I wish my accent was less overeducated, too
September 9, 2012 8:17 PM   Subscribe

How to sound less overeducated?

I always get yelled at for using five-dollar words when ten-cent ones would do. That is, I am a circuitous, loquacious motherfucker.

I've spoken the term "videlicet" without irony in a conversation before, intending to convey information. I think in terms like "quixotic" and "brobdingnagian", again without irony. My high school English teacher once said that even my syntax is tortuous.

Many of my close friends are overeducated or getting overeducated like I am, but many are not. I would like to have genuine conversations with people of any level of education without speaking down or up or whatever.

When I make a conscious effort to speak without my overgrown vocabulary, I sound like I'm patronizing, at least according to my (ESL) mom. I would like to not sound patronizing, so that route seems murky right now. How do I say things simply without sounding as if I was simple or patronizing?
posted by curuinor to Writing & Language (66 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
When you're genuinely listening to someone speaking, you pick up all sorts of little cues from them -- their own range of vocabulary, the speed at which they talk, their tone, etc. etc. Don't just dip down to their level -- that's just as patronizing, especially if they sense you doing it. Instead, meet them somewhere in the middle. The more closely you listen, the more you learn, and thus the more effectively you communicate.

That middle area is where true conversation lives.
posted by hermitosis at 8:35 PM on September 9, 2012 [11 favorites]

Talk how you talk. Consider, however, how honest you're being with yourself. Each of those words have synonyms which are less obscure. Is there any particular reason you feel compelled to use the five dollar when the ten cent would do? Consider that the major purpose of language is communication, and you're failing at that.

Eschew Obfuscation.
posted by percor at 8:36 PM on September 9, 2012 [42 favorites]

You are what you eat. Make a serious point of reading, listening to, and/or watching things that use less elevated language.

Raymond Carver's an author you might check out. Also, look for books by journalists. Feature journalism tends to be done in a an easy, smooth, conversational style, and often journalists' books have a similar feel. I like Dennis Covington's stuff a lot. Also, the annual Best American Science/Crime/Music/Whatever Writing books are just about always worthwhile.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 8:44 PM on September 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

Over-educated or overly bookish (if such a thing exists)? Because I'm willing to bet that you didn't just happen to accidentally pick up most of those words at school. (Unless you're studying something linguistic).

The best thing that I can think to suggest is that you spend more time listening to how the people around you talk, and figure out the most plain and straightforward way to make your point. Ask yourself if people are likely to know the words you're about to use.

Remember that, with the exception of poetry, the purpose of language is to communicate; you can't do that by obfuscating your meaning with a polysyllabic facade. Make sure you have something worth saying, and say it clearly. You don't neccessarily sound impressive or educated just because you know words that others don't, and they probably want to know you, not your vocabulary! I used to use a lot of unusual words because I was insecure and I wanted to be taken seriously; could this be a problem for you?

(I don't think that I've ever suggested "watch more tv" as a solution to a problem before, but you might want to consider it.)

Also, it will feel strange and artificial to speak differently at first- keep at it! It will become more natural in time.
posted by windykites at 8:45 PM on September 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Wow- preview fail. What percor said, right down to "obfuscate"
posted by windykites at 8:47 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ask your mom whether, when you sound patronizing, it's the vocabulary you use or perhaps the tone of your voice. Do you feel like you can't find a middle ground between your comfortable use of language and speaking as if to a three-year-old, or is it possible you can search your heart and find you might be disingenuous about how much trouble speaking more plainly might cause you?

I'm loquacious and overeducated, but had to look up "videlicet," and while I'll happily admit to being a being tad quixotic, it's not exactly a quotidian word. I can't imagine, outside of an academic or literary setting, when it would be appropriate to bandy about "brobdingnagian" in everyday chat. (Well, unless you were chatting about Swift, perhaps.)

I'm not being cavalier about your problem, and if language is your bailiwick, then it can be hard to remember what words "regular people" use. I empathize, because I was once given a hard time in my workplace for using the word "ubiquitous," which didn't strike me as a $5 word. (The meeting leader told the secretary to "just write "Bisquick" and let spellcheck figure it out.") But, the fact that you can identify the words in your post as being less than commonly employed by some of the people you encounter, indicates you probably do know, at least 90% of the time, when you're using high dollar words. Stop that.

Speak comfortably, but with the goal of communicating clearly so that there could be no confusion, rather than hoping to sound impressive. If you communicate clearly enough, people will be impressed by your intellect and less likely to think you swallowed a thesaurus. A conversation isn't a lecture, and if you truly want to converse, you can just as easily talk as parley.

(And then we can be voluble together!)
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 8:47 PM on September 9, 2012 [9 favorites]

If you are choosing words because you think the other person won't understand you - that is patronizing.

If you are listening to another person and speaking clearly and directly in terms that help you both share understanding, that is communication.

I have a large vocabulary and work in a jargon heavy industry. It takes practice to have effective communication. It isn't something you can just turn on in a moment. You'd be surprised at the words folks will tell you are 'unusual'. I was once asked to remove the word "temporal" from a project description as being too obscure.

Words like brobdingnagian and videlicet are so obscure I needed to look both up. These are the sorts of words you should only say if you have reason to know others will recognize them, or if you specifically want to provoke the reaction of someone realizing they aren't exactly sure what you are saying.

My advice is to slow down and just expand these sorts of words into their definitions. I've found that the most effective method of communicating intelligence and clear thinking is an ability to put complex ideas into understandable description. Conversely, putting simple things into complex words only serves to make people uncomfortable, suspicious, or worse.
posted by meinvt at 8:48 PM on September 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

I dealt with this problem (sort of - I don't get complaints, but I get occasional eyebrow-raises when I get excited) by being in tech support for several years, where you have to match your speech to your listener or you will fail at your job, no matter how good with computers you are. Here are a couple of things I can pick out of that, although it was largely an unconscious process:

1. Always most important, as hermitosis says, listen. Speed, dialect, vocabulary, idiom, are all cues you can pick up on in the first couple of exchanges and then try to match. Practice speaking more slowly; practice using fewer words. (These are things that I learned by having a timer running on every call, although that's not really practical for everybody.) Efficient communication is good communication, and having to repeat yourself or re-explain is the opposite of efficient.

