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I have read in several places that people use big, fancy, complicated, and little known words (such as Brobdingnagian) to give the impression that they are knowledgeable, smart, and professional. Does that work?

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    Only to another professor :) – Mike Dunlavey May 19 '11 at 21:00
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    Not if you use them incorrectly. – dmckee May 19 '11 at 21:39
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    Subjective. It might impress one, and disgust the other. You could try a statistical investigation, but it will be hard to find a way to ask this question in a culture-independent way. – user unknown May 20 '11 at 0:10
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    Wouldn't it depend on the audience? – Skava May 20 '11 at 1:57
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    Quite so. Granting egotistically enunciating vastly verbose sentences creates a slight maxima in my narcissism, I discover it to be quite expedient in daunting unambiguous types of individuals. – Mateen Ulhaq May 20 '11 at 2:55
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Although this doesn't answer your question directly, I think it does a good job of answering indirectly.

Research shows a strong correlation between vocabulary and general intelligence. So does using big words make you appear smart, maybe, but having a high level of vocabulary (and being able to use it) would indicate that you actually are smarter.

The key to the sentence above is actually being able to use the words correctly. Just going out and learning a bunch of words is not going to immediately make you smarter, but having a strong grasp of the language and a wide vocabulary indicates you are smarter.

Your question has a large subjective part to it, because if I am really clever and use lots of clever words I may be smarter than someone with a low I.Q, but they may just think I'm a dick. This means that your question answered in that way can't be answered objectively.

Now on to some examples:

Analysis indicated strong correlations between the two measures, particularly between the CREVT General Vocabulary and WISC-III Verbal IQ (r = .80), WISC-III Verbal Comprehension Index (r =.83), and the Vocabulary subtest (r =.76). These results held across the grades. (Smith, Smith, Taylor, & Hobby, 2005).

...

Acquisition of word meanings, or vocabulary, reflects general mental ability (psychometric g) more than than do most abilities measured in test batteries. Among diverse subtests, vocabulary is especially high on indices of genetic influences. Behavioral and Brain Sciences (2001), 24: 1109-1110 Copyright © 2001 Cambridge University Press

This page provides about 10 examples with unlinked references.

Examples include:

Shows high positive correlation between JOCRF vocabulary score and SAT-verbal. Bowker, R. (1976)

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“English vocabulary level has been shown to be strongly related to educational success. In addition, it is related to the level of occupation attained. It is highly correlated with measures of reading ability and intelligence” Bowker, R. (1981)

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    Absolutely an interesting answer and useful for anyone coming here to learn things. It doesn't quite answer the question, which is about other people's reaction to using "big fancy" words, especially if these words are used intentionally to create an impression. I think people's reaction will be very different to someone who is smart with a good vocabulary than to someone who made a list of ten big words and uses them where possible to appear smart. – gnasher729 May 9 '14 at 10:49
  • The key to the sentence above is actually being able to use the words correctly. I find this quite shallow and pedantic! – forest Mar 31 at 2:54
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If you're in an interview with an expert, it's better to read books on subjects they want you to know. If you're not talking to a expert, they'll be baffled by unfamiliar vocabulary and unable to determine what you're talking about. In either situation, especially with a expert, mistakes in how you use advanced vocab will cost you.

I.E., it's more important to use vocabulary that excites and motivates people (read: stay positive) than to fake knowledge and experience that you don't have.

The only motivator I can think of to use big words would be to drive off competition, and only a small amount at that.

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Your question can either be answered by yes and no, distinctively separated by your definition of "professional". Would I consider my doctor using big words, professional? I don't think so. At the same time can it be convenient, if I am with peers, to be able to share thoughts using big words as abbreviations of complex concepts.

Actually it is Johann von Goethe versus Etienne Bonnot de Condillac that nicely separate the two angles.

Goethe with his "in der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister" (in limitation one recognises the master.) and Bonnot de Condillac stating that "every science requires a special language because every science has its own ideas."

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