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Pretense Alert!

November 24, 2009  
Copywriters Simon Glickman and Julia Rubiner of Editorial Emergency openly embrace the use of sophisticated vocabulary. They do, however, wince when a speaker or writer chooses an overly complex term because they think it sounds smarter or more authoritative. Because rarely is that the case.

"I'm convinced the fear of sounding not smart is behind a lot of stupid writing (and talking)," they say. "Smart writers—effective writers—don't use 'utilize' when they mean 'use.' They don't use 'facilitate' when they mean 'lead.' They don't use 'possess' when they mean 'have.'"

To make their point, the duo quote police trainer Val Van Brocklin, who wonders why law-enforcement officials suddenly "talk funny" when they take the stand: for example, "all items depicted in the five photos were later observed by this officer while I was observing the said property which was observed in the trunk of the vehicle."

She suggests that the "highfalutin word game" actually defeats their cause, making it more difficult for their audience—in this case, a jury—to relate.

"Worse than not smart is pretentious," say Glickman and Rubiner, "which some of these elevated word choices can make you seem. They remind me of a little girl trying valiantly to appear grown-up while teetering around in Mommy's high heels. Not exactly the effect we're after in our marketing communications."

Your Marketing Inspiration: If you choose words because you think they sound smarter, there's a good possibility they're having the opposite effect.


More Inspiration:
Galen De Young: Blogging: What are You Talking About?
Paul Williams: Three Ps For Better Leading: Pace, Process, Pulse
Ted Mininni: Taking a Bite Out Of Apple

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