1b. Check in with your conversational partner regularly. Make sure they're following, and make sure they're not getting bored. Ask questions, and be prepared to cut yourself off short if you're losing your audience. This applies no matter what the content of your conversation is, but if you're prone to overcomplexity it's doubly important.

2. Practice. Run sample conversations in your head, or out loud. Figure out five or six different ways to convey the same meaning. This will actually increase your vocabulary and range - using short, simple words very precisely is usually more effective and sounds more intelligent than wandering off on a mid-sentence journey through the thesaurus. Practicing will also make talking like this feel more natural, which should cut down on the accusations of patronization. (I talk to myself all the time, and very often run the same response in an imaginary conversation through several times. Every now and then I become aware that I sound even more ridiculous than a normal crazy person, but it really does help.)

Make sure you have an outlet for letting your vocabulary out for a spin. Have complex conversations about abstract concepts. But don't privilege those conversations over telling your mom about your day - both are communication, and the latter is actually more important in day to day life.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:48 PM on September 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm not so different from you. And yet, one observation I've made throughout my career has been that the more powerfully intellectual, the more truly in command of his or her subject matter a person is, the clearer their speech. That's not to say they don't speak and write in the cant of their fields when appropriate, but their ability to render complicated ideas in straigtforward speech shows a very clear understanding of, and comfort with, these ideas.

I suggest perhaps you should aspire to that. You may not need a special new vocabulary for talking to those with less education (who are often following you just fine anyway, though they may be raising an eyebrow in judgment); you may instead need a new vocabulary in general.

All that being said, what I most admire about the few truly towering intellects in the humanities whom I've had te fortune to be around is not the length or exoticism of their vocabulary; it's their ability to choose just the right word from many choices. Their fluidity with calling to mind and then choosing from the likely dozens of synonyms for any given word, their sheer range, is what makes them wonderful speakers. So another thing I'd suggest is not leaping to use the most elaborate, most interesting, or newest words in your vocabulary - just the most right words.

Smart people can use plain speech. It's still quite obvious that they're smart. They don't need to signal it so energetically - it looks silly.

Also, you're only 19. No matter how bright you may be or how much education you've received, it really would be a good idea for you to learn to speak humbly and directly. It's such a marker of the sophomoric to use more highfalutin language than is necessary. Some of what you're experience here in being so enamored of language is just the byproduct of being fairly new to high-level education.

You seem to know some of this. "Tortuous syntax" isn't a good thing. You need to learn the art of plain speech. Make sure your education includes a public speaking class. Ask your professors to edit you mercilessly for the fog factor. Make use of your writing center tutors and any interviewing/speaking practice your university offers.
posted by Miko at 8:51 PM on September 9, 2012 [52 favorites]

I'm not sure how anyone could be "overeducated" but the negative way you describe the way you speak makes me think you assign an excessive moral weight to the way people speak in general. Perhaps that's apparent to people that you interact with.

If your mom feels that you're talking down to her in English, why not speak to her in her first language?
posted by atrazine at 8:55 PM on September 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

What Miko said, as usual. I live in a university town and have met dozens if not hundreds of people who have received their academic or professional field's top honors, whether that's the Nobel Prize or the Pulitzer Prize or the National Book Award or the Man Booker Prize or or or.

None of them speak in jargon. "Videlicet" is jargon. I like the suggestion of reading clear prose like Raymond Carver's. Oliver Sacks is also great at being clear about complex matters. Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about hugely complicated historical and cultural issues in very direct prose.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:59 PM on September 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

The problem seems to be that you think it's good to use words like that, but you're probably using them awkwardly, at least sometimes, and even if you aren't, you're probably pretty annoying to talk to. Your post even reads like bragging.

I *teach* vocab like this and have spent the better part of the last ten years defining words like these off the cuff all day long. And I don't feel the need to say "circumlocutory" when "wordy and indirect" will do.

If you're really that educated, then it should be no trouble at all to express yourself clearly in relation to your changing audiences. If you struggle to do this, you probably aren't as educated as you seem to think you are. After all, the point of words is communication, so if your words are preventing the kind of communication you wish to have, you're doing it wrong.

Oh, and seriously, "videlicet"? You probably even pronounce it with the Latin hard "c"...a la "weni, widi, wiki". Ugh.

And yeah, "tortuous syntax" is a harsh, harsh criticism.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:02 PM on September 9, 2012 [23 favorites]

i don't think you should consciously try to change the way you speak. i think you should go look for people and things that you find interesting and let your speech work itself out.
posted by facetious at 9:02 PM on September 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Mums are awesome the world over - but quite often kids can't help patronising them - it's the nature of a familiarity all grown up or something. That is, my mother felt I patronised her; and I am certain my kids patronise me because sheesh - I'm way old and just don't get it. At least, that's what I think they're thinking, and I know them very very well. When asked, however, the kid (aged 20 or more) may well tell me that no, they weren't certain of my knowledge, or no, they hadn't heard of the jargon word I expected them to use, or no, that meme on the internet had not come to their notice yet, and shit, mum, you spend too much time online.

My obsfucated point is - don't let your mum be your only point of reference in checking whether your use of simple language sounds patronising.
posted by b33j at 9:02 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Brobdignagian" is a marvelous word for a rococo rhodomontade, but for an ordinary conversation it's recrementitous to the point of otiosity.

In other words, don't let your style run away with you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:04 PM on September 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

As others have noted, clear and direct speech is a marker of intelligence and clear thought.

But at least, for the love of God, use expressive intonation and speak with your hands. I like to throw in a few five-dollar words myself, but when I say something like, "Oh, yeah, I tried that new Tex-Mex place, and the burritos were of brobdingnagian proportions!" I'm saying "brobdingNAGian" while gesturing "IT WAS SO HUGE" with my hands to show the burrito was at least three times as big as my head. People always know exactly what "brobdingnagian" means when I say it and they laugh and say, "What a great word!"

If you're using big fancy words and it isn't clear from context, clear with the addition of your voice and body language, or something people feel comfortable asking you, you're not communicating. You're using pretty words, but it's essentially gibberish, not language. You might as well be saying "blahblahblahblah" as "peripatetic" because you're not communicating.

