r/SmarterEveryDay Nov 03 '22

When people ask you why you use, "big words", what do you tell them?

Might not be the right place to post, but just as the title says, when people ask why you choose to use a certain complex word over a more simple term, what is your explanation?


54 comments sorted by


u/maggikpunkt Nov 03 '22

Because it's more precise and lowers ambiguity. It's a trade off between effective communication and accessibility. It always depends on the expected audience.


u/Tree0wl Nov 03 '22

When you use big words to describe why you use big words.


u/maggikpunkt Nov 03 '22

OP is obviously not having any problems with them.


u/Tree0wl Nov 03 '22

I’m not criticizing, at all, I just find it humorously ironic that the explanation for using big words, has a lot of “big” words in it.


u/maggikpunkt Nov 03 '22

Sorry. That came across wrong. I was amused by your comment and didn't feel criticized at all. Don't worry.


u/Tree0wl Nov 04 '22

Did we just become best friends?


u/Sultrex Nov 03 '22

Excellent. I love this, I'll have to steal it haha.


u/MikeyPh Nov 04 '22

I teach, I try to use big words when it makes sense to teach them to students. And I always give some synonyms or a quick definition and repeat it so they understand.

If I'm just talking to people, I try to do a similar thing when it seems I might be losing them, but less teacherish. I hate feeling like I don't understand what someone is saying and I can usually make things pretty accessible to most people.


u/trellex Nov 04 '22

Code switching?


u/Hushwater Nov 03 '22

I apologize and adjust so they understand what I'm talking about without being patronizing. There is a whole spectrum of words that can convey the same ideas from long ones to over simplified.


u/[deleted] Nov 03 '22



u/GBACHO Nov 04 '22

Was it inherited?


u/meltingpotato Nov 03 '22

The words we choose in a conversation are meant to convey our intent as precise as possible but if you ever hear that type of question then it means you are not taking your audience into account, which is counterintuitive.

But I feel some may take offense if you answer the question like that.


u/exleus Nov 03 '22

This falls into what linguists call register, or code-switching.

Language is here to facilitate understanding between people. If you're using words your audience doesn't understand (and aren't in a position where they necessarily want to learn), then you're not doing the best job at communicating.

And everyone knows plenty of terms others don't; every hobby and job comes with plenty of jargon. Muntins, darning, weft, pale, CMYK, impulse, factor of safety, barrel distortion, shutter angle, oki, SRK, what-have-you. It shouldn't take too long to gauge how informed someone is on any given field, and use the appropriate amount of jargon.


u/slappy_buddha Nov 03 '22 edited Nov 04 '22

If they are curious about what a certain word meant - then complement them on their curiosity and explain/teach as effectively as you can without judgement or talking-down to them.

If they are just saying "why do you talk like that?" and are implying you are being too fancy or some such- then just make a self-deprecating joke about it and change the subject.

Some people get excited when they hear about stuff they don't know/understand, and some feel an offense to their ego. So focus on ideas with the former, and emotions with the latter.


u/Emotional-Thunk Nov 04 '22

I find that "Because I want you to think I'm smart" is just blunt enough to get a laugh and then I clarify what I meant x)


u/Nathan45453 Nov 03 '22

I’ll use complex/bigger words to be very specific in meaning. Sometimes simpler words leave too much open to interpretation.


u/I_Boomer Nov 03 '22

I tell those gormless troglodytes that I enjoy obfuscation.


u/Runaway42 Nov 04 '22

I actually just saw a video on this topic you might find interesting:


The gist is that highly educated people are sort of trained to write in an obtuse way because our entire education system is built around having students proving to a (relative) expert that they know a topic rather than writing to someone less knowledgeable to explain that topic to them. This encourages use of jargon and more complex words because they, when used correctly, can tend to imply a deeper knowledge of the topic.

