What are the five impressive words?
September 16, 2008 5:12 PM   Subscribe

What are the five impressive words? Does anybody know the other two impressive words? My mum caught the end of a radio show, yesterday, where they mentioned five words that, when included in your active vocabulary, make a huge difference to how learned you sound. She only heard the last three...

The words she heard were: seldom (with a note to avoid "never"), microcosm, and discourse.

I can't work out which radio station she would have heard it on (we're in Australia; it was around 4-6 pm, and I've checked the ABC website).

Can anyone help make Mum sound more learned?
posted by surenoproblem to Writing & Language (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
fire&wings: Love it!

But for reals, English is a second language for my Mum, and she's pretty self conscious about it...
posted by surenoproblem at 5:33 PM on September 16, 2008

It is better to be learning than appear to be learned, as affectations do not stand up to scrutiny and you can never be learned. Read books. -- But I guess, uh, to be a good answerererer: deliberate, sufficient, improbable, indubitably?
posted by TwelveTwo at 5:35 PM on September 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seriously, if this question is truly "how can I help my mum sound more learned in her speech" then the best way for her to sound learned is by learning. Not just five words dropped into speech randomly, but by having access to a whole bunch 'o words and knowing how to use them in creative ways that don't sound forced, ungrammatical, or awkward.

In other words, encourage her to read as much as she can. To look up things she doesn't understand. To write a bunch. And to surround herself with as many cultural influences as possible, so that she can start to intuitively understand the societal usage norms, styles, and speech registers of various communities.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:15 PM on September 16, 2008

TwelveTwo's advice is good; just using big words won't make anyone sound learned unless they know what they mean and are comfortable using them. Reading is a great way to pick them up, and so is watching science documentaries and the kind of panel discussions that have (most kinds) of academic experts on them.

Crossword puzzles are GREAT for learning the multiple ways ideas can be expressed or referred to, but more for background and general knowledge than actual use.

All that aside, I like "stochastic" and "cantankerous" since they convey pretty specific concepts succinctly.

Heh, add "succinct" (which I am not) to that list.
posted by dolface at 6:22 PM on September 16, 2008

Hey, surenoproblem:

Could you clarify the question please? Are you only looking for the specific words on the radio show, or are you attempting to ask a more general question?
posted by Bookhouse at 6:23 PM on September 16, 2008

blah, must remember to preview; iamkimiam put it much more elegantly tha than I did.
posted by dolface at 6:23 PM on September 16, 2008

[a few comments removed - unless the OP says otherwise the questionis not "riff on big words for my Mom to say" thanks.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:28 PM on September 16, 2008

Thanks, Bookhouse.

To clarify, I'm looking for the missing two words from a list that includes: seldom, microcosm and discourse.

If anyone heard the radio show, or has heard of this list before, that would be awesome.
posted by surenoproblem at 6:31 PM on September 16, 2008

I used to work with a guy who regularly and habitually dropped "fancy" words into his speech.

Unfortunately, he invariably misused them, which left his listeners who actually knew the words' definitions less impressed with this guy's intelligence and education than had his natural acumen not been obscured by his eggcorns.
posted by orthogonality at 6:53 PM on September 16, 2008 [3 favorites]

Might it have been SBS Radio?
posted by b33j at 7:19 PM on September 16, 2008

Which state?
posted by b33j at 7:27 PM on September 16, 2008

That REGALIA is so PALATIAL, man.

There is an improv game where an officiator can, at any time, yell 'REDO' and the actor who last said a line has to re-do the line slightly differently, often a few times in a row.

"I just got back from work, man I'm beat. "
" I finished up work and I feel like I could kill a fifth of Jack right now. '
"I can't stand work, the airline would probably have fired me long ago if I didn't drink a fifth of Jack before work each day"
" Honey, I'm back from work. Bleach gets rid of blood, right?"

... etc.

I feel people who have a good command of the english language can do the same thing with every sentence that comes out of their mouth, you get the sense you could yell 'REDO' at them, at any time, and you'd get similarly florid verbage that describes their thinking in a totally different yet sensible way. The glory of the language isn't in it's exactitude, but in the remarkable diversity of ways of describing the same idea.
posted by spatula at 7:36 PM on September 16, 2008

Can't help you with the specific list, but I do have an anecdote. In college, at a private liberal arts college since known for its mindset lists, I had a dormmate with whom I'd exchange puns (in mutual exile, of course, as nobody else thought we were funny). This guy once told me he knew I'd be interesting because I was the only person he had ever heard use the word "albeit" in conversation.

