Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Should I Dumb Down My Speech So People Will Understand Me Better?

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

I always have to do it; don't use "big words" to confuse ordinary people and/or family. Should this be done or should you use big words and try to get people to learn them? Is tact worth the compromise?

Hm. I'd say that the purpose of communication is to have others understand what it is you want to say. So if you have to "dumb it down" to achieve that purpose, do so. Of course if you want to speak to make the impression that you are smarter than your opponent, you can use words the other guy doesn't know. But then, this is quite a sneaky tactic. :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Personally, I'm a big fan of unit-economy: if I can say what I want, and say it precisely, with one word as opposed to a half-dozen, so much the better. I can't say that I've ever run into problems with making myself understood due to vocabulary issues. (It's usually organizing my thoughts into a linear discourse that presents problems.)

Generally, people can figure out one's meaning from the context, or if they don't understand, then one can make the effort to explain more simply. While I recognize the importance of considereing the cognitive context of one's audience, I don't know the extent of the vocabulary of each person I speak with, so trying to "dumb-down" my usage would mean targeting the lowest dommon denominator. That's not something I'm willing to do, besides which I consider it demeaning to one's audience. I'd much rather give them the benefit of the doubt and assume the best of them until they demonstrate otherwise.

That said, there's no need to be splendiferously loquacious.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I just find a lot of people disturbingly don't know some very basic "big words" and it seems I'm always finding simpler and simpler ways of saying things because people don't know some basic words like obscure or obscene. Nothing even rocket science, just what seems to be as very basic vocabulary.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The context you describe is "friends and family". You give the example of the word "obscure".

Suppose you comment to a friend, "Gosh, that really is an obscure proposal", and he is looking at you blankly. What next?

What you do next depends on your immediate and long-term goals. If you are merely "thinking aloud", you can leave it at that and go on to other things. However, if you really want to communicate, you have no alternative but to clarify your meaning.

You can follow-up by repeating the idea in a more explanatory way, based on the specifics; for example, "I think there are some good ideas in the proposal, but they're obscured by these points here that make it really unclear". Or, you can simply use a synonym: "Meaning, it's unclear". Of course, what you say depends on your relationship with the other person and other aspects of the situation (e.g. other people being present).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well, in the example I used my friend was talking about a cop hiding that gave him a ticket and he said "he was sitting way back i this obscene place". I kind of smirked and said "you mean obscure". We then had a good 15 minute argument about it which ended in me taking this huge dictionary out of my trunk and proving him wrong. Even then he still said there was a more modern definition that sides with his definition, and that my dictionary was too old. However, I'm not an idiot. But the reason I originally made this thread wasn't about that. Its just that I constantly have to dumb down my speech past what I consider easy to understand by most everyone because it just seems everyone around me is a dullard. I love using big words and wish I could implement new words more often, but it always seems I'm converting diesel engines to coal by having to make my speech more and more simple minded. It drives me mad but I seem like an arrogant asshole constantly trying to force my more complex speech into a conversation.

I guess what it really comes down to is I need to get the hell out of where I'm living and do something with my life. All in time.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

...besides which I consider it demeaning to one's audience. I'd much rather give them the benefit of the doubt and assume the best of them until they demonstrate otherwise.
I agree. Personally, I consider myself to have an ok vocabulary. But when I don't know the meaning of a word in conversation, I simply ask for it. It takes no time at all, and I have never met anyone who was annoyed as a result. I agree, too, that organizing conversation is more important than the actual words implemented in the conversation. You might consider that, Illuminaughty.

Also, it does no good to get irritated at people for not knowing words, in general. I know several people whose vocabularies are significantly lacking, but who have no problem understanding concepts when they are explained differently. I guess if it bothers you that much, just stop talking to the person. If you think their intellectual capacity isn't worth anything to you, also just stop talking to the person.

Also Illuminaughty, there are a lot of irritating people in their late teens and early twenties in Ohio. Well, at least Northeastern Ohio. As you can tell by this forum, it isn't like that everywhere. Until you get out of Ohio, you may just have to surrender to the notion that you will have very few in-person relationships, or maybe just conversations, for which you hold value.

Edited by JASKN
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I just find a lot of people disturbingly don't know some very basic "big words" and it seems I'm always finding simpler and simpler ways of saying things because people don't know some basic words like obscure or obscene. Nothing even rocket science, just what seems to be as very basic vocabulary.

I think it would depend on the word in question. If it was something like 'obscure' (or perhaps 'irony') where I wouldnt have the faintest idea how to explain it in more basic words, then I'd probably just say "forget it" or something. If the word was fairly easy to replace with a smaller one, I'd probably give a synonym.

There are different reasons for using big words(/technical terms) - one would be for literary effect (it makes your sentences sound more interesting than talking monosyllabically), while another would be conceptual (there just isnt a smaller word, or group of words, which means quite the same thing). Its obviously easier to translate one of the former than one of the latter.