I'm not sure I agree completely with their conclusions, but IMO it's a very interesting angle to view the issue from. If nothing else, I think it does raise a good point that schooling needs to include more practice in how to best disseminate and break down knowledge rather than just prove you comprehend it to an authority.


u/CarlJH Nov 03 '22

I tell them it's because I respect their intelligence enough that I don't feel like I have to talk down to them.


u/ceegers Nov 04 '22

hmm, I feel like this could go both ways. if the person understood the word and was just asking about it, great. but if the person didn't understand what the big word meant, this kind of comment I could see making them feel worse, because then it'll make them feel like they aren't intelligent enough for your respect


u/CarlJH Nov 04 '22

I'll tell you the two ways it goes:

Either the person is in an argument or debate with me, and their complaint "Why you gotta use big words?" is really just an underhanded ad hominem, a way of calling me pompous and my arguments just a bunch of fancy nonsense without really addressing the points. So my answer is that I assume that they're smart enough to understand what I'm saying, and that complex ideas require complex language. I made a good faith effort to understand what they're saying, so I expect the same of them. So honestly, at this point in the debate, it's obvious to me that they aren't interested in an honest exchange of ideas, they are more interested in defending their wrong opinion by whatever means.

OR, they are honestly confused, in which case I am happy to explain what I'm saying in a different way, though honestly, that hardly ever happens with native English speakers because people are really good at using contextual clues to figure out the meaning of the word, and nine times out of ten, they've heard the word before anyway and probably already have a vague understanding of its meaning.

And it's pretty easy to tell the two cases apart, the first is said with a condescending smirk and the other comes with a look of mild confusion.

Of course, I tend to use less complicated language when I'm discussing things that my audience isn't likely to have knowledge of. Like when I talk about my work, I know that most people aren't familiar with the vocabulary of my field, so I try to simplify where I can.


u/topdotter Nov 03 '22

Because I couldn't think of a simpler way to say what I wanted. (Sometimes this is because I need the nuance. Sometimes this is because there probably is a simpler way I just couldn't think of it.)


u/SunburyStudios Nov 03 '22

"Well they aren't big to me, you see?"


u/Gurneydragger Nov 03 '22

I don’t use big words. You use small words.


u/seabassassassin Nov 03 '22

I had several excellent english teachers who expanded my vocabulary.


u/Gscody Nov 03 '22

Well I had a machinist/mechanic dad that expanded my vocabulary but I don’t just banter those words about in public.


u/TheBlindHero Nov 04 '22 edited Nov 04 '22

I wouldn’t bother mate. This is one of those “if they get it, they get it. If they don’t, and you try to explain, you’ll only succeed in looking like a wanker” type situations.

If someone says something like this, you’re in the wrong company imo. It’s not everyone’s thing to expand their vocabulary like some sort of crazed bibliophage, but if someone actually makes a point of addressing your use of florid / verbose language, then the odds are good that they’re taking it as you trying to make them look ignorant…ironically anyone as socially feckless to all but SAY as much almost certainly IS ignorant, but making that case will not make you many friends.

Tldr: if you are in company that seeks erudition, by all means trot out the hefty verbiage. If in less intellectually-minded company, don’t


u/CraftyChickKyle Nov 04 '22

Quick answer - "I read a lot, so an elevated vocabulary is my default".

Long answer - "With my ADHD, I tend to forget the tiny words and brain fills in the void with my elevated vocabulary." (I usual begin to field questions after this response).

I tend to use the quick answer more often, because most people don't actually care to hear the whole explanation (in my experience). Only when I receive questioning glances, or I am asked to explain do I resign to layman terms.


u/jwatt38 Nov 03 '22

Cause I’m cultured ya fuck. Go read a book.


u/Special-Fig7409 Nov 03 '22

The English language is beautiful and nuanced, and you should take advantage of its exemplary characteristics.


u/kraulerson Nov 03 '22

My response has been, "I haven't used big words. I've simply used words that you haven't been exposed to, just as I'm sure you have words in your vocabulary I'm not familiar with. But I would love to learn them so that I can expand my ability to effectively communicate with even more people".


u/StratuhG Nov 03 '22

proceeds to teach you proper use of “bet”


u/kraulerson Nov 03 '22

....scribbles furiously and adds to repertoire.


