Snotty words and phrases: why you mustn’t write them

Do you ever write snotty (i.e. pompous, patronising, condescending) words or phrases … I hope, by accident?

Pompous language

Meet the Snotties.

It’s alarmingly easy to write stuff you think is precise and correct, only to find that as far as your target audience is concerned you come across as a pretentious old/young goat.

Who, moi? My writing is pompous, snotty and stuffy?

Could be. Many people who write for business and other everyday purposes think that using any number of the following concepts and terms (see below) will make them seem superior and therefore experts in their field.

What they forget is that their audiences really couldn’t give a **** about a writer’s language: all they care about is what the writing does for them and what it contributes to their own well-being, knowledge, business acumen, or whatever.

Pompous writing doesn’t impress anyone

…and interestingly enough stuffy, pompous terminology doesn’t impress even academic and other fiercely professional audiences. As a fairly prominent voluntary worker within the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) I have sat through endless “death-by-Powerpoint” presentations which were second only to Zopiclone for their sleep-inducing properties. In most cases before I fell asleep many of the healthcare professionals (HCPs) were snoring already.

Yet these HCPs understood all the acronyms and initials. Those were not the problem. It was the pompous, dictatorial drivel delivered on a monotone backed up by Powerpoint slides with near-as-dammit 1,000 words of incomprehensible cr*p on each one, that did the trick.

Should we be writing to comply with Political Correctness?

This is what the nay-sayers shout when anyone suggests that we need to be aware of people’s feelings.

OK. On the one hand, I suppose there is a  big difference between trying to protect poor little diddums from having hurt feelings – and just not being bloody rude. You can write to someone about their having screwed up on something without insulting them personally. Is that being PC, or is it just being normal and human?

So much of our contemporary writing IS snotty, pompous and hurtful. And it’s that much worse when people read your pretentious put-downs off paper or a screen. At least if it’s spoken face-to-face, Snotty Person can soften the acid with a smile or a wink.

Modern writing for business and general communication is NOT the place to show off your literary skill and vocabulary

If you want to write some literary fiction, be my guest and use the flowery language that many enthusiasts like on literary social media platforms. But if it’s a business document … a blog post … a report … an article for public consumption? Give me a break.

Even if you are a literary afficionado, when writing for everyday purposes – keep it simple. That’s not to say you should offend your own writing skills: it is to say that you need to communicate in a way the majority of people will understand. (NB: often that’s harder than writing in literary terms. Check out what Mark Twain had to say about that.***)

And forget trying to elevate your audiences’ expectations and comprehension. They won’t admire you for patronising them with a load of over-written BS. All that might do is make them think you’re an old bore who is well out of touch with today’s communication. (And they wouldn’t be wrong.)

Pompous language

Someone who is very good at avoiding pompous language…no, let’s not look at the other side of that coin…LOL…

Some snotty words and phrases that really can offend

Let’s now take a look at some of the more commonly used written words and phrases that can drive readers into a hostile mood…

But … instantly drops a negative tone on whatever has gone before it. Instant killjoy. More on that here.

Of course … people who precede a comment with “of course” want you to think you don’t know as much as they do about something. Irritates me so much I even wrote a poem about it.

I hope you’re not … said agressively to put you on the back foot … You: I saw a lovely dog that needs rescuing … Snotty: I hope you’re not planning to bring that dog here

I don’t like … used as a response when you’ve said you like something. Gets the conversation back to being all about Snotty.

I’m afraid I disagree … a passive aggressive response meaning I think you’re talking b*llocks but I’m too refined and distinguished to say so.

I could have done that much better/cheaper … put-down response to someone who has achieved something well. Again, too, gets the focus back on Snotty.

Foreign words people may not know … (schadenfreud, doppelgänger, vis à vis, fait accompli, raison d’être, recherché, carpe diem, ad nauseam, ergo) some are well known, but don’t assume and insult your readers. When in doubt, use English.

Obsolete words and phrases … (to wit, heretofore, hitherto, make haste, wireless, looking glass, may I remind you, it would behoove you, it is incumbent upon you) … may make Snotty feel good but will just get them laughed at by anyone under 90 with a sense of humour.

Acronyms and initials … if you’re sure your reader/s will understand, OK. When in doubt, always write the term out in full to start … National Health Service (NHS) … then you can call it the NHS from there on.

Long words when short ones work … (utilise, ameliorate, clandestine, comprehend, proceed, forthwith, straightaway, abominable, dissatisfactory, fallacious, erroneous) … Snotty may think that’s how to look well-educated, but usually it’s how to look pretentious and silly.

Patronising words … (dear, lovey, darling) … Snotty will use those words in a sarcastic way, as if writing or speaking as a long-suffering parent.

“Mansplaining” … how Snotty will describe something to someone whom they believe is less intelligent than they are. Not just restricted to men explaining to women.

What are your pet snotty hates?

Please share in the comments!

***“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”