I posted this as an answer over on Quora to a question about people who use big words all the time. It got me thinking, and it reminded me of some of the best advice I ever received.

Way back in the early days of my career, my friend Chuck was mentoring me and helping me learn the ropes of software testing. During that process, I’d often try to show how much i learned by cramming everything into a conversation (if you haven’t figured out by now that I’m a bit of a wordy fellow, you have definitely not been paying attention 😉 ). It was during one of these times when he stopped me mid sentence, and with a cross of humor and seriousness, gave me the best phrase to remember ever…

“When in doubt, Speak Dude!”

Occasionally, we’d be in a meeting, and I’d start talking up a storm about whatever, and he’d look at me and flash me the “Devil Horns” (think heavy metal and the famous hand sign with the index and pinky fingers extended, and the thumb holding down the curled middle and ring fingers. Yeah, that). It was his signal to me that I needed to “Speak Dude”. I still think about it a lot, especially in my every day work.

Too often, we get bogged down in super specific terms that we use because, well, we just get into the habit of doing it. Our co-workers and associates also have a big impact on that. We tend to fixate on what words other people use, and then we do our best to fit in with them. This is why you can’t get through a software meeting without some glossary to decipher the acronym soup that flies around.

“Speak Dude” is a way to help fight all that. Sure, there’s a time and a place for a super specific vocabulary, but much of the time, we don’t need it. Audience matters. Context matters, and a lot of the time, we don’t have the audience or the context to really need to use big words. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that using the appropriate words for the appropriate thing is important, but there are times when we go overboard. Well, I know that I do at times. It comes down to the fact that, unless people can understand and *relate* to what you are saying, it doesn’t matter how specific your vocabulary is.

An example I used in my answer… If I’m talking to friends of mine who share my aquarium hobby, and are into the details (nerds like me who care about things like water chemistry and bio-types because they want to breed fish), sure, I’ll have a discussion about the the differences between a Heros efasciatus and a Heros notatus. Why? Because we (the fish geeks) know that they are different species that have different attributes (as well as come from different regions) and as such, have different considerations for breeding.

On the other hand, if I talk to someone who is looking at my tank and says “wow, that’s a big fish!”, does my explaining that it’s a Heros efascistus add anything to the discussion? No! I’d confuse them, and come off sounding pompous in the process. I can just as easily answer: 
“Yeah, that’s a Severum, they come from the Xingu River in Brazil. I agree, they do get pretty big”. 
Even less formal… 
“Yeah, that’s Kite! I’ve had him for ten years. He’s beautiful!”

Note: “Kite” is the name of my Heros efasciatus (Severum), and yes, at nine inches, he is a pretty big fish.
So yes, in certain conversations, specificity is important. It’s necessary. A good deal of the time, though, it’s not. For those times, seriously, carry on with my friend Chuck’s advice… Speak Dude!