Its Not the Size of the Words that Counts

Peter B. GiblettStarred Page By Peter B. Giblett, 10th Nov 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Tips

Do you have trouble being understood? How we speak and how we write is all influenced by the words that we select and use. Many people seem to go out of the way not to be understood and there are two duel sins, failure to understand the right word to use or alternatively trying to be too clever, the right words are a matter of balance.

The Simple Word

Dr Ralph Smedley, the founder of Toastmasters - a non-profit organisation that focuses on improving speaking and leadership skills - said "it is not the size of words that counts, but the clearness with which they represent your thoughts", I agree that in the general sense we should use the right word on the right occasion and that will help us communicate our ideas most appropriately, it is appropriate here to cite another authority in this respect, my mother, Flo Giblett, who was fond of stating to us brothers that "it is better to use a simple word that is known by all than a complex one that few people understand", a lesson that has remained with me a lifetime and it is one of the aims in writing this to share a joy of using words, building propositions, sentences and paragraphs, from a solid foundation of words and this article is centred on the idea that it was necessary to share a passion for the English language with the world and in that way encourage others to do all they can to improve.

(Dr Smedley's photo is courtesy Toastmasters International)

Right Word, Right Place

How can you use the right word in the right place at the right time all of the time? This is certainly a challenge, but a challenge that is worth taking. Are we ever going to stop making mistakes with the words that we use? The truth is that we humans are imperfect creatures and in some respects the day that we stop making mistakes is the day that. To tell a story, I was living an error free day a few years ago - nothing had gone wrong throughout the morning, and it seemed like the afternoon was plain sailing, I made no errors during the course of the afternoon and even went home right on time, to spend a lovely evening with my wife, all was great until a phone call at about 9pm from the office, well to cut a long story short, my day actually started with an error, almost he first thing I did required that an assumption me made, well of course that assumption was so nearly right, but not quite and that is where the perfect day turned into an imperfect week and many lessons to be learnt from it. Yes we are imperfect creatures and the truth is when it comes to selecting the right words to use we, more frequently than we care to admit, select the wrong word, especially when it comes to speaking or during the course of a conversation, but most of the time the only person that knows we have selected the wrong word is us and know matter how much we may wish to kick ourselves about it the utterance we made has let the wrong word out and we cannot shut the stable door now.

Just how do you go about selecting the right word to convey your thoughts? The truth is that to convey even the simplest of ideas there can be many words or word combinations that can be used that can be used and ultimately the combination of words that you select mus be focused on the audience that you have when speaking. you will use different words when speaking with a friend you have known since childhood than you would when talking to your boss than you would when attending an interview for a new job, with the lifelong friend you do not have to impress them with the words that you speak and it is permissible to let you hair down, there may actually be no mask worn in this situation but generally at all other times we resort to wearing a mask, having an alter ego behind which the real us hides.

Long or Complex Word

There is a time and a place to use a long or complex word, and usually this is where a group of like minded people are gathered together discussing a specific topic, where they are sharing thoughts common to their profession, but here it is fine because everyone is familiar with the language being used. The other occasion where you may use such words is where you are educating people in the use of new words and the complexities of the English language. Words like "introspection", "dysthymia" or "psycholinguistics" are not in everyday use and may need to be defined for the average person to understand.


    introspection - Contemplation of one's own thoughts, feelings, and sensations; a self-examination.
    dysthymia - persistent mild depression
    psycholinguistics - the relationship between language and the psychological process including the process of language acquisition.

The art(s) of Speaking and Writing

When speaking in the general sense it is important to use the right combination of words is that which conveys the idea most effectively, but you must remember here that advice it is not the size of the word that matters, but the clarity with which the idea is expressed and that matters most of all, it will allow you to talk effectively with your boss or to communicate at the interview and express how you have the right skills for that position.

Remember this you will speak differently when in a conversation, than performing a speech, and the words you use may also differ when writing a document. Baring this in mind it is unwise to simply read a thesis out loud and expect it will make a good speech, the contents may be of vital importance to the audience but by reading from the paper you are not connecting with your audience and the words or ideas that you express will lose their significance and that is certainly a challenge to the person presenting an academic paper because they are not focused on presenting a speech and here connecting to your audience is all about eye contact and knowing that they have understood what you have said, in a conversation it is easy to see the eyes glaze over, you should know whether they have understood or whether they are bored and in that conversation you do rely on the feedback you get from the other person

Did you get it Right?

