Just because you know $10 words doesn’t mean you should use them

Keep your language simple if you want to make a quick and strong connection with your readers and listeners.

Two Nobel-prize winning authors once got in an argument over words.

William Faulkner accused Ernest Hemingway of dumbing-down his writing. Faulkner complained that Hemingway had ‘never been known to use a word that might send the reader to the dictionary’.

Hemingway’s reply was priceless, and especially worth noting if you really want your words, your speeches and your slide content to be memorable.

He said: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”

If you need to connect quickly and powerfully with an audience, you need to be more of a Hemingway and less of a Faulkner.

I often think of the advice of a co-trainer when I was teaching writing to CBC journalists. He told them: “I’m glad you have dictionaries of synonyms and antonyms. Just leave them on a really high shelf, out of reach. The word you first thought of, the simple word, is probably the best word.”