Written RamblesWords That Make You Sound PretentiousTyler Vendetti

I’m all for using a larger vocabulary but when it comes to maintaining a normal conversation with another human being, there’s an invisible language line that should be heavily avoided in order to not sound pretentious. Words in the English language can be placed in one of two categories: meant to be on paper and/or meant to be spoken aloud. Take the word “Stuff”, for example:

Casual conversation: I went to the store and got some stuff for the Lady GaGa costume party.

Academic paper: World War 2 had guns and soldiers and stuff.

See the difference? Now, I’m not saying people should revert to Newspeak or anything. I just think that there needs to be an invisible boundary placed somewhere along the English language to prevent Douchebag Jars across the country from overflowing. Without such boundaries, some people end up unknowingly spilling their oversized vocabulary over friends, family, and innocent bystanders, who go on to have four-eyed mutant babies, irregular thesaurus tumors growing from their stomachs and heads so inflated with useless words that they eventually explode from literary complications. All of which is I guess pretty bad. So, for the safety of mankind, I’m going to lay down the biggest word offenses you can commit so you can catch yourself before using them in any sort of exchange.

Juxtapose (v.) – to place close together or side by side, especially for comparison or contrast

This term is unacceptable in either category. Whether written on paper or spoken aloud, juxtapose is an automatic “pompous” label.

Example: The author juxtaposes the man with a donkey to highlight his lack of intelligence.

I blame the inventor of Scrabble for making X and J the most valuable game tiles because that’s the only reason anyone would even invent this word in the first place.

Ponder (v.) – to consider something deeply and thoroughly

Before saying this word in public, ask yourself: Do I really want to lose my friends? If the answer is no, put this six letter normalcy killer back in your word bank and pull out “think” instead. Sometimes the simplest answer is the best one.

Plethora (n.) – overabundance

Here’s when the categories start to matter. Plethora, when used in writing, is an acceptable replacement for “a lot” in any case. Using “a lot” in an analytical essay will only get you glaring red circles and disappointing marks while “plethora” will heighten your projected intelligence by about a letter grade. However, when I ask you how much food you ate on Thanksgiving and you tell me you had a plethora of turkey, I will stop talking to you.

Ergo (adv.) – therefore

Acceptable: Hitler slaughtered millions of Jewish citizens, ergo, he is considered infamous.

Unacceptable: Guys, I just got my first paycheck from my Pokemon breeding business. I have money, ergo, I will pay for dinner.

The first usage acts as an appropriate transition. The second acts as a blatant portrayal of pretentiousness. Ergo, this word stays on paper.

Nouveau Riche (n.) – a person who is newly rich

Anything that sounds even remotely French-inspired should not be used in casual conversation unless you’re speaking entirely in French. Otherwise, you just look like you’re forcing fancy speech and that alone can become obnoxious. This rule applies to Latin phrases too. Watch:

Philosophical Surfer Boy: Duuudddeee. You know what I just realized? Life is kind of like the ocean. Experiences come in and go out like the tide. And there are starfish in the ocean and then there are like, stars in the sky. Life is so baller.

Hippie Boy: Truth, man. Truth. Veritas, man. Veritas.

Puts everything into perspective, doesn’t it?

Betwixt (prep.) – between

What was so bad about between? I know it has a lot of “Es” but that is no reason to discriminate against a perfectly good preposition. Sure, slipping in an “X” adds an extra bit of flair to poetry every now and again, and yeah, the new formation allows for the inclusion of some chocolatey goodness in the center (BeSkittles just doesn’t have the same ring) but still. Unacceptable.

I cannot say I’m completely innocent when it comes to vocab blunders. (I once used “taboo” in regular conversation and the person I was talking to actually got up and left.) I regularly begin sentences with “perhaps” and constantly try to slip “superb” or “abundance” into stories while talking to strangers, so I can’t claim to be a word choice guru but I do know a pompous label when I see one. And while I do enjoy my little list, I know that pretentious speech cannot be lumped into 5 words so I encourage you to share your own and save the masses from tarnishing their character.

Image via Shutterstock

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  1. Is it because I am English or old? I totally disagree, dumbing down your everyday speech is not a good idea. Words are fun, I come from a working class background and use slang, swear words and French in my conversations with friends, as well as more sophisticated vocabulary. It’s more interesting. I live in a country now where the same level of word usage does not exist and frankly I find conversation can be a little dull. Does that make me sound like a wanker?

    You probably are not sure of that last word genteel American friends. xx

  2. I’d much rather someone use pretentious words in a conversation rather than constant abbreviations, like’s or um yeah’s. I think we should reinforce larger vocabularies in a society that barely uses full sentences, not judge or make fun of someone for having the ability to speak like an adult.

  3. Guilty as charged. And I don’t do it intentionally. My friends in college laughed at me all the time. I was talking about a pizza I’d eaten and said it had “a preponderance of sauce.” But, honestly, I use the word that comes to mind. If the word is “prosaic,” I use it.

  4. love it!! So true on every count. I ALWAYS enjoy reading your blog and thoughts!

