It is not the least uncommon to see people use unnecessarily complex words when a simpler one would suffice. You may have come across people using “quintessential” instead of “essential”, and several other similar mistakes. The reason for these is very likely because of the belief people have that it is better if they use a more complicated word. This belief, however, is not correct.
Long and difficult words are problematic, not only because it makes a person reading repeatedly look up the meaning of words they don’t know, but also because it might distract the reader from the point that is being made. Think of how people talk about a speech or piece of writing they really liked. They might say that it touched their heart (or a nerve, depending on the content), because it relates to them, they think the issue being discussed is important, the speaker or writer voiced something they were unable to express, etc. However, it is very unlikely that you’ll hear someone compliment or even mention the person’s vocabulary. In a 2015 article in The Atlantic titled “The Needless Complexity of Academic Writing”, the author talks about how even academics are irritated at the use of overly complicated words. It also mentions Daniel Oppenheimer, a psychology professor who published a paper titled “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly”. It concludes, “Write clearly and simply if you can, and you’ll be more likely to be thought of as intelligent.”
Even when explaining a technical subject, it might be worthwhile to take the audience into consideration. Think of Steve Jobs explaining what an iPod does. Instead of talking about the number of gigabytes, Jobs says that having an iPod is like having “1000 songs in your pocket”. This is extremely effective, not only because it makes it easy to comprehend how much storage there is, but because the shorter and simpler words used are easier to remember.
A crucial component of effective communication is simplicity. If people struggle to or don’t understand what it is you’re trying to tell them, the whole point of communication is lost. It is therefore much better to abandon the use of difficult words and instead opt for simpler words that can get the message across.
Aliza is Matilda resurrected. Reach her at email@example.com