Time to confess: tell us about a time when you used a word whose meaning you didn’t actually know (or were very wrong about, in retrospect).
The last time I used a word that I didn’t know how to pronounce, but whose meaning I understood just fine, was “epitome.”I had read it in context many time and understood its meaning. But how to say it out loud? I got it wrong.
Everyone laughed. I never forgot. I was 9-years-old.
I don’t now and never have used words when I don’t know what they mean. I look them up. That one little moment of humiliation was sufficient for a lifetime. I always wince with pain when I hear people misusing words. It used to require one find a dictionary to look it up — or at least ask someone “What does “phenomenology” mean?
These days, you just Google it. Some words, like “epistemology” and “cosmology” (as opposed to “cosmetology”) require a little more than a single sentence explanation. I avoid using them unless that’s what the post is about. Unless you are trying to lose your audience, find more easily recognized words.
It doesn’t make anyone look smarter to misuse 20 dollar words when a 5 dollar word will do the job nicely.
Revelation #3: It’s all in the wording.
You need the right lingo to dazzle your audience. Big words (4 or more syllables) used in the right context can showcase your education and intelligence. People will make little cooing sounds to show their admiration.
Big words enhance your likelihood of getting a management position. You can write important books. Have a blog like me (and I know you want to be just like me). Big words can take you a long way if you are skilled at deploying them.
Note: Make sure you know how to pronounce them. Mispronouncing big words will cause unexpected laughter … not good unless you are aiming for a stand-up comedy career.
Let’s start with epistemology. This is an excellent catch-all word you can drop into any conversation. Most people will have no idea what you are talking about but will be too embarrassed to admit it. On the off-chance you encounter someone who actually recognizes the word, you can use this handy-dandy definition from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the philosopher’s convenient source for everything:
Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits?
I bet you still have no idea what it means. The awesome truth is that epistemology doesn’t mean anything because it means everything.
Anything that means everything means nothing. Equally, when something claims to do everything, it has no actual use. This applies to people, concepts, and kitchen appliances. In practical terms, everything and nothing are identical. (Remember infinite sets from college math? It’s like that.)
On to phenomenology. When I was studying religion in college, phenomenology was a way to prove the existence of God. Phenomenologically speaking, all human experience is proof of God. Except the same reasoning can prove there is no God. This is the joy of phenomenology.
Phenomenology can help you prove all things are one thing, all things are God. You are God. I am God. I am a warm cup of tea and you are a daffodil. If this doesn’t clarify it for you, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers further elucidation:
Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object.
In other words, you can use any and all human experience, your experience and anyone else’s, to prove whatever you want. Phenomenology is fundamental to all belief systems: religion, politics, and Fox News. Lots of people believe in religion, politics and Fox News, so maybe they will believe in you too.