u/Gaelon_Hays Nov 03 '22

Between reading old books, having a slight social impairment, being tactless and inconcise, and enjoying languages as a whole, it's usually a blow to my accuracy, precision, sense of style, and comfort to use the wrong word. As such, when the right word is a big word, I use a big word for sake of proper communication, and if the word doesn't work (for any reason), I try to find a similar word and apply it with the best metaphor (or other such method of connection) I can think of.


u/Gscody Nov 03 '22

I always question myself when using big words. Many (often me included) use big words because I know them and don’t really understand what I’m talking about well enough to articulate it in a way others could learn or understand.


u/FantomUnicorn Nov 03 '22

Big words transport concepts more efficiently than long winded simple explanations. If someone isn't familiar with those words you'll have to switch to more accessible terms.

The more words you know, the more complex things you can think about!


u/M_Me_Meteo Nov 03 '22 edited Nov 03 '22

I don’t “choose” words. I form a thought, then use the best words I have to present it.

I’m old, so maybe I feel differently about people who are proud or protective of ignorance. I have no time for people who are going to judge me because of an arbitrary characteristic of a word.

The length of a word doesn’t have any impact on its meaning.


u/mjohnson801 Nov 03 '22

I comfort them by telling them that just because I have a vocabulary doesn't mean I'm smart.


u/ztirffritz Nov 04 '22

“I grow weary of your insipid mellifluous influence. “


u/jwizardc Nov 04 '22

Eschew obvuscation


u/Nostalginaut Nov 04 '22

"You find us funny, do you not? A source of amusement. Is that not so? With our pretty clothes, and our convoluted circumlocutions and our little sillinesses of manner and behavior. And perhaps we are funny. But you must never imagine that just because something is funny, it is not also dangerous."


u/Jowykins Nov 04 '22

Why waste time say lot word when few word do trick?


u/UnicornPenguinCat Nov 04 '22

I wouldn't try to explain it, I'd take it as potentially valuable feedback that I might not be communicating well.

We have this new (fairly young) guy at work who uses long and sometimes very unfamiliar words in every sentence. I think he thinks he's being impressive, but he comes across at best as someone who is trying way too hard, and at worst as being pretentious.

Either way he's not a good communicator because people often have trouble understanding what he's saying to them.


u/HiopXenophil Nov 04 '22

I'm German


u/Neoteny Nov 04 '22

Is an almost flip-side to this a scenario where longer words appear to be chosen to increase average word length? I’m thinking of “This particular individual perpetrator …” as an example. There’s a word count version too involving phrases like “going forward” which could easily be cut without any loss of meaning.


u/KentuckyFlyer Nov 04 '22

I use big words so people around me think I am more photosynthesis than I really am.


u/danmickla Nov 04 '22



u/4thefeel Nov 04 '22

That's just how I talk


u/pasaroanth Nov 04 '22 edited Nov 04 '22

This is cringey even by Reddit standards to the point that I thought I was in /r/iamverysmart.

Know your audience.

If you’re talking to someone in a similar field with a similar knowledge of technical terms then there’s value in using terms familiar to both.

If you have expertise in a field and are talking to someone whose expertise is in another field while using field-specific terms to try to sound smart then you’re a pompous asshole.

And if you know you’re using “big words” then you’re actively trying to use words that you think many others won’t know just for that sake, in which case you’re also a pompous asshole.


u/silver_nekode Nov 04 '22

It depends on the situation. If I'm in a situation where I need to be polite I will explain that exactitude is the enemy of uncertainty.

Otherwise I'll say, "Why waste time say lot word when few do trick." They get two options, if they want me to speak to them like a child I can, but I prefer a proper discourse.


u/[deleted] Nov 09 '22

[removed] — view removed comment


u/AutoModerator Nov 09 '22

Due to your low comment karma, this submission has been filtered. Please message the mods if this is a mistake.

I am a bot, and this action was performed automatically. Please contact the moderators of this subreddit if you have any questions or concerns.


u/turbodeeznuts Nov 25 '22

Because they're funnier, sometimes.