HUNT: Not everyone is a Webster

Georgie Hunt

Nothing makes a person sound more stupid than when he or she responds to another person’s eloquent articulation of the English language with the phrase, “Whoa! Big word!” Attesting to your lack of comprehension is noble and courageous, for it means not being afraid of appearing dumb. If you do not know what a word means, do not pretend that you do, for being truthful will prevent you from muddling up a response that will inevitably make absolutely no sense. If you do not understand what was said, you cannot possibly know how to reply. But whether or not you choose to admit your ignorance or attempt to continue a conversation balancing on the edge of comprehension, do not under any circumstances utter the aforementioned three words. Such intellectually suicidal commentary must not be externally vocalized.

Anyone who can communicate in at least one language has heard or spoken the ghastly phrase or some equally appalling version of it. In the world of conversation, you are often either the one who speaks the words that leave your listeners open-mouthed and unresponsive, or you are the one on the receiving end of what feels like verbal bullets.

Listening to advanced vocabulary can enrapture and soothe the mind, but when words are spoken to someone who does not comprehend their meaning, their impact is deadening and the level of pain positively corresponds to the number of syllables. It is natural to feel less intelligent when you discover you cannot play the game of vocabulary-catch with the person with whom you are conversing. Your partner tosses you a word, and you drop it time and time again. Most likely you feel frustration, and perhaps you feel like telling your partner that there is no need for him to persistently throw so forcefully. Then again, your partner possesses the ability, so why should he dumb himself down to your meager level? You should not ask him to sacrifice his genius for your benightedness. Go home and practice. Read. When you come across a word you do not understand, look it up. Be inspired by people who speak well, and seek to elevate your own vocabulary so that next time you meet, you will be able to keep the conversation going.

It is unfortunate that people feel compelled to comment on the expression of mammoth words used in conversation because normally these critics defensively disguise what is in fact awe and envy with a cloak of condescension. They roll their eyes at a speaker who honorably refuses to allow his or her intelligence to latently decompose and wither away from lack of exercise, just because other people are not on par with his or her level of intellectual aptitude. People come to feel that their listeners think they are showing off when they use words that they are fortunate to possess in their vocabulary. The people who can properly utilize words that were meant to be spoken, rather than hidden and undiscovered in the confines of Webster’s or Roget’s pages, have largely surrendered to patronizing eye rolls and the frustration of being incessantly misunderstood. Somehow, the exceptional has been eradicated by the populous of commonality.

For obvious reasons, commenting on the grandeur of a word used by someone else in conversation makes you sound stupid. It does not express your interest in actually wanting to find out what the word means; rather, it is like declaring your own ignorance and finding it funny. It is not funny. Do not make someone feel haughty and elitist for using vocabulary when really you are just jealous of the decadent flavor of their words. If they do not speak them, no one will, and words will just be wasted.


Georgie Hunt is a sophomore English major from Pomfret, Conn. She can be reached at [email protected].