Well, in the example I used my friend was talking about a cop hiding that gave him a ticket and he said "he was sitting way back i this obscene place". I kind of smirked and said "you mean obscure".
Well, its possible to make mistakes. I've liked the word "vapid" for quite some time, and I use it a fair bit. However, today I found out that it actually meant something different from what I thought it did (I was under the impression it meant 'shallow'). I'd definitely have argued with someone who told me I was using it wrong , and probably wouldnt have believed him until a dictionary had been consulted. Edited by Hal
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree. Personally, I consider myself to have an ok vocabulary. But when I don't know the meaning of a word in conversation, I simply ask for it. It takes no time at all, and I have never met anyone who was annoyed as a result. I agree, too, that organizing conversation is more important than the actual words implemented in the conversation. You might consider that, Illuminaughty.

Also, it does no good to get irritated at people for not knowing words, in general. I know several people whose vocabularies are significantly lacking, but who have no problem understanding concepts when they are explained differently. I guess if it bothers you that much, just stop talking to the person. If you think their intellectual capacity isn't worth anything to you, also just stop talking to the person.

Also Illuminaughty, there are a lot of irritating people in their late teens and early twenties in Ohio. Well, at least Northeastern Ohio. As you can tell by this forum, it isn't like that everywhere. Until you get out of Ohio, you may just have to surrender to the notion that you will have very few in-person relationships, or maybe just conversations, for which you hold value.

I don't get irritated at people individually unless its really bad and there's no reason for it. It just irritates me from time to time upon reflection that I can't talk the way I enjoy.

Heh. I'm in sandusky. There's precious little worthwhile people here.

I think it would depend on the word in question. If it was something like 'obscure' (or perhaps 'irony') where I wouldnt have the faintest idea how to explain it in more basic words, then I'd probably just say "forget it" or something. If the word was fairly easy to replace with a smaller one, I'd probably give a synonym.

There are different reasons for using big words(/technical terms) - one would be for literary effect (it makes your sentences sound more interesting than talking monosyllabically), while another would be conceptual (there just isnt a smaller word, or group of words, which means quite the same thing). Its obviously easier to translate one of the former than one of the latter.

Well, its possible to make mistakes. I've liked the word "vapid" for quite some time, and I use it a fair bit. However, today I found out that it meant something completely different from what I thought it did (I was under the impression it meant 'shallow').

Mostly its for the latter reason that I have trouble, but I do like talking for the former reason, but that's a luxury I can't even imagine having such problems with the latter reason.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hey, I live in Ohio, thank you so very much!

I have occasional problems when I use uncommon verbiage to express myself, but I love words: often there's a beautifully apt way of saying precisely what you mean in some lesser-used corner of the dictionary.

However, Illuminaughty, it is rude to correct your friends' malapropisms regardless of how goofy they are; if you can't resist, just do what I do and giggle to yourself, then when they ask you what's so funny insist that it's "nothing, no really, nothing, go on" and giggle some more. It'll make them nuts.

(Or you can take them literally, that's always good for a laugh. "Did he just walk out of a bordello or something? That's reprehensible. Cops these days.")

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It depends on your goals; are you primarilly trying to communicate with people, or to impress them with your vocabulary/intelligence?

And to add to that does it really show higer intelligence when one strings together a bunch of fancy scientific and philosophical vebiage when making a point or is it (especially when people try it on this forum) an an implied argument from (?)authority? Ninety percent of the time its the latter, that's why I always try to speak and write as casually as I can. True intelligence eventually shines through, and you don't have to much up your writing and make long boring posts to make a simple point.

Heh. I'm in sandusky. There's precious little worthwhile people here.

Yeah but you have CEDAR POINT! That's all you need and I want to take my kid there this year. It's been awhile since I've road the Magnum and the Corkscrew.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

And to add to that does it really show higer intelligence when one strings together a bunch of fancy scientific and philosophical vebiage when making a point or is it (especially when people try it on this forum) an an implied argument from (?)authority? Ninety percent of the time its the latter, that's why I always try to speak and write as casually as I can. True intelligence eventually shines through, and you don't have to much up your writing and make long boring posts to make a simple point.

Yeah but you have CEDAR POINT! That's all you need and I want to take my kid there this year. It's been awhile since I've road the Magnum and the Corkscrew.

I'll let my actions show whether I want to use big words to inflate my ego or to summarize conversation to make it concise. I assure you I simply try to estimate what someone's vocabulary level is and use words accordingly, its just... I'm OFTEN shocked that people have a much poorer vocabulary than I thought. Just a gripe, I suppose.