(I am a lawyer and I have never said "videlicet" out loud, although I've probably said "viz." And your post does sound humble-braggy, which leads me to think you are being at least a little patronizing whether you're using big words or small ones.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:08 PM on September 9, 2012 [12 favorites]

How can you possibly be overeducated if you're 19? If you honestly believe that and you don't have a PhD already, I think you're getting caught up in using big words because you think it makes you sound overeducated when it probably just highlights how young you are.
posted by MadamM at 9:16 PM on September 9, 2012 [32 favorites]

Skimming through your previous comments on this site, it's obvious that you know how to communicate in a clear and direct way that an average person can understand. You're just being pretentious. Reminds me of the question someone asked a while ago claiming that it was impossible for him to go the 25 mph speed limit in his powerful and fast car.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:20 PM on September 9, 2012 [19 favorites]

Skimming through your previous comments on this site, it's obvious that you know how to communicate in a clear and direct way that an average person can understand

That seems to be entirely true.
posted by Miko at 9:23 PM on September 9, 2012

Consider this is not a vocabulary issue, but a communications issue. Your post above is a case in point. You could have simply said: "I use too many big words in casual conversation; I'm concerned that I come off as pretentious when I do it, and patronising when I don't - what do you suggest?"

But you weren't able to do that without demonstrating before this mob of anonymous strangers just how many big words you know, and the length and breadth of your vocabulary, pasting it all with the false varnish of "over-education" (you clearly don't believe that, or you would be too embarrassed to mention it).

I'm not saying this to tear a few strips off you, OP, but to point out that the roots of this challenge lie not in the words you use, but rather how and why you use them.

I get it; I was a bookish, talkative kid once too (I still am, except lamentably older), and I've spent a lot of time with bookish, mannered kids. And - if your question above is anything to go by - you are a bit on the mannered side of things.

Most people I've know with these elaborate styles develop them as a defense mechanism - a form of adopting something they were ostracised for and turning into a strength ("you think I know a lot of ten dollar words? WELL HERE'S A BUSHEL O' TWENTY DOLLAR WORDS PRITHEE!"). They were teased for being smart or whatever, so they said, "Well I am smart. How smart? Damned smart."

Once removed from the harsh environs of high school and/or early college settings, however, these defenses often become a form of over-engineering where they're no longer protecting you, but preventing you from making a genuine connection.

My advice, is make a genuine connection. Focus less on what you're saying, what other people might think of you, what you think of other people. You don't need to place or be placed on a social totem pole - this really happens far less aggressively outside of school. And the beauty is, in real life, is someone's an arsehole, you just don't have to spend a lot of time with them.

If you catch yourself assessing someone on their smarts, especially in relation to yours, cut it out immediately, and start engaging with them as one person talking with another. If you stop thinking your smarter than most people (and you do, let's not dance around here. You might be right; but smarts aren't the only valuable facet to a person), you will stop talking down - or up - to them. If someone doesn't like you cause of the way you talk, fuck em, but I think people are responding to a perceived slight from you.

If you're still worried, just do more listening, and less talking. People love that. Good luck, this will almost certainly pass with time as you grow more comfortable with yourself.
posted by smoke at 9:28 PM on September 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

A way to ensure you're communicating clearly is by following George Orwell's six rules:

"But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous."

The whole article is called "Politics and the English language".
posted by jet_silver at 9:29 PM on September 9, 2012 [13 favorites]

Due respect, but the root cause of this is pretentiousness.

First, that's okay. 19 year olds are allowed to be a bit pretentious. I cringe at things I thought and said to people when I was that age (I'm 27 now, and I'll probably cringe at my present-day self when in 35, too).

Second, if you want to stop, you have to realize that intelligence comes in lots of forms, and that very nearly everyone you meet is just as intelligent as you are, but perhaps in different ways. When you communicate with people, try to find out where their intelligence lies, and speak to them on their terms.
posted by downing street memo at 9:35 PM on September 9, 2012 [8 favorites]

I told someone who snarked about my using a "$5 word" that he could go into any public library and see an unabridged dictionary displayed on a pedestal which he could use for free.
posted by brujita at 9:52 PM on September 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Certainly, overeducated is not the best word. I am not getting a Ph.D (although I know plenty of plain-spoken people who do). I'm not really planning on getting one, either. Pretentious is indeed the better word. Was the question particularly clear? No, because perhaps in part the problem is also in the problem itself: that is, I may be asking the wrong question. If it is my pretentiousness, then I must also ask how I would go about curing my pretentiousness. It seems that listening would also be the way to cure that, but if I phrased the question that way, would the answers be any different?

I have certainly noticed the fact that the people who actually know what they're doing speak clearly, because clarity in thought comes out in clarity of speech: that is in part why I asked the question. The direct reason I asked the question, actually, was in talking to a Ph.D student. He was talking about Andrew Fire, who discovered RNAi, teaching RNAi in a class and neglecting to mention that he was the one who discovered it. I thought, "hey, I don't talk like that!"

I've read the Orwell piece a half-dozen times. It's certainly worth another read. However, I am mostly criticized on my speech, not on my writing. I have probably not been specific enough on that score. There is a great gap between how I speak and how I write, because I can and do revise my writing. I wish to sound less pretentious, I've spoken the term, and so on.

I have taken a couple of public speaking classes. Those were one of the places where I was criticized, validly, for being too circuitous. I didn't get too much advice about being less circuitous, however.

On the whole, this is humble pie which I greatly needed. Thank you all.
posted by curuinor at 10:20 PM on September 9, 2012

How do I say things simply without sounding as if I was simple or patronizing?

Here is my sincere best effort to explain what I think the problem might be. Based on what you've written here, I think you might make a deliberate effort to demonstrate how smart/educated you are to the people you meet. It seems like you might cultivate the persona of being That Guy who uses Those Words. Of being That Guy who is well-educated that it is actually causing problems for him.

I think you might not realize that that sort of thing can actually come off as being a bit of a mark of insecurity, rather than a mark of a highly-educated person, especially to people who are a bit older than you. For example, at this point in my life a lot of my longtime friends now have PhDs (which really freaks me out, but that's another story). Their levels of education are clear to everyone because they are working at CERN, they are working on the Mars exploration missions, they are practicing medicine, etc., not because they are going around dropping "brobdingnagian" into conversation. I have never known any of them to make a habit of dropping obscure words into normal social conversations. I don't think many of them even know that many obscure words outside of the technical or scientific terms that they use when they're working.

