The Three QuestionsQuestion 1 of 3
Do you think you speak pretentiously? Do you think I speak pretentiously?
Once when asking this question to an admired graduate student, he responded, "the word 'pretentiously' is pretentious." I was absolutely floored. First, I have asked this question to at least 60 different people at this point, and that's the first time someone's made that remark. Next, that I wouldn't at all considered the word "pretentiously" pretentious at all. Fuck. The question isn't designed to reach the entire audience of people I want it to reach.
The problem with pretentious language is that it's not accessible. I can understand the usefulness of, at times, sounding pretentious. I expect a sommelier to sound ostentatious. I expect those who perfect a craft to be almost unreachable with their understanding - in a limited form. They might be trying to sell an image (which I honestly don't think is worth it), or maybe it's an accident. But outside of small doses, purposeful pretentious language is gross.
What the fuck is the point of communicating if you want your language to either (1) not be understood to its fullest meaning (2) want to make people feel small by speaking with you?
So what if someone thinks the way you speak makes you sound smart? People with intelligence have the capability of making their language accessible. Be aware of your language, your audience, and have a productive conversation, one that doesn't have the ulterior ego-stroking motive. Pretentious language lacks clarity and respect and isn't to be admired. If you're so smart that you need to speak in a way that elevates you to others, you can think of ways to communicate more equally - right? Speaking pretentiously is the equivalent of speaking loudly. Yes, it makes people think you know what you're talking about, but they don't like you—honey, over vinegar.
I'm pretty self-conscious of my speech being inaccessible in this way, and that's where the origin of the question came from, being worried that I sounded pretentious. From observing past interactions, every time someone has thought I was speaking pretentiously, it left them feeling annoyed, hostile, or bad about themselves for not understanding something I have implicitly signaled I expect them to understand (whether that assumption is true or not). The reason the public doesn't value academic efforts in everyday life more is that academic language at times can be very inaccessible. I'm not talking about paywalls and socioeconomic inaccessibility; assume everyone has access to academic literature.
Can someone use this information in their everyday life? Can they use this information for a special task or occupation? Can they take what is written or spoken and apply that information to a different conversation? If the answer is "no," then you aren't writing an informational piece or having a productive conversation; you're writing a line on your CV. ew, okay, I guess.
In a later blog post, I'll explain some of the responses people have said about themselves or about me, and spoiler, a large portion of my friends say I do speak pretentiously with the language I use. I'm glad I started asking questions like this, and I try to be mindful of my language. I try to make sure that I'm accessible, and my friends telling me that I need improvement in that area is something I have to work on. But vocabulary is not the only way to sound pretentious, and it's not the most common type of pretentious, uppity speech from what I've observed. And as for my newest mistake, I asked this very complex question, which usually takes a lot of answers in a Twitter poll. Stay tuned.