I'm working with another student as part of an organization at my university, and we've been texting each other lately. Through these conversations, I've realized that she is very verbose in her responses in which she uses big words and sophisticated vocabulary for simple ideas (especially since these are just text messages). In addition, I have received the impression that she is speaking down to me. She assumed that I didn't understand basic social skills (For example, when I was arranging a time to meet with her to discuss an issue, she kept warning me that she might not be able to completely help me. She did this despite the fact we both already understood that, and I kept reminding her that I understood that.)

I understand that she's trying to act as professional as possible, but I feel the need to explain this to her. It's not a big issue, though. I assume she does this to me since she is the leader of the organization, and she wants to act as professional as possible. But I want to let her know that I don't appreciate it.

Would it be appropriate for me to let her know I feel this way?

edit: grammar and fixed some sentence issues

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    There's a certain irony that your question title isn't simply "Long words in text messages" – Michael Mar 31 '15 at 22:36
  • I have no idea what you're talking about. – user1084 Apr 1 '15 at 17:34
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    More specifically: this sounds like a really nettlesome complaint. I can't tell if you have a problem besides the character count in text messages or legitimate trouble communicating with her. So I'm not sure how to react to this question. I did downvote until you clear it up. – user1084 Apr 1 '15 at 17:41
  • I suggest not using the word verbose or any of its variants when texting your feedback. – user8365 Apr 1 '15 at 18:18

Maybe she is using that vocabulary because that is her ordinary day-to-day vocabulary. If you have a large vocabulary, it often doesn't occur to you that others can be intimidated by it or find it condescending. I know it never occurred to me at that age and I have talked to many others who have said the same thing. Having learned those words when I was child, it never crossed my mind that everybody didn't use them until probably ten years into my professional career. I had to learn to tone it down, but it took years and years to succeed at it.

My advice is to give her the benefit of the doubt that she is not trying to intimidate you and just work with her.

For example, when I was arranging a time to meet with her to discuss an issue, she kept warning me that she might not be able to completely help me. She did this despite the fact we both already understood that, and I kept reminding her that I understood that.)

The quote above is unrelated but is indicative of someone who does not feel terribly confident in the area under discussion. This is likely more her own issue with herself than one with you.

I think you are taking this too personally. She is doing nothing wrong and you are doing nothing wrong, you just have different communication styles.

You will work with lots of people who communicate differently than you do through your career. Don't take it personally when they do. Don't make assumptions about other people's motives just from the words they use. Watch for actions instead. A snake will reveal himself or herself through actions not words.

My second boss had to give me the advice to develop a thicker skin; this was probably the most useful advice I ever got. Not everything that you interpret as a put down is. And if it is, then telling her you are intimidated will lead to more put downs not less. So learn to cope. If you don't know what the words mean, look them up. If you do know, then she communicated perfectly well even if it was not your preference. If you are unsure what she meant, then ask for a clarification. No one can intimidate you if you don't allow it.

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    Some people are just direct, too. A lot of the time this comes across as condescending/arrogant/rude to other people when none was intended. – enderland Mar 31 '15 at 22:21

Sometimes you have to use a "big word" to convey exactly what you mean, such as Zeitgeist, polymorphism, or subdermal. There's really no small words that means what they mean.

The problem comes, however, in the psychology of their use. Some people use big words to intimidate others, some use them to be deliberately obtuse and obfuscate their involvement/responsibility, and some people use them as a compensating behavior for their own insecurities.

From the tone of your post, I'm going to infer (see what I did there?) that she is in the insecure category. She may be intimidated by you, and is trying to "Speak with authority to gain authority." This is fairly common in younger people, in my experience. It may also just be her trying to "find her voice," as in what speaking style is comfortable, and she's trying out an extreme. This is the equivalent of the "Wild Youth Hairstyle" - just trying out the boundaries to see what's out there.

I wouldn't read too much into it, and I wouldn't take it personally. If it really bugs you, you can always deflect it with a little humor: "Hey, this is a college project. We don't have the budget for all those ten dollar words."