Anyway. If you sometimes feel this urge like you want to demonstrate to others how smart or educated you are, I think that might still come through when you try to say things simply. Like, I don't know, do you act like it is hard/unnatural for you or takes effort for you to come up with simpler ways to put things? Do you make it evident to the other person what a challenge it is for you?

Or, do you make your speech TOO simple? (I mean do you make it too simple on purpose so the other person can tell it is deliberately simple.)

That is just what I suspect the issue is. I think if you do get something out of demonstrating your intelligence/educational level to people, it might help to just stay aware of when you are doing that. And consciously move away from doing it if you can.

Now, if you think I am totally way off the mark and what I just said isn't the case for you at all, here is more practical advice. (Which has appeared on MeFi before): Try using Germanic rather than Latinate words, when it is possible and makes sense.
posted by cairdeas at 11:05 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oops, didn't preview and missed your follow-up.
posted by cairdeas at 11:07 PM on September 9, 2012

Gosh, regarding the followup: tortuous syntax is correct.
The direct reason I asked the question, actually, was in talking to a Ph.D student. He was talking about Andrew Fire, who discovered RNAi, teaching RNAi in a class and neglecting to mention that he was the one who discovered it. I thought, "hey, I don't talk like that!"
I have no idea what you're trying to say here.

It took me until just now to understand that your interlocutor* was telling an anecdote about Andrew Fire, who didn't think to tell his students that he had discovered a thing he was instructing them about. That's not my fault, that's because you punctuated and wrote those sentences poorly.

Secondly, I still don't know what you're referring to when you say "I don't talk like that."

Do you not talk like the student?

Or do you not talk like Andrew Fire?

Further, what does it mean to "not talk like that" in either case? Have you made a major discovery that you're sure to tell everyone about at the first opportunity? Or... what?

Whether writing or speaking, I would argue that you should have two goals:

1. Clarity
2. Brevity

I am bad at both of these. I will literally pause in the middle of conversation - sometimes for awkwardly long periods of time! - to organize my thoughts into a coherent form. Maybe you should consider doing this too, because when you're coming up with sentences consisting of five or six nested clauses, it's going to be tough to understand what you're getting at.

Regarding word choice: use the right word for the job. Both my boyfriend and myself have had people exclaim over particular words we've used, but I would generally say that those words elegantly encapsulated the meaning we needed. I think that's fine. If something is quixotic and you call it so, who cares? You can explain if need be.

*I will say that your thread has brought out the lexical scamp in all of us
posted by kavasa at 11:21 PM on September 9, 2012 [8 favorites]

Just about the only thing I can still add to the excellent array of answers above is this: When I run into someone using an inappropriate amount of ten-dollar words, I reflexively start to wonder why they are doing so. And almost always, my gut-felt conclusion - especially if I hear you just once, just slightly use such a word awkwardly or incorrectly - is that this person is punching above their weight intellectually, and trying to come across as smarter than they really are. So that may be motivating.
posted by ominous_paws at 11:27 PM on September 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

Smart people can use plain speech. It's still quite obvious that they're smart. They don't need to signal it so energetically - it looks silly.

I spend a lot of time training people (and thus explaining problems), communicating both on the phone and in email with a range of people in a jargon heavy field and I am a firm believer in short and clear sentences, using minimal jargon. And by jargon I mean any technical term, corporate speak or needlessly complex terms that are unlikely to convey information easily to all concerned.

If you can do that you have understood the concept in question. And there is a much greater chance that people will understand what you're trying to say. And you will not alienate people in the process. Because nobody wants to deal with a show off.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:30 PM on September 9, 2012

It's cool knowing lots of words, but speaking simply can be just as much an exercise in word choice as speaking precisely.
posted by rhizome at 12:17 AM on September 10, 2012

I think part of the problem is that we really don't have a clear sense of who you are talking to or what precisely you are doing that causes the problem.

It looks to me that most people are assuming, on the basis of your examples, that you're talking to reasonably-educated people and using insane $20,000 words like "brobdingnagian". Which, if that's what you're doing, probably does come from a place of insecurity or pretentiousness, and you have received some excellent advice above about how to avoid that. [And in that case, seriously, don't beat yourself up too bad; a lot of us have been there. It is very worth trying to fix but there are worse character failings when you're 19.]

But I read your question as also wanting to spend time talking with people with substantially smaller vocabularies than the middle-class norm -- people who may be quite smart but read very little or are second-language speakers or actively strive to speak plainly or are very anti-intellectual. In other words, people for whom anything that is on the level of the Metafilter norm smacks of pretension or over-educated wordiness. If that is who you want to be able to talk to then I do think the advice to simply try to not be pretentious is not as helpful.

In that case, here are my suggestions:

1. Practice, practice, practice. Unfortunately you just have to keep at it.

2. Try doing more listening than talking, and do a lot of mirroring their usage. Actively note what words they are using for various things and use the same words.

3. Pause before talking in order to pre-plan your sentences more. Try not to talk abnormally slowly while you are speaking, because that sounds patronising, but pre-plan. While you are planning, remember: shorter (sentences, words) is almost always better.

4. Pepper your speech with rote phrases and colloquialisms like what you hear people say. Don't worry on content so much; a lot of speech is just social grooming. Rely on gesture and tone a lot more.

5. It really helps to have a few topic areas where you've learned the vocabulary along with the people you'd be talking to. e.g., if you want to be able to talk about football with the dudes down at the bar, watch it on TV, don't read articles analysing the games. etc. The main thing that affects how accessible a word is in the moment is frequency of use, so if you frequently hear the vocab you want to use in a given situation, you'll naturally default to using it.

6. Be really self-deprecatory (but don't use words like self-deprecatory!). Even if you aren't great at using the right vocabulary, you at least won't come off like a pretentious twat if you make fun of yourself for doing so.
posted by forza at 12:20 AM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Take a conversational class in a foreign language that you don't speak very well. There is no better way to brush up your skills of trying to express yourself in a the most comprehensible manner.

