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Use of pompous words


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One of the easiest yet most effective methods of winning prestige, at least in ordinary conversation, is to use phrases and words unfamiliar to your audience. Occasionally we recognize this use of words as mere pomposity, but too often we are deceived by it into accepting the user as an authority, that is, as a person with prestige.

Oliver Goldsmith satirized this habit in his book The Vicar of Wakefield. Squire Thornhill, through his continual arguing, gained the reputation of being a very intelligent man. In fact he was not; he was no more than a poseur, a person with a flair for stringing together obscure and sometimes long words.

This ability stood him in good stead: by using uncommon, long and complex words and phrases he was often able to escape from the impossible positions he often argued himself into. Thus on one occasion, he crushed his opponent by asking, “Whether do you judge the analytical investigation of the first part of my enthymen deficient secundum quoad, or quoad minus?”

It would defeat the intelligence of someone far more able than the squire to say precisely what he meant. But the effect of the remark was overwhelming, and his opponent, who couldn’t confess that he had not understood a word of what the squire had said, gave up the argument. He resigned, moreover, with the impression that the squire possessed a most formidable intellect.

Tricks like this are used every day and appear everywhere. I’ve recently noticed it cropping up again in the writings of pop psychologists. These ‘gurus’ depend upon the cultivation of an air of impressive mystery, and they feed upon the willingness of people to accord admiration and respect to anyone or anything sufficiently impressive and unintelligible.

My four years of studying it convinced me that Psychology is a subject that lends itself very easily to this sort of phraseology and verbal ‘hocus pocus’. Most of us are familiar with the ‘famous’ professor - usually a professor at a minor US university - who advertises a lecture or a series of lectures on such subjects as “Willpower and psychic control,” “The unconscious and its understanding,” “Psycho-neurosis and how you can conquer it,” “Success – it’s all in your second mind,” and “Bio-precognition: how to use it to bring you wealth beyond your dreams!”

You can guarantee that, with enough advertising and follow-up marketing, such lectures will generate impressively large audiences. Once there, these audiences will a few very simple common-sense facts about human nature, and a great many incomprehensible statements. Impressed to the point of awe, many of the people in the audience are persuaded to take special courses—at five hundred dollars a time—from the lecturer.

Suggestion and a prestige appeal artificially created by the use of technical jargon have dazzled large numbers of people and enriched many an entre-preneurial marketer.

The use of long and unfamiliar words is a trick that seldom fails. Most people dislike confessing their ignorance. They dislike admitting that they cannot understand what is said to them and they would rather accept the incomprehensible as profound than ask for an explanation in simpler terms and thus open themselves to a charge of ignorance or stupidity.

About the Author

Lee Hopkins the author of over 130 articles on business communication, and is recognised world-wide as one of Australia's leading experts in online business communication, including Social Media or Web2.0 as it's also known.

To connect with him, please call him on +61 8121 4444 any hour of the day or night; if he's asleep you can leave a voice message!

Visit his site at to find many more articles on business communication. He also blogs at Whilst there, why not pick up a complimentary copy of his 'Social Media White Paper', which explains all about this latest seismic change to the business communication landscape!

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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2009-11-23 12:37:02 in Personal Articles

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