Real Talk: Why is an Extensive Vocabulary So Intimidating?

Posted July 20, 2015 by Cristina (Girl in the Pages) in Features / 29 Comments


Real Talk is an original feature here at Girl in the Pages where I’ll discuss random things that come across my mind in an honest and sometimes spontaneous manner. It may be about books, blogging, life, or anything else!

I’ve noticed a trend.

Many people will recommend to bloggers that they use only “accessible” vocabulary. No SAT or GRE tier words needed. Keep it simple, like you’re talking to a friend. Definitely keep reviews conversational and not too long.

Now, if that’s your personal philosophy, that’s totally cool. But I’ve seen this advice given to so many newbie bloggers, and it saddens me. Why? Because it insinuates that a reader’s audience will be alienated and turned off by the use of a large vocabulary. It implies that using more complex word choices is not “normal.” Yet for some of us, having a large vocabulary is normal. Especially as readers, book bloggers are being introduced to new words all the time, and building their own personal vocabulary because of it. Coming across a new word doesn’t have to be exhausting or intimidating. It can be a learning experience, a chance for readers to broaden not only their use of language but perhaps introduce them to concepts or ideas they may not have been familiar with. I prefer reading reviews where there’s a large variety in the vocabulary used to describe books because it allows me to get a more unique understanding of what the book is about (there’s only so many times you can read words like “great,” “well-written,” and “developed characters” before they start to lose their meaning).

Now, I’m not saying that one should perpetually keep a thesaurus open while they blog, or intentionally try to make themselves sound erudite to the point of annoyance. However, I think bloggers and writers shouldn’t be openly discouraged from using a word for fear it may not be widely known, and I think if those words are naturally a part of their vocabulary, they shouldn’t assume their readers aren’t up for the task of learning a new addition to their personal verbal lexicon. If I use a word someone doesn’t know, there’s no judgement and I’m happy to explain it to them; likewise, I’m never ashamed to stop someone and ask them to define a word I’m not familiar with. Being a reader has made me word-hungry and knowledge-happy. Coming across a word I don’t know, whether in a blog post or a novel, is a chance for me to learn and grow.

I suppose I’m recommending a cease-fire when it comes to vocabulary shaming. Whether simple or complex, use the words you want to use without fearing criticism. A blog is a space that should be uniquely you, and the way you speak is an inherent part of that.

What’s your reaction when coming across unfamiliar words? Do you think reading has significantly impacted the growth of your vocabulary? Have you ever come across a piece of blogging advice you (respectfully) disagreed with? Let me know in the comments!

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29 responses to “Real Talk: Why is an Extensive Vocabulary So Intimidating?

  1. I completely agree with you. I am always impressed when bloggers come up with better words to describe a book they’re reviewing. I only don’t because my own vocabulary sucks. One of the things I hope to gain by blogging is better writing and speaking skills – and a huge part of that is vocabulary.

    I often look up words I don’t know – especially while reading online because it’s so easy to do when I’m already at my computer. When reading a paper book or listening to an audiobook, I usually just try to infer the meaning from the context.

    Kate @ Mom's Radius recently posted: Favorite low carb recipes
    • Blogging is such a great resource for increasing your vocabulary, writing and speaking skills, so I view it as a great learning opportunity when I come across a word I don’t know. I may not always take the time to look up a word while I’m reading, but like you I definitely spend the time to ruminate over the meaning of the word and infer what I can based on the context. Those words I come across tend to stick with me, especially if I see them again, and then I’ll usually make the effort to look it up because I’m intrigued by it!

  2. I didn’t even know this was a thing. Where did you even come across this bananas of a pro-tip anyways?

    I’m not sure if it’s your wording or theirs but to dumb down your language as if you’re “talking to a friend” — like, no, I blog the same way I talk to friends (IRL or Internet). I’m actually disappointed at the fact that it’s putting people down by affiliation (and perhaps an backhanded comment at yourself too as likely being “that friend” too).