(Anecdotally I found that many of the conversations I had with fellow class-mates on an intensive French course were more entertaining in French than they were in our native English - we all had to put more effort into choosing our stories and working out how to express them. When somebody spoke we had to really listen to them.)
posted by rongorongo at 1:22 AM on September 10, 2012

I agree 100% with smoke’s comment above (as well as many of the other excellent comments in this thread.)This isn’t really adding anything new, but for what it’s worth here’s my take on your AskMe:

I’ve always classified people who use inappropriately difficult or unclear vocabulary in daily conversation in the same vain as people who relentlessly bring up religion or politics at casual social gatherings, or as an overenthusiastic hobbyist who speaks in great detail about his passion well past the point it is clear to everyone else in the room that nobody is really following (or cares enough to follow) what he’s talking about anymore. They all are too self-involved in what they are saying to be troubled by something as unimportant as, you know, their audience. They are poor communicators. Unskilled at socialization. In Japanese we describe people like this as “kuuki yomenai,” or “KY” for short, which literally means “cannot read the air (of the situation/interaction).”

Of course, conversations with people like this are usually one-sided and completely unfulfilling. I (a lot of other people, I imagine) avoid social interactions with these people, not because I dislike them, but because talking with them is a chore.

What I’m trying to say (echoing many of the comments before this one), is that this isn’t about being “overeducated,” whatever that means. It’s about lacking social empathy. To be a good communicator, you really need to mentally put yourself in the shoes of the people you are conversing with. Learn to “read the air.”

That you’ve acknowledged the problem is the single biggest step you’ll take towards becoming a better communicator. Good luck.
posted by Kevtaro at 1:27 AM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Jet silver has it. I'm a writer and the point of my writing is to communicate with my audience. If they don't understand me because I use a $5 word or don't speak at their level, then I've failed. If you're so smart that you know the high falutin' fancy words, then surely you know the 2 cent words as well, so why aren't you using those? You may be trying to distance yourself from those you're talking to, and chances are you're succeeding.
posted by Jubey at 2:01 AM on September 10, 2012

Speak less. Listen more.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:12 AM on September 10, 2012

I don't know if this plays a role. When I met my (diagnosed Asperger ) husband, I found it remarkable that he couldn't "code-switch", that is match the conversational type of the group. He really only got by because we made allowances for the fact that English was his second language. Then I noticed when I learned his language that he couldn't switch languages fluently and really struggled if I switched without specifically letting him know. A great sadness in out lives has been his inability to speak his native language to our kids. He also couldn't do "baby-speak".

When atrazine asked above why you didn't speak to your mother in her native language I wondered if this was a potential reason.

I can see how an AS mindset alligned with a true passion for learning new, very specific words for a phenomenon, regardless of how that sounds to others, might combine.

Obviously when you've got a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, but you could be describing my husband at the age of 19.
posted by Wilder at 2:15 AM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

As to how he's dealt with it, in social settings we've worked out signals. So effectively there are a few friends or myself who help him in new settings.

In the work setting it has caused him endless problems and he's lost several jobs as a result of people feeling he "talked-down" to them, made them uncomfortable, and so then he never gets the benefit of the doubt in any scenario. It has real-world implications that can be very painful so good on you for attemting to deal with it.

It also helped him to realise that it makes others feel bad, not just uncomfortable, but insecure and "talked-down-to" as if they are somehow less intelligent than you.

That was a shocker for him because aspies have a strong sense of natural justice they just sometimes lack the ability to relate their actions to the impact they may have on others. It sometimes comes across as a lack of empathy but that's quite far from reality.
posted by Wilder at 2:20 AM on September 10, 2012

I think learning how to write clearly helps you eventually speak more clearly, because it teaches you how to think more clearly.

So when you write, be ruthless with yourself. If you find yourself using a really big word, ask yourself, 'Do I truly know what that means?' If you're a big reader, you'll have a lot of words like this in your head: things you've seen in books and that you can use in a sentence accurately 80-90% of the time, but that you can't define precisely. Go to the dictionary and look up those words. This will help you consolidate the words in your head, and will also make it less likely that you are accidentally using some of those words slightly incorrectly (which is part of what contributes to someone sounding pretentious rather than well-read).

And keep editing what you write! Keep striving to write more precisely. Think about something that C.S. Lewis said: "Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say 'infinitely' when you mean 'very'; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite." If you haven't already read it, go read Strunk and White's The Elements of Style.

As for talking to people who have half of the vocabulary you do, I think a lot of it comes down to demeanour. If you are friendly and relaxed with people, you can often use whatever words you like. I've been taking a lot of foreign language classes lately, and my teachers keep telling us that in most conversations, people respond more to your body language, facial expression, etc, than they do to the actual words you use. Which is sort of what Eyebrows McGee was saying upthread. You can tell an 8 year old a story that starts out with "Once upon a time there was a benevolent rhinoceros (he was really nice) with a BROBDINGNAGIAN horn who was very sad because everyone thought he was actually very dangerous," and the 8 year old will follow along just fine if you gesture a bit and add in a couple of casual parenthetical explanations here and there.

Also, if your demeanour is more "I have this really awesome thing to tell you!" and less "Let me educate you about this thing" then people will respond more warmly to you and won't bug you about your words so much.
posted by colfax at 2:27 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Certainly, overeducated is not the best word

Good example.

"Overeducated" is a relative term: "over" in comparison to what?

"Certainly" wants to convey that you actually know that that term was "not the best word", so why didn't you try to use a better word? Language is not about tonnage, it's about conciseness.

So your first step could be to weed out the crud, from the viewpoint of optimal content. Don't bother about your listeners, worry about what you want to say instead. Make sure that you are using heavy terminology only if you want to convey some complex concept, use easier-to-grasp words otherwise, stop talking when your point has been made, and so on.
posted by Namlit at 5:16 AM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've only skimmed the other answers so I may have missed it, but I didn't see mention of Joseph M. Williams's Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace. This is the Bible of straightforward, efficient, accessible communication (much better than Elements of Style IMO, but read them both). Some of the "lessons" have already been mentioned, like using Germanic vs. Latinate words.

For the record, I agree with Joseph Gurl, MadamM, Mary Dellamorte, colfax, et al. If you were as "overeducated" as you think you are, you wouldn't be struggling to communicate, and if people are feeling patronized by the way you talk to them, it has everything to do with your attitude and nothing to do with your vocabulary, syntax, or level of education. But I still think you'd benefit from Williams's book.

