The Key to Sounding Smart

Long words are a hallmark of academic writing, but are they always the wisest choice?

Not according to Daniel M. Oppenheimer, professor of psychology at UCLA Anderson School of Management.

His research suggests that, contrary to popular belief, using long words does not make you look more intelligent.

Instead, it makes you seem less smart, less capable and less likeable.



This is because our brain finds long words more difficult to understand, and we subconsciously blame the speaker for this difficulty.

This translates into a negative perception of the speaker.

Edmund Blackadder illustrates this. Watch him confuse Dr Samuel Johnson with his ‘contrafibularities’ (a neologism for ‘congratulations’):


In fact, long words are so unattractive that people are less likely to buy stocks with long, unpronounceable names. Similarly, politicians with longer names fare worse in polls.

So how do you sound smart?

Be clear.

In most cases, this means using simpler, shorter words that your audience will find easy to understand.

For example, don’t say “sesquipedalian” if you can just say “long words”.

However, when only a longer word will do, don’t be scared to use it. Just don’t forget that you use words to illuminate your ideas, not obscure them.

We use words of all shapes and sizes to clarify your brand. If you want to be smart about your brand’s language, email Chris.