Good, simple words with hard, clear meanings

By IMA on Jun 21, 2019

In 2005, while working at Princeton University, psychologist Daniel Oppenheimer published the brilliantly named study ‘Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly’. The following year it won him the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The message was explicit. Write simply and clearly if you can, you’ll be more likely thought of as intelligent. While the study was based on students’ writing, the same theory can be applied to brands. Needlessly using long words to look interesting or exciting has the opposite effect. People aren’t impressed. They don’t pay attention. They switch off.

For Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal columnist and former speech writer for Ronald Reagan, simple writing is powerful as we’ve gained a sense that true things are usually said straight and direct.

“Most of the important things you will ever say or hear in your life are composed of simple, good, sturdy words. “I love you.” “It’s over.” “It’s a boy.” “He’s dead.” These are the words of big events. Because they are big you speak with utter and unconscious concentration as you communicate them.”

Stripped of anything unnecessary, these words talk without any ambiguity. Or more aptly, they are good, simple words with hard, clear meanings. They might not be much to look at on their own, but string them together and they create a powerful response.

The fact is, people don’t have time to work out what you’re trying to say. They won’t stop and decipher it. They’ll move swiftly on. It’s no surprise that the most popular Buzzfeed headlines show that our favourite topic is ourselves.

Needlessly long words confuse, muddying the waters and obfuscating the point. Simple words tell you something big in an unforgettable way.