex words make them seem smart, all in an evil scheme to promote sales.

But let me take this opportunity to get my main point out of the way: big words don't make you look smart. If these words have any effect on the perceptions of the people around you, it is to make them feel dumb. While I would normally be the first to congratulate you on making other people feel inadequate, it is usually the aim of a person who is trying to seem intelligent to ingratiate him or herself with others. Making people feel dumb, no matter how gratifying, is not the way to do this. People resent it when they encounter someone who is so obviously trying to be above them. I hear back in the early days of America, they would even burn you at the stake for trying to be too smart. While this is unfortunately not the case today thanks to some kind of "laws" of "civilized society," the person you are trying to impress will probably not take too kindly to your posturing. No one likes a smart-ass.
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  • Worst Case Scenario: Stifling the big-word urge
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