    I do appreciate how you pick on those keywords like “great” or “well-written” (even if I use the latter a lot) because it really holds limited substance when by itself yet it’s so widely used. More than that, however, isn’t that the meaning is lost (for me at least), it’s that there are just “better” words to describe something that’s black or white. I mean, if you can nuance the shit out of something, why wouldn’t you? We already lump so much together into accessible categories (e.g. the next best-selling genre title since [other title]) so I’d say it’s like a bloggers due diligence to best differentiate a book from others.

    This isn’t to say I don’t understand why you wouldn’t go about diluting vocabulary for easing accessibility. I totally get the why…but then I’d really ask “but why…?” I can’t claim to know much about review etiquette since I write exhaustive reviews that most people would be turned off by (hello, 1.5k+ words LOL). So maybe I should take this advice? Maybe not–most likely not.

    Anyways, this vomit needs to end. (You should still let me know where this pro-tip was first seen if it’s in the book blogosphere. I’m just curious to see if said blogging tip provider has a word that a commoner such as myself would not understand–marking their review “inaccessible”–right?). But I digress.


    Joey @ Thoughts and Afterthoughts recently posted: [Ontario Book Blogger Meet-Up 2015] – Introduction
    • I blog pretty much the same way I talk too! Sometimes I may be asked to explain a word I used, but I’m always more than happy to do so. I mean, it’s basically insulting to assume your audience won’t know what a word means. However, the other side to that argument is making your writing more accessible/less “pretentious”…however I personally don’t find a well-developed vocabulary and the use of that one a blog pretentious (visiting someone else’s blog is like visiting their home, and I expect them to use a writing style they are comfortable with rather than catering to a specific audience).

      I definitely can use those keywords you find in reviews over and over, but I try to expound on them using more specific and less common adjectives to help others get a more unique feel for the book. I love that you brought up how this lack of creativity happens in book marketing a lot, I can’t tell you how many times a book will be pitched as “A cross between The Fault in Our Stars and X” and it’s become so overused and meaningless that it doesn’t do much to entice me to read, nor should a character’s writing style really be reduced to being a watered down version of another author’s…(sorry getting slightly off topic there).

      I’ve seen this advice come across a few times lately, both from a few book blogs that had well-intentioned advice for new bloggers, and successful bloggers in other categories who wrote tips for growing your audience. I didn’t name specifics because I don’t want to call anyone out/start drama, and they’re valid in giving that advice if they’ve found it works for them, but I wanted to provide a look at the other side of that coin. Especially because I don’t think my viewership suffers because I like big words.

      Cristina (Girl in the Pages) recently posted: Real Talk: Why is an Extensive Vocabulary So Intimidating?
  3. Thank you for this post! I agree with your opinion on this topic. I’ve always been one of those people who are word hungry, in a sense and I’m absolutely thrilled when I read a review that has an array of new and unique words that I haven’t read before. I don’t understand why extensive vocabulary is being shamed. It should be praised! Not only does it make a review so much more direct and focussed rather than becoming rather broad, it brings an originality and voice to the review that will come across as different from all the rest.

    Josephine recently posted: [DAY 3] 3 Days, 3 Quotes | Tag
    • I love everything that you’ve said here! I especially like how you note that specific and/or extensive vocabulary words help to focus a review and keep it from being too broad; I definitely think “filler” words can keep reviews from being very specific too! I love when a blogger uses words that are new to me, not only because I can learn them as well, but because it makes me wonder about their intentions behind choosing such words and really helps me get a specific feel about how they felt about a book if it’s in regards to a review!

  4. I think you’re right. Both unnaturally amping up or dumbing down vocab for a blog post can be wrong. I mean, I kind of get where the original advice is coming from: readers don’t like feeling like you look down your nose at them. But they don’t like being treated like children either! The fact is, we shouldn’t have to choose. A natural tone doesn’t need to be at the expense of vocabulary.

