Big Words Can Make You Look Perspicacious Or Injudicious

five-dollar word

Using multitudinous big words in your writing will make you a sesquipedalian writer

It is always a temptation for a writer to show off the vastness of their vocabulary.

There is nothing wrong at all with using long words in your writing.

But it is the use, style, placement, frequency, relevance and the mixing of formal and informal register that can cause difficulties for readers.

Readers love learning new words. But if they have to run off to a dictionary three times on one page, it will not make for an enjoyable read.

Writers need to excogitate before they ameliorate a text with interminable and convoluted lexis.

Or in other words, if you have an irrational fear of big words, writers need to think before they use them.

Nevertheless, nonetheless, however, and notwithstanding all that, I always think that the word but will usually suffice.


The use of extended vocabulary has its place

For a descriptive narrative, using the words nice, pretty and lovely are not going to make for an interesting read.

But in an article or blog post, keeping things simple is considered very good writing.

In spoken English, politicians in particular love using as many long words as they possibly can.

When your job is to say as little as possible for an extended period of time, using words that no one understands is the perfect way to achieve a positive result.



In fiction, it is a fine balance. The word eldritch has become popular with paranormal writers.

The word means weird and sinister or ghostly and perhaps derives from the word elf.

But when it is used too often, it loses its punch. Used once is fun, but twice or three times becomes boring.

Words such as menacing, threatening, ominous, forbidding, baleful, frightening, eerie, alarming, disturbing, disquieting, dark and black offer plenty of choices to say the same thing.

When using two or more adjectives, the pairing or collocation of the words can come unstuck when using unusual words.

Yes, a Ferrari is singularly puissant, splendiferous and pricey. Maybe extortionate would be a better choice in this grouping.

It is not that words of more than three syllables confuse readers.

There is no need to dumb down your writing thinking that readers might have a specific phobia for long words. It is when and how you use the words that can disrupt the flow of your text.

If you want to be sesquipedalian, that fine. Just know when to avoid circumlocution.

You don’t need to write with a fear of long words. Use them at the right time and for the right reason.


What is another word for thesaurus?


It is an old joke. But there is an answer.

wordfinder, wordbook, synonym dictionary/lexicon; rare synonymy.

By whatever name, a thesaurus is a writer’s best friend.

I love the verb to liaise. Not because it is a lengthy word, but because I know how to spell it.

But how often would I use the word? Perhaps once or twice a year. But I would use work together, collaborate, network, link up or hook up far more often.

Uncommon words are like salt and pepper. A little seasoning goes a long way, but too much spoils the meal.

It is in the context of use that a writer needs to be cautious. When you look for a word in a thesaurus, always check for the formal and informal uses.

When you are writing dialogue, make sure the vocabulary you choose suits the character. If your protagonist is a politician and wants to sound smart then the word perfidiousness might easily one that could be used.

But if your main character is a down and out alcoholic detective, he would probably use the words bogus or shifty.

Similarly, if you are writing fiction using the third person omniscient point of view, you need to maintain a consistency of style in your narrative.

It is not the length of a word that matters.

Words such a superfluous and incomprehensible are extremely common. But short words like mien, cavil or descry belong to an extremely formal writing style or voice.

To suddenly change the voice for a character or the narrator is very disconcerting for a reader.

Consistency is the key to good writing.


Be frugal with your five-dollar words

Mark Twain gave wise advice. “Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.”

Here are some examples for you of my favourite five and ten dollar words.

$5 word: Quintessential –   $0.50 word: Typical

$10 word: Boondoggle –   $0.50 word: Wasteful

$10 word: Brobdingnagian  –   $0.50 word: Huge

$5 word: Discombobulate  –   $0.50 word: Confuse

$5 word: Adscititious –   $0.50 word: Additional

$5 word: Bindlestiff  –   $0.50 word: Tramp

$10 word: Umbriferous –   $0.50 word: Shady

$5 word: Natation  –   $0.50 word: Swimming

$5 word: Octothorpe –   $0.50 word: Hash as in #

$5 word: Equanimous  –   $0.50 word: Balanced

$5 word: Serpentine  –   $0.50 word: Wily

$10 word: Rebarbative –   $0.50 word: Irritating


The denouement

Denouement? Well, okay. It’s the conclusion.

Acquiring and expanding your vocabulary is a never-ending process for a writer. But learning to be careful in when and how you use your expanding vocabulary is far more important.

Why spend a five, ten or twenty dollar word, when a cheap one will do the job?

Repetition is often a problem, particularly in a long text such as a novel. Variety is essential, but it needs to remain within the voice, style and register of your writing. But this is not such an easy task.

Many authors use Prowritingaid now to help find repeated words and expressions in their texts. It is by far the best tool for checking, dissecting and analysing a very long text such as a manuscript.

One of my readers commented recently that it tore his manuscript to shreds, which was exactly what he wanted it to do. I paraphrased him here, as his comment, which you can read here, was a little stronger.

Finding the right word and using it in the right place is a must. But using a word sparingly is equally important.

In the end, it is not about long words and short words. You will use both, of course.

Your task as a writer is to either inform or to entertain. Both of these forms of writing need clarity and precision but with a sprinkling of surprise.

Use your extended vocabulary prudently to add some spice to your writing. But do not overdo it.

Keep your readers in mind. They want to enjoy reading your work, so do not make it painfully challenging for them to read.

Just because you can spell supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is not a good reason to use your longest word on every page.

But the meaning of the word is appropriate for this article. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious means something to say when you have nothing to say.


More reading: Similes And Metaphors And The Difference Between Them


Derek Haines

Derek Haines is an Australian author, living in Switzerland.

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