  5. That awkward moment when you use five out of six words on the list. Oh well…

  6. Yes… Brilliant article Ty!! I so totally agree with both Courtney and Michelle! You are an amazing writer who knows how to juggle between serious and humorous.

  7. I for one found this article to be packed full of witty intellect. I’ll even admit to laughing out loud! Of course these words have their place, but that’s just it! Really folks? Think of your most intimate conversations…those reserved for your best friend, bf, gf and the like. Do you honestly sit down after a long day and say, “Au Contraire to the value I place on my career, today’s work load was a plethora of dismay!”? No, you DO NOT! You say in plain English “today sucked!”. This was not written in an effort to encourage anyone to ,”dumb down their vernacular”, but rather to shine light on the truth; as sophisticated a society as we’d like to think of ourselves, the simple things keep us real. If by chance you do conversate with your besties in the aforementioned manner, it’s unlikely that you’d find the humor here. A juxtaposition in and of itself! Thanks for sharing, Tyler.

  8. Yes… Brilliant article Ty!! I so totally agree with both Courtney and Michelle! You are an amazing writer who knows how to juggle between serious and humorous.

  9. I love words. Seriously, I am in a ‘It’s complicated’ Facebook relationship with them, because while I love words, I understand when some people find it pompous to use words like the ones on your list. I know this girl who speaks like she’s memorized a philosophy dissertation just so she can lord it over us lesser mortals, and that’s when I agree with you. But sometimes, there’s the perfect word that describes exactly what I want to say. Does that mean I shouldn’t say it because I’m afraid of sounding pompous? Besides, the English language is so rich in terms of vocabulary (200,000 words in current use, as opposed to french, which only has about 100,000. Do you know how damn frustrating it is to be speaking french when half of the words you want to use don’t even exist? Very.)
    Anywho, I found this post very funny, you write very well :D

  10. I don’t think we should consign some words to paper only. The Kennedy-Reagan debate was geared toward an eleventh grade reading level. The Clinton-Bush Sr. debate was aimed at a ninth grade reading level and the Obama-McCain? Sixth grade. Is it a good idea to embrace this trend?

  11. I’m not sure I agree with this article. Juxtapose, ponder, and plethora are all words I use quite frequently and I’m only in High School. In fact, most people I know use these words.

  12. PS–I tweeted this and am now a twitter follower :)

  13. Tyler…great piece! You were clearly being *facetious* (another fun pompus word!) From the perspective of a fellow writer and also a grad student preparing to teach highschool English (and therefore typically a fan of fancy words), I think this piece was brilliant! You (a published and successful writer) shouldn’t appologize for your wonderful writing! Cheers!

  14. Criticle typo- perfect! :)

  15. Liz, personally I think you’re reading way too much into this article. I don’t think this author (an English major who’s passion in life is writing and working with children) would deliberately encourage others to dumb down their language as a general rule. I don’t think this article in any way shape or form encourages others to sound stupid to avoid hurting the feelings of others. I think, no, in fact I know, the meaning of this article was meant to convey there is a time and a place for certain vocabulary. Simple as that… I think you’re being a bit harsh and a bit criticle… I happen to agree with the author and found it kinda funny… Personally, I think you need to chill.

  16. Hey guys… I’m sorry if this article seemed a little inappropriate to some. I didn’t intend for it to come off as a plea to dumb down your character. What I meant was these words do not necessarily need to be used in daily, casual conversation. (i.e. Yesterday, I was pondering about that math test I took…) I understand there’s a time and place for many of these terms. (English teachers are always allowed to use Juxtapose without judgement, for example. Also any sort of debate or presentation where “casual” vocabulary is not acceptable.) I’m not saying you should go out of your way to avoid using these. If the word fits, then go for it. I’m just saying that some of these maybe shouldn’t be used in a conversation with your friend about the weather or something equally as casual. I’ll try to take a less negative route next time.

    Tyler Vendetti | 6/24/2012 08:06 am
  17. I’m not sure an article encouraging people to dumb down their vocabulary is appropriate… well, ever, really. Especially with the young fan base I assume is reading this. Ponder? Plethora? These words seem too simple to be judging pomposity off of. I guess I’ll continue tarnishing my character, and if someone doesn’t know the word, perhaps I will spread knowledge instead of stifling it.

  18. Haha, this was really funny. I am a repeat offender on big words, and it’s usually completely by accident since I have no filter between my brain and my mouth, and I’ve been pulled up by people so many times. I do, however, think that it depends on the conversation (when you’re talking about a book or politics you’re going to use different word than when you’re talking about an event or person), and also on the person. Some people can pull it off; others can’t. I just hope I’m in the right category, lol!

  19. I totally agree with Matthew, especially about ‘juxtapose’, since you say it shouldn’t be used in either category. Okay, I’m reading a literature degree, but if I went out of my way not to use ‘juxtapose’ in my essays I know for a fact I’d get marked down for not using the obvious word.

  20. Ok, they’re big words, but does using big words mean that the person using them is annoying and pretentious just because they use words that aren’t on a sixth grader’s vocabulary list? I mean, what other word would you use in place of juxtapose? It’s a useful term that means something specific. I don’t think anyone should narrow their vernacular just because some people might think they’re stuck up even though they’re just smart and speaking their mind.