I never realised quite how extensive my vocabulary was until I was pulled aside at work once and cautioned that there was a complaint against me because I made other people feel stupid. It wasn’t because I intentionally or unintentionally spoke down to people but because I littered my conversations with big words that other people didn’t understand. I was asked to remember that not all staff members had a university education (I didn’t think it was wise to point out that neither had I) or spoke English as a first language. My supervisor said she understood that this was just me being me but could I watch my words just the same.
Not wanting to give rise to another complaint, I asked if it could be pointed out when I used big words so that I could translate them to a more common usage.
I was surprised at the words that were pointed out.
I remember my mum speaking such words when I was a kid. By the time I was eight, I was reading ‘grown up’ books and found a lot of fascinating and interesting sounding words there too. My husband is a university graduate and has travelled the world. To me, usage like this normal. And I haven’t even reached the best words yet. It really, really shocked me that these were the words that made people ‘feel stupid’.
I’m not university educated. I’m not an etymologist or a linguist. I’ve just read books for as long as I can remember. And I was taught how to use a dictionary and a thesaurus. Somewhere along the way I’ve picked up ‘big’ words and I worked out what they meant. I didn’t do it to make other people feel stupid. I didn’t do it to big note myself. I didn’t do it to make myself sound important or stuck up. I did it because I read a word I didn’t know and wanted to find out what it meant.
That was it.
If I use a big word you don’t understand, just ask. I don’t mind. I’ll think that we’ve had different life experiences and that I’ve learned something different along the way.
I won’t think you’re stupid.