Squash your sesquipedalianism

Squash your sesquipedalianism

“Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity”

Sound like a paper you would want to read? Me neither. In fact, if you’re like me, you didn’t even make it through the whole title.

Fortunately, it’s actually an ironic title from a study by one of my favorite psychology professors. The study, subtitled “Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly,” reveals two main discoveries about sesquipedalianism, or the practice of using very long, complex words.

First, the study found that virtually everyone uses long, complex language. This is pretty intuitive. We’ve all been guilty of dressing up our language from time to time to seem smarter, especially when we’re with people we want to impress.

Second, and more interestingly, the study found that when a person unnecessarily uses long or complex words, others think that person is less intelligent. In trying to sound smart, people who use gratuitously big words shoot themselves in the foot.

The lesson here should be clear: Simple language is best.

This is especially true in a field like communications, where the audience could be anyone from a Supreme Court justice to an ordinary taxpayer. But it’s not just about accessibility. When you get down to it, clear writing is simply more engaging — easier to understand and more enjoyable to read.

So the next time you write something, do everyone a favor — yourself included — and leave your sesquipedalian prose at the portcullis.

Spencer Caton