I would also highly recommend bell hooks's essay keeping close to home: class and education--especially since you mention communication problems with your ESL mother. In the essay, hooks, a Yale professor, talks about her relationship and communication with her working-class parents and home community. It might help you start to think differently about the other (attitude-related) issues that may possibly be at hand here, in addition to the merely technical/grammatical.
posted by désoeuvrée at 5:25 AM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Learn to prefer complicated ideas expressed simply over simple ideas expressed in a complicated way.
posted by oinopaponton at 5:38 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I do this in my writing quite a bit, and I have learned that my tendency to turn in a verbose, pretentious first draft is a function of being completely nervous and insecure. I'd bet you five dollars you're hiding some kind of fear or insecurity behind those million-dollar words.

So...what are you afraid of?

For what it's worth, I do a "fun round" of editing before I turn in my writing now. You say your issue is with speech, not writing, so I'd do a quick check-in with myself: Am I having fun? Are OTHERS having fun? Am I listening more than I talk?
posted by mynameisluka at 5:57 AM on September 10, 2012

Big words are often good tools you can use to convey an expression exactly as you need to convey them. But the key word here is that they are "tools." You should only pull them off the shelf when you need them. Your primary goal is to have a good conversation, even including the use of informal colloquialisms if they seem appropriate to the overall flow.

It's not that you need to "dumb down" your speech. You just need to be more selective so you can be better understood by those who are not interested in having a larger vocabulary.

Short-short version: spend a couple weeks watching FOX news.
posted by samsara at 6:12 AM on September 10, 2012

. If it is my pretentiousness, then I must also ask how I would go about curing my pretentiousness.

That's such a different question. I do agree that you struggle with speaking and writing clearly, and there are tools for that which you should use. But pretentious behavior has its root in your psychology, not in mistaken ideas. Spend some time thinking about why you feel the need to impress, why you are concerned about projecting what to you is the image of a very educated person, and whether there is a part of you that feels fear or shame about revealing who you really are. I know it's an AskMe cliche, but if this is a big problem for you, therapy can help you feel more comfortable with yourself and drop some of the masks you feel you need to wear in your social interactions. However, so can being open to change and asking for feedback like this, and being honest with yourself.

Your writing really is a serious issue for a college student, though. No number of big words can clear up the uderlying issue: confused and sloppy organization. Get to the writing lab, stat. Take every opportunity to learn from critique of your writing. If your professors allow you to submit drafts early for comment, do so. You won't get too far in your "overeducation" without clearing up that grammar and style.

I understand you weren't completely satisfied by the public speaking class feedback you got. You could consider coaching. You could join a debate society or Toastmasters - those organizations provide practice and critique.
posted by Miko at 6:30 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

has its root in your psychology, not in mistaken ideas*

Well, of course ideas are part of psychology. I mean mistaken ideas about vocabulary and conversation.
posted by Miko at 6:33 AM on September 10, 2012

Talk to children. If you can get a side gig volunteering at a preschool, or take on a few babysitting clients, or just spend time with friends' and family members' kids, that will help. Children from about age 4 to 7 have two qualities that will help you. First, most of them don't know many big words. And second, they're almost never shy about telling you when you're being confusing or sound funny or use words they don't know. You can even tell them, "Hey, people sometimes tell me that I use too many big words. Can we play a game where every time I say something you don't understand, you poke me or make a funny noise?" Hell, if they're kids whose parents you know will be okay with it, offer to give them a quarter every time you screw it up. They'll love that. You'll be forced to both think carefully before you speak, and to repeat things using different words if you don't get it right the first time. It's a great way to get used to thinking about your audience before you speak, because the stakes are pretty low, and because they'll often be as into the exercise as you are.
posted by decathecting at 6:34 AM on September 10, 2012

I always get yelled at for using five-dollar words when ten-cent ones would do.

Who "yells at" you? Your friends? Do they ridicule you or are they actually angry?

In the title to your post, you mention your accent. Do you overenunciate, by any chance? That will drive people crazy, more so than big words. It also, paradoxically, makes you harder to understand. One thing you might want to do is tape yourself talking and then listen. If your speech really annoys people, it's probably more than a word here and there; it's probably your vocabulary plus your speech patterns.

Playing around with language is fun until it sets up a barrier between you and other people. I was just reading Heaven and Earth, a novel by Frederic Raphael. Everything the male characters say is a schtick. Not only do they use obscure language and references, but almost every sentence a pun. Finally someone says to one of them, "Can't you ever say anything straight?" Maybe it's me being a woman and not having been to Oxbridge but to me, it's a conscious theme of the novel that the language they use-- which at first seems like an in-group, bonding thing-- has made it impossible for them to communicate.
posted by BibiRose at 6:37 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

It has been awhile since I took a lit class but I have this vague recollection that Hemingway was touted as a guy who wrote beautiful books using basic vocabulary. Perhaps you might consider taking on a project of reading similar books (or maybe there are better examples of this) and watching similar movies? Askmetafilter might be the perfect site for compiling such lists.
posted by bukvich at 6:40 AM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

How do I say things simply without sounding as if I was simple or patronizing?

I didn't answer this question, sorry. How about taking an acting or speech class? Or just try formulating speech that aims to get an urgent result-- like to get the person who's parked their car on your foot to move it.
posted by BibiRose at 6:45 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

This might be a good exercise: Take up a lot of Twitter, texting, and multi-user IM, where every word and character that you use has to matter. You'll get much better at being short and direct. You'll have to type and edit to fit what you communicate into the space of a text or Tweet, or say what you mean in the short period before an IM conversation has moved on to a different topic. These limitations may teach you brevity.

I'm pretty sure I was you at some point in late high school, and I'm pretty sure, some twenty years on, that I am not now. Years of IRC (and, to be fair, a degree in journalism including a lot of editing classes) were probably instrumental in changing that.
posted by Andrhia at 6:46 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

No, because perhaps in part the problem is also in the problem itself: that is, I may be asking the wrong question.

I'm not singling out this sentence in particular, but rather the entire comment-- I learned to write clearly when my high school English teacher started giving me B-'s and Cs for writing like that. I wrote long, complex sentences that were grammatically and syntactically correct but were also very hard to follow. Writing isn't a contest to see who can come up with the most carefully constructed complex sentence that still follows the rule of grammar. Writing is a means of communication.

