Avoid ten-dollar words


“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” –Jack Kerouac

A ten-dollar word is one that helps the speaker sound smart and makes the listener feel confused: business jargon, academic terminology, or loanwords from ancient languages.

Ten-dollar words can disconnect you from your fellow humans. Dropping a term like “sine qua non” in front of your friend Omar leads to three possibilities:

  1. He knows what it means → They continue the conversation
  2. He doesn’t know what it means → They interrupt you to ask what it means
  3. He doesn’t know what it means → They say nothing and hope the answer will be revealed eventually

In two out of three cases, your partner needs help understanding you. And in one of those paths (2), he has to interrupt you (a socially expensive move) to acknowledge what they don’t know. Most troubling is the case (3) in which Omar says nothing.

Most folks’ll choose this say-nothing path because it’s easiest. But it pulls the listener out of focus, forcing them to scan the rest of the conversation for context clues about your Latin phrase of mystery.

We are already so alone in this world, why would you say anything to make you feel even less understood?

Bring your adversary closer. Avoid ten-dollar words. They cost you more and get you less.