It's difficult, if not impossible, to modulate your vocabulary to accommodate the unknown needs of your audience.

As the recent guest member of a book club, I listened as readers complained that the author of the book had used large and obscure words in order to demonstrate his verbal acumen and impress the reader. While this may be true, it got me wondering:

I have occasionally been accused of doing the same, and when this happens, my defense has always been that it’s difficult, if not impossible, for a person to gauge the extent of his or her vocabulary and limit it depending upon the audience.

When I use a word that some may consider uncommon or obscure, I rarely  recognize the word as such. For me, the word in question has simply become a part of my verbal repertoire, and its use is automatic and unintentional.

I’m not trying to impress. I’m merely attempting to communicate.

Simply put, a person with a large and extensive vocabulary is often unaware of the words that he or she knows that may be considered large or obscure.

Yesterday I was listening to a podcast and one of the hosts used the word untrammeled. I had never heard the word before, but based upon the context, I was able to guess its meaning and come fairly close to the correct definition.  Considering that I have been accused of having and using a large vocabulary, was the podcast host’s use of a word that I did not know an indication that she was trying to use an obscure word to impress people?

Or was it more likely that the word was simply a part of her known vocabulary, and when her mind sought a word that meant unrestricted or not hampered, it automatically chose untrammeled?

I tend to think the latter.

Yes, there may be times when a person tosses out a nine syllable word in order to impress, but I think it’s more likely that the nine syllable word is simply a part of their everyday lexicon, and to ask that person to communicate effectively while evaluating the size of their vocabulary in comparison to their listener and place a mental governor on certain words that the listener might consider obscure is unrealistic and short-sighted.