It strikes me that you're doing something similar with spoken language: seeing it as a contest to find the most advanced vocabulary to express what you're trying to say, rather than simply communicating what you need to communicate. If English isn't your first language, there maybe well be an issue with your ability to "read the air", as Kevtaro so brilliantly put it.

You probably just need a lot of practice socializing and communicating. Your first step is listening to what other people say. You should probably also learn to think of the problem of "how can I be a better communicator and sound more friendly?" and not think of the problem in terms of, "how can I learn to better communicate with the peasants?"
posted by deanc at 6:49 AM on September 10, 2012

I have a kind of odd-ball suggestion - try reading, and then writing, poetry. It's all about being clear but evocative. Start by trying to write effective haikus - with only a dozen or so syllables to work with, a haiku has to get across a clear thought without any 5-dollar words.
posted by muddgirl at 7:04 AM on September 10, 2012

There is a great gap between how I speak and how I write, because I can and do revise my writing.

Then revise your speech - practice with your friends. If you unconsciously use a word that literally no one else knows (seriously, I got an 800 on my SAT verbal and a very good GRE verbal score, and I don't know what videlicet means), stop and think of a couple other ways to get your point across.

Mix up your speech a little bit. Try to speak in rhyme or iambic pentameter (not to strangers or your mom!) Breaking habits is about breaking mental cycles.

Also, I note that you're 19. It's possible that this is something you'll set aside as you grow older and circulate in different social groups.
posted by muddgirl at 7:08 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I came in here to chime in what BibiRose did... Are you putting on a fake uppercrust accent or over enunciating to go along with those big ol' fancy words? That's the fastest way to piss off people (especially your friends, who KNOW you're no fancypants).

Video tape yourself talking and check yourself to see you're not doing that. It's the verbal equivalent of a nerd wearing a fedora.
posted by thirdletter at 7:32 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Video tape yourself talking and check yourself to see you're not doing that. It's the verbal equivalent of a nerd wearing a fedora.

Could be that as well. It used to be standard for the "educated" to adopt the Mid-Atlantic/Transatlantic accent, but this is an anachronism, though someone who has watched a lot of old movies might still think that this is how "educated" people speak. The last person who spoke that in public was William Buckley, and he's been dead for almost 5 years. Even George HW Bush, of an almost identical background, dropped that accent, if he had ever had it in the first place.

Do you pronounce "France" as "Frahnce"? Do you sound like Stewie from "The Family Guy"? Does this guy seem like a kindred spirit? That may be as big as a problem than using "videlicet" when there's no reason to.
posted by deanc at 7:53 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Simply put, you need to learn to stop enjoying the sound of your own voice.

The reason most "five-dollar" words aren't common parlance anymore is because they simply aren't that useful. For example, while I might know what a sanguinary prevaricator is, I can't visualize any situation where I would ever need to use the term. Nor would I ever need to use the work "tortfeasor" outside of a courtroom. In short, it is your circuitous nature that is causing the problem. You need to practice making your point as succinctly as possible.

I suggest writing and then showing your work to a good editor so you can learn how to trim your thoughts down. For example, the entire second paragraph of this AskMe is totally unnecessary. It's okay to utilize a complex vocabulary because - when used appropriately - most people can understand what an unfamiliar word means simply from the context. But don't use those words simply because you can - use them only when they are genuinely the best fit for a situation.

For example, did you notice how I said "unnecessary" when I could have said "gratuitous?" That's because gratuitous can have multiple meanings in this context whereas unnecessary has only one specific meaning and makes the sentence tighter. If you actually take the time to read dictionaries and fully comprehend the meaning of the words you use, you'll realize that "five-dollar words" usually don't fit well into the structure of most sentences.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 9:09 AM on September 10, 2012

Save the five-dollar words for a five-dollar situation. Using them out of context would be like wearing a tuxedo everywhere.

Or a fedora — was fedora guy really five years ago!?
posted by stopgap at 9:47 AM on September 10, 2012

Did you grow up with non-native English speakers?

It's a thing where a lot of children of immigrants get weird speaking and pronunciation patterns because so much of the spoken English we hear is just a bit off and we tend to rely more heavily on reading for learning vocabulary.

If that's the case for you, I think that immersion in English settings - includig TV and radio - is as good a help as any. The more listening less talking thing can actually help (even if it seems counterintuitive because you're not 'practicing.' Also, reading good writing from writers who use simple structures and vocab.
posted by Salamandrous at 10:49 AM on September 10, 2012

Certainly, overeducated is not the best word. I am not getting a Ph.D (although I know plenty of plain-spoken people who do). I'm not really planning on getting one, either. Pretentious is indeed the better word. Was the question particularly clear? No, because perhaps in part the problem is also in the problem itself: that is, I may be asking the wrong question. If it is my pretentiousness, then I must also ask how I would go about curing my pretentiousness. It seems that listening would also be the way to cure that, but if I phrased the question that way, would the answers be any different?

I'll be blunt. I found your whole comment in this thread pretentious, but I'll pick on this paragraph as an example. I suspect you are doing a few things wrong here even without any five-dollar words.

First, you are incorporating extraneous words, phrases, and tics that are overused in "academic" writing, for example:

"is not the best"
Asking yourself questions and then answering them.
"in part"
"I must also ask"

Second, you are enjoying and taking pride in the way you speak/write. You are enjoying certain melodious phrases and clever turns, which is fine for you, but it comes off to the reader/listener as pretentious. It's hard to listen to someone who too obviously enjoys the sound of his own voice (or words and phrases.) As the old advice goes, in editing, you have to "kill your darlings."

For example, "the problem is also in the problem itself" is a clever and fun phrase, but it takes the listener a couple of tries to parse, and some readers won't even bother.

Third, you are being overly precise. This problem afflicts all of us nerds, but normal people find it exasperating. You don't need "is not the best" when you can say "is the wrong." You don't need "particularly clear" when you can use "clear." You don't need "perhaps" or "in part" at all.