    Alison's Wonderland Recipes recently posted: Happy National Ice Cream Day!
    • I think there’s definitely a balance between not wanting to come across as if you assume you’re readers don’t have an expansive vocabulary but also not sounding pompous. However, when I visit a blog I usually don’t assume a blogger is looking down on me by utilizing certain vocabulary because they’re writing with the intent of an audience reading it, and I can’t imagine anyone doing so would want to purposely alienate or offend readers!

  5. I completely agree – everyone’s blog is their own and their writing style should reflect their personality and their blog. Personally, I tend to use more familiar language as if I’m having a conversation with someone about the book but I use my regular vocabulary. I don’t have a set ‘dictionary’ in my head that I only use for writing reviews! I write how I talk and I talk how I write! I also love reading blogs that do use complex language as well as those that are more relaxed. If there are words I don’t know, well, I take that as an opportunity to expand my vocabulary!

    Laura @BlueEyeBooks

    • Exactly! I think most bloggers write the way they talk, rather than purposely using a thesaurus to write their reviews (aside from perhaps the occasional usage when perhaps you’re tired of using a particular word and want new ideas!) I don’t think it’s fair to assume that bloggers who may have an advanced or different vocabulary style aren’t writing “naturally” because who are we to judge how they speak and converse in real life? I definitely have seen quite the range in word choices by people I know in real life!

  6. Totally agree! I love to expand my vocabulary. I actually recently decided to start a language-item on my blog. I’m still working on it, but there’s always words in books I don’t really know. Sure, the context makes it kinda obvious, but still. So, I’ve looked up the words I didn’t know (I’ve never actually done this before because it’s not actually necessary to understand the story) and found out what they really meant. Some of them (to me) were really surprising. I’m hoping to have the first post in that series up in a couple of weeks. I’m glad I’m not the only one that cares about language.

    Myrthe recently posted: Books and Feminism #1 – Beauty
  7. Totally agree! I’ve always used a lot of “big words” and get called out on it by my friends from time to time. I think it’s true that you can only say “great” or “swoony” so many times in a review before it gets repetitive and boring! I’m all for using your own unique voice on your blog and in your reviews. I love reading posts from people with different styles; it keeps it interesting.

    Lauren (Bookmark Lit) recently posted: Top Ten Tuesdays #48: Diversity
    • I occasionally get called out on it too, but usually not in an aggressive way, but in a way that’s more like “I don’t know what that word means” and I usually just have to clarify. I also definitely get a different sense of writing “voice” for every blog I read, and I’ve noticed such a large variance in expressions, phrases, and word choice across many of the bloggers I follow. But like you said, it keeps everything much more interesting and fun!

  8. Really interesting topic! I enjoy learning new words and reading well – written reviews! I also enjoy reading not-so-well written reviews if I know the blogger always matches my taste and when they found the book great, I’ll love it, too.

    I think this displays the weird position bloggers are in: book reviewing on the one hand, but not taken seriously (usually for very good reasons!) by “traditional” media and their arts sections.

    The good thing about blogging, in my opinion, is that we don’t have to choose or adapt to the norms tradition sets upon other people. There will be enough bloggers and blog readers out there who love long, well – written reviews and enough who like their reviews short and to the point. 😉

  9. This is a very interesting topic because I haven’t come across too many posts that use words to the point where I have to look the word up. I do however want to use bigger words in my reviews and vocabulary. Sometimes I when I proof-read my reviews I feel as though I use such a small variety of vocabulary and I want to fix that. Maybe I’ll start doing those “word of the day” things or start with something to widen my vocabulary. Now thinking about it, I really need to be keeping track of words I don’t know in books, that will certainly help my vocabulary. This is a great post Cristina! 😀


    Kaitlin @ Next Page Please! recently posted: Waiting on Wednesday #19
  10. I didn’t know this was an actual thing! Besides the fact that I think it’s totally dumb because nobody should be forced to change their online voice in exchange for more hits, I also think that it could be seen as disrespectful to both the reader and blogger. When you tell someone to simplify their voice it’s also implying that everybody reading will be too dumb to understand big words. It also forces the blogger to write something that might not be true to them.
    I like words although I don’t have the biggest vocabulary. When I don’t know a word, the first thing I do is look up the definition so that next time I see it, I’ll be more familiar with it.
    Great post!

