Written Rambles

Words That Make You Sound Pretentious

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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