Utilize. Three syllables. Use. One syllable. Why not use “use”?
Vaporous. Three syllables. Vapid. Two syllables. Why not use “vapid”?
Inflating your writing with multi-syllabic or multi-phrasal words when simpler words work just as well makes your writing pompous, long and hard to understand.
So why do it?
- To sound important. In college I worked as a telephone operator, but my brother suggested I introduce myself as “an international communications coordinator.” Nobody knew what I was talking about, and when I explained I was a phone operator, they rolled their eyes.
- To sound educated. Many SAT words are multi-syllablic: capricious, ephemeral, and facilitated, for example. But isn’t it easier to understand synonyms such as flighty, short-lived and made easy? And why do we write? To sound educated or to be understood?
- To please an English teacher who confuses big words with deep thinking. In fact, big words obfuscate logic (clutter your meaning) and enshroud cogitation (hide poor thinking).
What can you do to rid your writing of clutter?
- Look for empty words. If you look, you will find. Many empty nouns end in “tion,” “ment” and “city.” Turn them into verbs and then search for simpler synonyms.
- Tell yourself that big words aren’t better. They are just bigger.
- Look up synonyms for long words. Many English words with the most punch are ancient Anglo-Saxon words of one or two syllables.
- Read the poetry of Robert Frost. Frost rarely used even two-syllable words, and that is no fluke. He said good writing should be understood on a literal level the first time it is read.