I’d like to propose a hierarchy of language usage; rather like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This hierarchy traverses the space from the lowest forms of communication (grunting and breaking wind, at its most banal) through regular dialogue all the way up to the kinds of discourse one might encounter either at parties around London’s Hyde Park or at particle physics conferences!
Let’s call it Heath’s model of language deportment.
This hierarchy, to a major extent, will reflect the socio-economic status of the speaker.
Hopefully also that of the listener. And here is my point.
It is all too easy to accidentally (deliberately?) step up a layer when trying to sound impressive (or pompous).
Communicators regularly seem to want to operate one layer too high; for instance the military refers to ‘intelligence’ when they really mean ‘information.’ Marketers do the same; they may utter “how do we help our customer,” when they really mean to say “how do we reach our customer.”
Meaning is distorted and the message is lost. Or at the very least, the message is not believed.
When the speaker attempts to use words and phrases that simply do not match the requirements of the interaction, the listener will be thinking one of two things – “I have no idea what he’s on about, clearly he’s not talking to me” or, even worse, “what does he really want? Why is he trying to confuse me?”
Trust is a many-splendored thing. Don’t break it by over-speaking.
…and be sure to call a spade a darned shovel!
David Heath is a New Zealand-born Australian resident who initially pursued Geology and ended up with a Computer Science degree.