The National Spelling Bee will happen again in a few weeks. It’s a big deal. ESPN provides live coverage. The memorization skills of the students are impressive. For a day or two afterward, broadcasters will mention the winning word and, maybe, stumble over its pronunciation. They might list a few of the less familiar words that were used in the competition. Then most of those words will return to obscurity. That’s a good thing.
For those of us concerned about communicating clearly, those words may have little value. Yes, those words are good words. They may give a more precise meaning or connotation than more familiar words. But if the reader does not know the words or their meanings, they are useless.
Are you sending a news release to a media outlet or posting it to a PR news release website? You cannot know the education level of each person who reads your words. Recognize that some gatekeepers, even those who have degrees from esteemed universities, may not possess a large vocabulary. If your release stumps its reader—no matter its newsworthiness—the reader will move on to the next one.
I began reading the classic Reader’s Digest feature “It Pays to Increase Your Word Power” while in high school. It introduced me to countless words that I had not previously encountered. It helped clarify the meanings of words I was marginally familiar with. I agree with the declaration of the feature’s title.
But using big words just because you have them in your arsenal is pointless. Those old enough to recall the glory days of Monday Night Football may remember incidences of Howard Cosell’s pontificating with big words not generally heard on a sports broadcast. Often, those remarks were followed by Don Meredith’s folksy translations of those Cosell comments into language that could be understood by all.
Remember when you write or speak, your goal is to communicate clearly. Don’t presume that readers, viewers or listeners will reach for a dictionary when they encounter a word that doesn’t register. It is the responsibility of the communicator to make sure the message is clearly understood.