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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Verboseness a trap for college students

By Spencer Merrick

Universities are factories of intellectuals. At the end of a four-year assembly line, we come out with higher ideals, an even greater thirst for knowledge and a more open mind. But there’s a manufacturer’s defect ingrained in all of us in the process, and because a recall isn’t much of an option when dealing with people, there are some technical issues that need to be fixed.

A 1995 study by E.B. Zechmeister estimated the vocabulary size of college graduates at about 17,000 word families, 5,000 more than freshmen college students. Although the benefits of increased reading comprehension and better communication that result from these extra 5,000 words are undoubtedly endless, there is one flaw8212;with so many words to choose from, many of us are less worried about what we’re saying than how we’re saying it.

Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “An intellectual is a man who takes more words than necessary to tell more than he knows.” Take, for example, a student who asked a question during a biology class of my freshman year. I saw it coming because instead of raising his hand, he raised his index finger, characteristic of a developing intellectual. His question lasted at least four minutes, but I’ll summarize. He said, “I have an inquiry regarding the photosynthetic qualities of the human genome in reference to high amounts of ultra-violet light in the stead of regular dietary consumption.”

Translation: “Am I a plant?”

Normal classroom learning is as disrupted by lengthy, incomprehensible comments as it is by irrelevant ones. But showy wordiness does more than interrupt learning. It conflicts with social norms.

Intellectuals have never been known for their spark or bubbly personalities. I’d go as far as to say that many of us are void of one altogether, like eye doctors or Keanu Reeves. When intellectualism isn’t kept in check, most creativity lobes in the brain suddenly create abstract philosophies about unimportant things, and there’s danger of any remaining creative space being crowded out by useless vocabulary8212;words like “ergo” or “practicable.” Hence, many of us develop an acute ability to turn any humorously brainless conversation into intellectual-sounding goo; one that makes everyone involved feel sticky, guilty and ironically, less intelligent.

A number of signs allow us to spot outward intellectualism so we can stop it in its tracks. A good one is the monocle test. I find that most excessively verbose statements would sound better with a monocle to the eye and an English accent. Observe: Say, “Theoretically.” Now hold up an invisible monocle to your eye, touch your chin to your neck, and say it like a Brit. Hear how much better that sounded? That’s a problem.

Theoretically speaking, another giveaway is excessive sentence prefixing. “Hypothetically speaking,” “tentatively speaking,” “perpendicularly speaking”8212;they’re all just a way of “intellectually speaking,” and again, would probably sound better with a monocle.

What can be done against such reckless vocabularies? I’ve found three main approaches we can use to keep each other in check. The first, and most obvious, would be to fight fire with fire. Respond to condescending and verbose statements with one of your own, complete with an invisible monocle. If an argument gets heated, try quoting a French philosopher.

The second approach involves just the opposite8212;pretend you understand what’s being said and are intrigued by your fellow intellectual’s opinion. Then try to support their opinion with a quote from “Family Guy” or “Wayne’s World.”

I find the third approach to be the most effective. Respond to wordy and patronizing statements with silence and sporadic blinking. If it proves ineffective and the rambling intellectual can’t be silenced, blink for every unnecessary word, and maybe remind him or her verbally, “I’m blinking at you.” That’ll show ’em.

As our vocabulary increases during college, let’s be sure to use it to better communication, not our perceived intelligence. It’s no easier to understand people who are trying to patch up a pointless statement with haughty wordiness than it is to understand people who are speaking with their mouth full of marshmallows.

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Spencer Merrick

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