    Kelly @ Dancing Through the Pages recently posted: Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books That Celebrate Diversity
    • Thank you! I’m definitely more of the mindset that I’d be much more offended if a writer purposely simplified words for me rather than being offended because I don’t understand the scope of their full vocabulary! Especially with book blogs, I’d assume that most people who read and write such blogs enjoy learning new words!

  11. Oh goodness, it makes me so sad when I witness new bloggers receiving this sort of advice. Words are my favourite thing in the world – why on earth would I shy away from learning more and expanding my own vocabulary? Honestly, it feels a bit counterproductive, especially if one is talking about book bloggers. Are our entire blogs not about books (which, coincidentally, are made up of – *gasp!* – words)? Of course, if bloggers don’t feel comfortable with using complex words, they shouldn’t force themselves to do so – but by no means should the opposite happen. Down with the vocab shaming, if you please!

    Topaz @ Six Impossible Things recently posted: Friday Poetry: “Of Broken Glass & Fallen Lovers”
    • Couldn’t agree more with your comment! I really enjoy coming across new words, especially in books, and when I come across a new word on a blog it makes me curious as to what the blogger’s background is and what prompted them to choose such a word! I just think it’s poor advice to tell anyone to hold back in any capacity, especially when it’s YOUR space to write!

  12. I’ve not come across this particular advice before but if anyone’s seriously doling this out, I think it’s terrible. Why cripple our linguistic abilities when vocabulary allows us to be precise in our expression? If I don’t know a word, I’m not bothered because I can easily look it up. Anyone who’s reading a blog should be able to because, hey! We’re connected to the Internet — the largest knowledge repository available to us.

    On thing that does help make it easier for readers is keeping paragraphs shorter and breaking up points. That’s a rule I try to stick to as much as possible when I blog and it’s something I appreciate when I see other bloggers do it too.

    Joséphine @ Word Revel recently posted: Mise-en-scène: Local Library
    • I think breaking up reviews into paragraphs that are succinct and easily readable is a great tip (which sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t haha)! I think that we should’ve censor ourselves in our vocabulary usage, especially if it’s because of fear that we’re being snobbish or elitist for using a big word. I get excited to use certain words, especially new one’s I’ve recently learned!

  13. Totally on board with calling a cease-fire on vocabulary shaming! Reading when I was younger was the way I built my entire vocabulary, so I always naturally had a larger vocabulary that I would use than others around me. But that’s ok, because it was normal to me. Heck, even now I come across books that are good vocab-builders (I think Jay Kristoff’s Stormdancer was the last one). If it flows and sounds like your voice, then I think that’s the way you should write, big vocabulary or not! (I actually do have the Thesaurus open when I blog sometimes, haha!) The one thing for me is that generally I want my posts to be at least a bit entertaining to read (or at least not dull), so I think it’s important to make sure the tone doesn’t sound like a formal essay or critical analysis all the time. Which is still totally doable even with some good vocab mixed it.

    • I’ve always had a larger vocabulary as well- it’s truly a side effect of reading! I do sometimes reference a thesaurus when writing reviews if I want to find a word that’s more unique to the plot if I find myself using the same adjectives over and over again.

  14. Thank you for posting this. I found it during a search while preparing a response to a “vocabulary shaming” incident. I too, have a larger vocabulary and it’s something that’s natural to me. So-called “big” words don’t feel “big” to me, or in any way out-of-the-ordinary; they’re simply part of my vocabulary because I’ve been exposed to them. But people have made fun of me for using “big words” in the past.

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