I carried a dictionary around in my bag when I was in college.
I was a nerd, who spoke very infrequently, but always knew precisely what a fifteen dollar word meant (or I didn’t say it).
If you aren’t sure what a word means, why would you throw it into a conversation? There’s no shame in looking it up first… you can do it discretely from your smart phone. We’ll all assume that you’re texting someone, because you’re all cute and popular, and cute, popular people have throngs of friends texting them at all times.
We won’t judge.
Take a quick minute and Google it… let it roll around in your mind a bit… silently test it in the sentence you’re about to say… because once you throw out that word that popped into your head that doesn’t fit the context in ANY way, I will spend a full eight seconds correcting you in my mind.
I don’t do it because I’m a jerk (although we might as well face the fact that I am, at the very least, sort-of a jerk)… I do it because I’m a palabraphile.
I like words.
I eat them.
Maybe that’s why I’m not always using them… they’re precious and sparkly and I like to hoarde them.
When I hear a new word, I immediately look it up.
It’s fun (because I’m still a nerd… as well as a jerk).
I get to walk around all inwardly giddy because I just learned a new word.
So, being an eater of words, when I know a word (and have spent time fixing it breakfast, and darning it’s socks, and stroking it’s hair), and I hear it misused, all listening functions immediately screech to a halt.
“That was incorrect. He meant ‘paternalistic.’ Whatever possessed him to say ‘pantarchical’? Should I say something to him about it? Probably not… he’ll think I’m correcting him, which I am, but only because I don’t want him to EVER GET THAT WRONG AGAIN… EVER. Best to keep quiet… Oh, he’s still talking… what did I miss?”
Did you see that? I’ve completely checked out of the entire conversation because you just had to use a word that cost more than the sum of the assorted bits of my outfit, without making sure that it means what you think it means.
Don’t do that to me… to us… to the delicate, papery fabric of the wordverse.
There’s nothing wrong with a small word wielded well. You can speak with great strength using just the words you learned in kindergarten, and have more impact that the person who tosses about college words like Mardi Gras beads without appreciating their true weight.
It says nothing negative about your intelligence if you speak well with small words, but a great deal of doubt is cast on your intelligence when you consistently use big words incorrectly. Your audience is probably not sitting waiting for you to throw out something with eighteen syllables anyway.
You don’t have to use twenty letter words just for kicks.
I know… kicks just keep getting harder to find, but I’m sure you can find them somewhere else.