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  • Firstly, punching the daylights out of people is also a long-practiced and well-known technique for defusing tension in Western culture but that doesn't mean we should do it so let's do away with that argument. Secondly, your taste in humor really ought to be more context-aware. This every bit strikes me as on the infantilizing side and far too reminiscent of what might hypothetically be said in a romantically degrading context, and it's well established in gender studies / anthropology / what-have-you that this will pervade other male/female relations (supposing OP is well). – user1084 Apr 1 '15 at 18:33
  • My inference partly comes from the fact that we have overwhelming evidence that men really don't like it when women are forthright, act intelligent, etc. and that jumped me out as a far bigger concern than the concern that the OP really truly is dealing with an insecure woman who needs to be treated as such. Apologies for the vagary but I've already cited evidence to this above, and I leave it for you to research yourself how you might be more aware of gender in non-romantic interactions since I'm not personally interested in giving you a full education on this. – user1084 Apr 1 '15 at 18:36
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    youtube.com/watch?v=AUbbGx6dCOQ Not every human interaction is about mating. – Wesley Long Apr 1 '15 at 18:38
  • Zing. Because I'm immature or something deleting my acct here. See ya. – user1084 Apr 1 '15 at 18:41
  • @djechlin This is obviously a case of the #patriarchy...... (jk). – easymoden00b Apr 2 '15 at 20:53

I strongly caution against psychologizing your peer. Women who speak their thoughts or sound intelligent are not "insecure." Perhaps she is just intelligent or speaking her thoughts or socializes/communicates differently with most of her friends or usual peers.

Your complaint is really specific and I have no idea whether you are having sincere difficulties communicating, or are just randomly annoyed that someone has slightly longer text messages and it's interfering with your view of you phone. I would harshly recommend against putting yourself in charge of how someone else interacts. It's only your problem if legitimately cannot understand them, which you have not indicated.

Bottom line: thank you for your question, but let this one go.

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She's using her vocabulary as an attempted social flag to signal intelligence. It's slightly annoying but it is what it is, maybe link her to this IgNoble Prize winning study in Applied Cognitive Psychology!

Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: problems with using long words needlessly


Most texts on writing style encourage authors to avoid overly-complex words. However, a majority of undergraduates admit to deliberately increasing the complexity of their vocabulary so as to give the impression of intelligence. This paper explores the extent to which this strategy is effective. Experiments 1–3 manipulate complexity of texts and find a negative relationship between complexity and judged intelligence. This relationship held regardless of the quality of the original essay, and irrespective of the participants' prior expectations of essay quality. The negative impact of complexity was mediated by processing fluency. Experiment 4 directly manipulated fluency and found that texts in hard to read fonts are judged to come from less intelligent authors. Experiment 5 investigated discounting of fluency. When obvious causes for low fluency exist that are not relevant to the judgement at hand, people reduce their reliance on fluency as a cue; in fact, in an effort not to be influenced by the irrelevant source of fluency, they over-compensate and are biased in the opposite direction. Implications and applications are discussed.

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  • This is very funny, and I definitely see how it makes sense. But, seriously, would it be appropriate for me to let her know about this issue? – Charizard Mar 31 '15 at 18:57
  • @Charizard she's probably slightly insecure, so no --maybe just drop it onto your [insert social media of choice that you share] with some ironically complex language and a wink. I'd probably just brush it off and put my shoulders into the wind though. – easymoden00b Mar 31 '15 at 19:02
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    First of all, this study did NOT win a Nobel Prize in cognitive psychology - it was awarded an "Ig Nobel " prize in Literature (a joke prize or "unusual or trivial" studies), so -1 there. This study also does not establish what many people want to say it shows, either. In every case tested the sentences were made overtly worse, as "erudite vernacular" in every studied case were less appropriate and sensible word choices and were not created by actually intelligent native speakers - but by a program that swapped out words for bigger/rarer ones. The study simply suggests good word choice. – BrianH Mar 31 '15 at 20:25
  • "She's using" is jumping to conclusions. If the OP assumes this and handles accordingly this might land him in a very awkward situation. – user8036 Apr 1 '15 at 9:51

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