Did you get the words right? With your friend chances are they will simply laugh if you say the wrong thing, it you speak in front of a Toastmaster meeting the chances are that even if you make a big blunder they will simply applaud you, yet the person evaluating you may offer a suggestion of a better word choice that can be used in that situation. Use the wrong word in an interview and 90% of the time it will not matter - the only time it is likely to mater is when the mistake you make is of crucial significance to your professional standing.

More Articles for You?

...any of the following articles, each published by Peter Giblett and may be of interest to you:

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Join Wikinut today and have some fun telling the world about your views and how the world needs to change.


Clarity, Clearness, Complex Word, Dr Ralph Smedley, Ego, Egos, Flo Giblett, Mask, Simple Word, Size Of Words, Solid Foundation, Understand, Understanding, Words

Meet the author

author avatar Peter B. Giblett
Author of "Is your Business Ready? For the Social Media Revolution"

Social media consultant, with C-Level background.

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author avatar cnwriter..carolina
11th Nov 2013 (#)

very good Peter as always...thank you

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author avatar Helen Thomas
11th Nov 2013 (#)

Very Interesting ~ thought provoking ~ and ~ informative.
Thanks for sharing!

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author avatar Fern Mc Costigan
11th Nov 2013 (#)

Well done Peter!

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author avatar Michelle Stanley
11th Nov 2013 (#)

There is a lot of valuable, useful information in your article to reflect on. Thank you for this. Michelle

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author avatar Mariah
11th Nov 2013 (#)

Your mother's wise choice of words convey strong intellect, more so than some of the dialogue used by experts.
My mother used to advise us to be 'appropriately adaptable' to whatever environment we found ourselves to be in.
Very interesting article Peter
Thank you

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
13th Nov 2013 (#)

Adaptability is so very important, very good point.

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
11th Nov 2013 (#)

Thanks Peter. Only the wise convey their message in simple language so that all are able to understand, go to the root of the matter. I have seen some confusing the issue at hand when they cannot convince others through cogent reasoning - siva

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author avatar snerfu
12th Nov 2013 (#)

Good work sir. Interesting writing about words -- with words.

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author avatar Ptrikha
12th Nov 2013 (#)

Some good tips- somehow recently I have given a few presentations. I tried to prepare a good PPT, and overall the presentation went fine. However, I avoid looking at every audience as it makes me feel a bit over-conscious. I am not sure how to rectify this.

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author avatar Ian R Thorpe
12th Nov 2013 (#)

A tip I learned from an English teacher a long time ago was to read work aloud (its OK to sub vocalise, pronounce the word silently, for people who find reading aloud embarrassing even when alone).
If it read well it is probably a good piece of writing, if it sounds or seems clunky and clumsy, some work is needed.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
13th Nov 2013 (#)

Ian, I agree that one of the best tips is to sense-check everything we write, clunky or clumsy sounding things need to be worked on

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author avatar spirited
13th Nov 2013 (#)

A good wordsmith has belted out more of his gold.

Great article, Peter.

Hope you understand my words!

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
14th Nov 2013 (#)

Nothing worse than reading something by someone attempting to astound with intelligence and instead baffling with absurdity. Nice, professional, polite way of pointing it out again, Peter.

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author avatar Retired
19th Nov 2013 (#)

This is a great article. I too believe a simple word usually works best. People who use long words to try to make themselves look intelligent usually do the opposite.

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author avatar Graham
2nd Dec 2013 (#)

The first paragraph is so badly written, I gave up. Eight places needing improvement to meet standard English usage.

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author avatar Matt
3rd Dec 2013 (#)

I agree with Graham. I was linked to this piece from a discussion group (Linkedin/Toastmasters) and was distracted by the abysmal spelling, editing and sentence structure.

Please do your readers a favor: Edit your posts; this was either an editor's nightmare or dream depending on the perspective.

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author avatar Graham
6th Dec 2013 (#)

Perhaps it's not clear what we mean. In the second sentence, "How we speak and how we write is all" should have "are both". Duel should be dual. A basic rule of clarity is "each sentence one idea", so the third sentence can be rewritten as three: "Many people seem to go out of the way not to be understood. There are two sins: failing to understand the right word to use, and trying to be too clever. The right words are a matter of balance." Rhetorically, this is much more powerful. The sentence rule should be applied throughout the text.

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author avatar Gail Angel
5th Dec 2013 (#)

I'm with Graham and Matt. Aside from sad sentence structure, grammatical gaffes and punctuation perils, you used "duel" instead of "dual" in the first paragraph. Since your topic is about word selection, you have neglected to follow your own advice.

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