Joanna Young poses the ever-fresh question: Why do people use long words? All of the writing mavens tell us to use short words, and research backs it up.
What was it about complex, hard to read words that people were so stubbornly attached to?
She offers some possible answers:
- Desire to prove your topic is complex by using complex words
- Fear of betraying lack of (classical) education
- Natural desire to copy the language patterns of others
- Little encouragement to use ‘ordinary’ words
- Lack of time to ‘translate’ complex words used round about you into everyday words
- Longer words keep subjects impersonal – reducing potential for personal criticism & attack
- It’s the way people above you write – so you assume it’s the ladder to success
I think that the influence of others–in your education or at your workplace–is a major factor in many fields. When I interviewed Joseph Kimble about plain language in the legal profession, he said that “It does take some practice, effort, and training to learn how to write in plain English, especially after you’ve been corrupted by law school.”
What do you think? Why do we persist in using big words when there are so many short, powerful words available?