Cedar point loses its "pizzaz" after living near it so long. The tourist help that along real quick. Of course now the millenium force/ top thrill dragster dwarf the magnum. I'm fairly certian I can't even ride them because I'm too big (I know I can't ride the top thrill dragster). I have ridden the magnum against my better insticts because of a short line, and it was a blast though. :P

Link to comment
Share on other sites

However, Illuminaughty, it is rude to correct your friends' malapropisms regardless of how goofy they are; if you can't resist, just do what I do and giggle to yourself, then when they ask you what's so funny insist that it's "nothing, no really, nothing, go on" and giggle some more. It'll make them nuts.
Why, that's ridiculous, and if you're going to waste the time giggling, why not just do your friend a favor and correct the misuse? Personally, I find nothing offensive about someone correcting my blatant error of word. In fact, I would actually prefer that someone correct me than not.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'll let my actions show whether I want to use big words to inflate my ego or to summarize conversation to make it concise. I assure you I simply try to estimate what someone's vocabulary level is and use words accordingly, its just...
Don't worry this wasn't directed at you.

Cedar point... millenium force/ top thrill dragster dwarf the magnum. :P

Yeah, I forgot about those; I haven't been there in about ten years. B)

(Fixed end-quotation bbcode. sNerd)

Edited by softwareNerd
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Why, that's ridiculous, and if you're going to waste the time giggling, why not just do your friend a favor and correct the misuse?

Because he may or may not consider it a favor. The fact that you don't get annoyed doesn't mean that it isn't rude; for instance I'm not much bothered when people don't say "thank you" all the time, but its still rude.

Rude = against protocol?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Because he may or may not consider it a favor. The fact that you don't get annoyed doesn't mean that it isn't rude; for instance I'm not much bothered when people don't say "thank you" all the time, but its still rude.

Rude = against protocol?

This may be a little off-subject, but who exactly determines the protocol? I mean, with that particular example, why is it still my problem when I am the one who does not have an issue with it?
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Who exactly determines that we will use the word "horse" to refer to a specific animal? The purpose of protocol is similar to the purpose of language--to ease communication and converse with your fellow human beings. If you regularly violate protocol you're going to communicate some things that you probably didn't intend, i.e. that you are immature or a slob, even if you are not.

Of course, people can have wrong approaches to protocol just like they can have wrong approaches to language, so the trick to evaluating the effects of any particular item of protocol (and thus whether you're genuinely rude for violating it) is to ask why a certain rule exists. In this case I think it's simply to avoid having pointless arguments and getting upset because you imagine your friends are idiots.

Now, protocol isn't some intrinsicist thing, though; there are polite ways to go about correcting someone's speech so that you can do it without being rude. (Laughing at them is rude, though, btw, that was intended to be a joke.)

I think you pick up on protocol by watching what gets people upset or irritated and learning how to avoid it; in situations where no one conveyed their displeasure to me about some action I still regularly ignore protocol because I haven't internalized it. It's not a subject that I'm an expert in, as you can probably tell, I just understand that it exists for a reason and it can help you when you want to have company.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Because he may or may not consider it a favor. The fact that you don't get annoyed doesn't mean that it isn't rude; for instance I'm not much bothered when people don't say "thank you" all the time, but its still rude.

Rude = against protocol?

And giggling to yourself when someone makes a mistake in their speech is polite?

Sorry but I'm with JASK on this, I cant imagine a more rude way to deal with a mistake than what you suggested in your original post :/ Especially the "what are you laughing at?"/"oh nothing, carry on <giggle>" part at the end.

Edited by Hal
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Is tact worth the compromise?
What is the compromise? Do you have a principle which you want to adhere to that says something like "Always let other people know how educated you are by selecting the fanciest vocabulary possible"? Here's a good rule of thumb: never use 'sesquipedalian' in an ordinary bar conversation about football, and never let anyone use the word "obscene" to mean "obscure(d)", unless (1) you actually care to understand what your conversation partner is saying or (2) you actually care whether your conversation partner sounds iggerent. If it's (1), all you need is a translation into English -- i.e. "obscene like in a porno theater?". If it's (2), then your answer was wrong (it doesn't do what it's supposed to do) because actually he did intend to say "obscene" and he didn't just make a slip of the tongue -- he actually believes that "obscene" means "obscure" (I'm having a hard time believing anybody could be so wrong, but whatever). Even though he intended to say "obscene", he apparently is unaware of the actual meaning and use of "obscene", i.e. he does not know that the proper word in that context would be "obscure". To say "You mean 'obscure'." implies a lack of motor control or a brain malfunction, which was apparently not the case in this instance.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Some people think you shouldn't clear your throat in public, though I don't think it's rude.

:)

I, generally, don't use "big words" unless I specifically know the meaning. However, I like being around people more eloquent than me, since it gives me a chance to learn how to speak better. I always relish the chance to learn new words. I really like the "word of the day" thing on my Yahoo page. On the other hand, sometimes I learn a new word, but subsequently forget it, because I never find myself in a practical situation to use it.

I think, in many ways, this ties in with the laziness thread around here. Many people I know do not read, refuse to read, and have gotten away without reading in school. I, usually, find that people who read and read often, are the ones with larger vocabularies and better speaking habits. I used to read all the time (Michael Crichton and others) and I just don't have the time anymore (or I didn't make the time) and I've noticed slips in my vocabulary. I'm trying to get back into reading more.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...