Years later, another friend approvingly pointed out my passing use of the word "jejune".

Other than these two incidents, however, I would judge that in every social situation where I used such extraordinary vocabulary, I got a negative vibe from having done so, even if nobody made an issue of it.

For myself, I wouldn't count any of those three words, out of context, as giving a particular appearance of learnedness (especially "seldom", wha?). But then, I wouldn't use "microcosm" or "discourse" out of context, either. Part of communication is knowing your audience.
posted by dhartung at 8:49 PM on September 16, 2008

It was triple j on hack. (It may have also been on another abc radioshow, they do share their stuff) Doesn't appear to be on their website.

And it was actually words that people use to make themselves look smarter. Basically they were taking the piss out of people who use big words. The third one was actually "seldom, if ever", but you'd think considering I heard them yesterday, I would remember the other two......

Will think.

Oh, "existential" was one of them....c'mon brain.....
posted by kjs4 at 8:52 PM on September 16, 2008

You can listen to it here, it's Tuesday's.

The last was "ironic". Though you really want to listen to the show and explain the context to her.
posted by kjs4 at 8:57 PM on September 16, 2008

Good luck to your mother, it is great that she is trying. And sad that people speaking their second language are so often underestimated.

It is ironic that these particular words are ones that seldom arise in normal discourse, though I guess existential theory would suggest their utility even in a microcosm of the world.
posted by Idcoytco at 6:17 AM on September 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

1. existential

2. seldom, if ever

3. literally

4. microcosm

5. discourse

There were some extra credit words at the beginning of the program: in lieu of; osmosis; permeable; paradox; ironic.

And some more at the end: superfluous; verbose; antithesis; sesquipedalianistic; oxymoron; paradigm; whereby; facilitate; ascertain; synergy; consequently; postulated; cognizant; underpinned.
posted by marsha56 at 8:43 AM on September 17, 2008 [4 favorites]

dhartung makes a good point. I can't tell you how many times I've used a "big" word and someone has either accused me of making up a word (this happened when I described Wall-E as "dystopian") or purposely trying to throw in a word to look smarter (my boss asked if I was using a "word-of-the-day calendar" when I used the word "tangentially" which, funny enough, I didn't think was all that weird of a word!).
posted by radioamy at 9:44 AM on September 17, 2008

It is better to be learning than appear to be learned

This cannot be underscored any further. Anyone who is actually learned will see right through the faux sheen of flowery vocabulary. The best example would be how American policemen talk, trying to hide their thuggishness under all that jargon and extra syllables. They sound like idiots to everyone except other cops.
posted by randomstriker at 11:58 AM on September 17, 2008

In a philosophy class, dropping in the word "hypostatize" will instantly paralyze any opponent, since nobody knows what it means (which is, approximately, "imagine that your abstract idea has become a real example").

But remember that the bigger the words, the sillier you sound:

A trio of sightless rodents.
A trio of sightless rodents.
Observe the manner in which they scurry.
Observe the manner in which they scurry.
They unanimously pursued the spouse of the agrarian,
She amputated their caudal appendages with a meat cutting utensil,
Have you ever observed such a phenomenon in your existence
As a trio of sightless rodents.
posted by KRS at 1:43 PM on September 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

But of course, if it's a conversation of high intellectual content, using small words make you sound awfully silly as well. It depends on the context.

"And what immediate obstacles do you think the next president will have to overcome at the onset of his administration?"
"He has to be smart. And good. And nice."

Uh, anyway... "Crystallize" seemed to be a popular fancy-pants word in the stuff we'd read in AP History class. So anytime a student ended up reading aloud their own essay which included that word, you knew they got it from the texts and no doubt felt they were obliged to use it. After all, it just seemed so... "ubiquitous."
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 12:11 AM on September 18, 2008

Come on MeFites -- look at what the OP says! She doesn't say "My poor dumb uneducated mother is lifting her eyes from the kitchen sink for the first time ever", she says the problem is that English is not her mother's first language.

We all know, sadly, that even if her mother were up to her elbows in a restaurant sink that would not mean that her mother did not have a PhD. Certainly her mother may be more intelligent than I am and share my love of appropriate long words.

I have been impressed by the standard of the special "learner's" dictionaries -- this list claims to show the top 5. (Wow! for more experienced English-lovers, I have found the 1908 Fowler "The King's English" free online.)
posted by Idcoytco at 3:32 AM on September 18, 2008

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