By Jimmy Warden
In the words of William Zinsser (2006), clutter is the disease of American writing. I believe the same could be said for human speech. Despite living in a world where bite-size information rules, we tend to be overzealous with the number of words we use when we write or talk. When we do this, what we’re saying is often unclear to our readers and listeners. It causes unnecessary confusion. In reality, we should simplify and consolidate what we write and say. Doing so increases our ability to get our points across.
Our words are unclear when we use vocabulary that isn’t understandable. We do this is in an effort to sound intelligent, but it tends to backfire. Listeners get caught in the weeds, trying to make sense of the jargon. As a result, messages get misunderstood.
Simplifying our language clears up our messages, so we should strive to use simpler words with the same meaning. For example, instead of describing someone as having prolixity, we should describe them as wordy or long-winded because prolixity means wordy, but it is barely used and not well-known.
In some cases, specific wording can zest up our language, but we have to know our audience. In most cases, we can describe a comedian as hilarious instead of funny to drive home that their humor was off the charts. We could even use hilarious to build the vocabulary of younger children because it is a word that they can instantly understand and use.
Far too often, in this day and age, we have the utmost tendency to prolong our dialogue in an extreme effort to sound intellectual and articulate. In reality, the listener stops listening quicker than we think.
That first sentence could easily have said: “We use too many words when we try to make points”; but to sound educated, I went above and beyond most people’s paygrade when it comes to language. This happens a lot when we’re faced with writing assignments that have to be a specific word count, when we’re trying to impress someone with our intelligence, and when we think that complex ideas need elaborate explanations. Unfortunately, we never really get to the point with this approach.
When it comes to consolidating our speech, I like to use a strategy called the “bullet point summary”. It starts by explaining yourself in a normal way, but once the explanation is complete, you turn it into a bullet-point summary. For example, a bullet-point summary of a day-long extravagant trip to Burlington, Vermont might sound like: “I drove to Burlington, went shopping, got lunch on the water, and drove back”. No need for all of the extra “buzz” that may have happened.
These are some ideas to ponder in our everyday lives because most of our personal blunders and blunders with others come from miscommunication. The more that we can practice being clear and concise with what we’re saying and writing, the more that we’ll be understood.