Fourth, you go on a digression midway through the paragraph. ("Was the question particularly clear? No, because perhaps in part the problem is also in the problem itself: that is, I may be asking the wrong question.") The digression is interesting and insightful (I just edited myself to change "indeed insightful" to "insightful"), but it interrupts the flow and makes the paragraph harder to read. Try to stick to one thought per paragraph.

Here's your paragraph with all that stuff removed.

Overeducated is the wrong word. I'm not getting a PHD and not planning on getting one (and I know plenty of plain-spoken people who are.) Pretentious is a better word. So how can I cure my pretentiousness? Should I "just listen," as many people suggested?

One other thought: your mom might be wrong about you sounding patronizing when you simplify your language. She is used to how you habitually speak, so it comes off as false to her, but it might not seem that way to a third party.
posted by callmejay at 11:18 AM on September 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

Let's keep this simple: The problem is that you use words that are too complex. You're smart and educated. Think of simpler words that mean the same thing.

It's not necessary to be perfectly precise in normal conversation, so outside of your professional life, stop using words that carry an unnecessary level of precision.
posted by cnc at 11:41 AM on September 10, 2012

Find and read a book on neuro linguistic programming. Once you've had a bit of fun with it (there are some kind of manipulative exercises involved) take it seriously but not too seroisly as it's somewhat pop phsycology-ish and see if it opens your mind a bit to expanding your methods of communicating.
posted by No Shmoobles at 12:38 PM on September 10, 2012

Your language skills are no better than a [fill in your favorite idiot stereotype] if you have no more control over the language than they do.

That is, if you can't command a full range of vocabulary then you are equally limited regardless of the obscurity or length of the words you employ.
posted by trinity8-director at 2:55 PM on September 10, 2012

Fuck'em. If other people don't like how you talk, that's their problem. Talk however you want.
posted by Busoni at 5:14 PM on September 10, 2012

I always get yelled at for using five-dollar words when ten-cent ones would do. That is, I am a circuitous, loquacious motherfucker.

These two sentences are not actually equivalent. You may have these two three problems, but they are not the same problems.

So. I will address all three, beginning with suggestions that approach everything and then focusing on specific things.
  • Be quiet. Mark Twain is famous for saying that it is better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you are an idiot, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. This works if you substitute "pretentious bloviator" for "idiot." Being quiet not only saves you from criticism, it also gives you time to do some other things. First, you have time to notice what other people are saying. Second, you have time to absorb and think about the vocabulary and speaking style of your interlocutors. Big words are absolutely useless in conversations with most high school drop outs. Wandering oratorical paths to your point are dangerous with people in a hurry or mental challenges (which are usually invisible). Blathering on and on makes the other people in your conversation feel like your are delivering a monologue rather than engaging with them. Third, it gives you time to figure out what your point actually is, so that when you are speaking, you can just get to it instead of formulating it while you speak.
  • Focus on Plain English, which uses short sentences and smaller words deliberately. Study this at least as diligently as you search for new words.
  • Volunteer with a population that requires small words. Preschool was mentioned earlier. Some assisted living facilities would be happy to have volunteers. Places with a high proportion of speakers of other languages, who are learning English as a new language. Be a literacy tutor. Many, many adults do not read at all or are barely literate. And many are waiting for a tutor because there is a shortage. You can also edit a newsletter to the reading level set by the organization. Or just read a lot of newsletters, where you will find very few big words.
  • Read more popular media. Your local newspaper to supplement whatever National Prestigious Publication you are digesting weekly. Time Magazine or Ladies' Home Journal or Newsweek or whatever. Really notice the vocabulary, because for the most part, this is the language of our peers and of our time.
Five dollar words
  • Learn them. Really deeply learn them. Go to the OED and find out where they came from and who uses them and when they were most in circulation and try to figure out why they withered on the vine. Because as was mentioned above, there is a reason most people are not defending your use of perfectly cromulent words. Many of them are just not that useful. Gregarious takes a lot longer to say than chatty and it also means "fond of company" not chatty.
  • Watch the reaction. Perhaps you know that garrulous is the 5 dollar g word for that. It drives me up a wall when people use words inaccurately, and frankly I don't bother to correct people. But here's what happens. Someone hears you use a big word, and they either don't get it at all, and resent you (or they go look it up), or they get it in context, and they define it through context (or they go look it up) Maybe they get it halfway, and then they use it wrong and someone points out their wrongness to them. Sure. That's not your responsibility. But you've created longer term confusion.
  • Conversation is not about Educating
  • , but it is about Informing. You are sharing information, not changing the capital K Knowledge of those who surround you. So focus instead on the information and leave the words to just do the work. The message is and is not the medium, as they say.
  • Return to the smaller words. They are so interesting. And, many of them are equally intriguing. Here is a list of words that many people confuse.Here's another list.
  • know your topic.
  • Know your audience.
  • Know your time restraints
  • (lazy Sunday brunches with academics vs debriefing your boss about the gas main explosion down the street that has caused business to be slow today)
  • Know your point.
  • At brunch, most people just want to enjoy their waffles. At work, if the point is that the gas outage has meant no customers got served from noon to 5, but will be back on at 6, don't bury the lede under a pile of ambulances and customer complaints and damaged product.
  • Develop a long pause. That is, let people think about the point you just made before you continue on to your second point. Or give your point, pause, take a breath and then back it up with evidence. You will find that folks who are short pausers will butt in! And this is good! It means that you have a moment to be quiet before you resume your point!
  • Reconsider that diatribe or even just the small aside you were about to begin.
  • Think about why you are talking. Is it anxiety? Is it a sense of superiority? Might you be privilege-splaining?
  • Communicate with things that are not words. Nods. Grunts. Sighs. Hand waving. Shrugs. The body has an inexhaustible vocabulary.
  • Ask questions. Obviously, if you are listening to answers, you aren't talking.
  • Think about what conversation means to you. No really, what does the activity mean to you? Is it competition? Is it about proving something? Is it about learning? Is it about something else? Actively fulfill that need somewhere else.

posted by bilabial at 7:03 PM on September 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

Also? Have you read Gulliver's Travels and Don Quixote?

If not, do that. This follows from finding out the origins of the big words you use. While you're reading Swift, track down A Modest Proposal.

In other words, expand your education rather than your vocabulary.
posted by bilabial at 2:14 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dear bilabial: APPLAUSE. Well said.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:20 PM on September 11, 2012

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