Most of you have heard the old adage: “Using swear words shows that you have a poor vocabulary.” This is somewhat true – people with a poor vocabulary have to improvise with the smaller collection of words. When fueled with anger, their mind retrieves the most salient insults lying dormant in their mind. Taking note of their belligerent use of the language, you’ll find the same insulting phrases being parroted over and over again.
As a society, we look down upon people who communicate with simple, common phrases and think highly of those with a vast and complex vocabulary. In reality, there is a lot we can learn from people who are more frugal with language.
If a large vocabulary and complex sentence structure is so important, one would think that the literately weak are bad communicators. But to the contrary, there are plenty of great communicators who have and use a small vocabulary.
The fact is people don’t just communicate with verbal language, but also with body language, facial expressions and tone-of-voice. A person can use the word “shit” to mean an infinite amount of things simply by changing their tone of voice or body language in different contexts.
Unlike those with a bigger vocabulary, these people depend more on other factors of communication to exchange thoughts and ideas. There is no wonder why so many people manage to express themselves with only a handful of phrases. I call their sort of communication style as “Socialspeak.” Without context and without complimentary body language, Socialspeak will appear almost meaningless.
Some of the common phrases of Socialspeak that you might have heard are: “That shit was intense,” “That’s hella tight,” “I love you,” “Chill bro,” “Cool man” and all swear words. I am sure you’ve heard or said these phrases in a unique way every time.
Socialspeakers have mastered a different aspect of communication. Where they lack in vocabulary they make up with a better understanding of body language, social behavior and human psychology. For those of us who lack skill in this domain, we can learn a lot by observing and interacting with these people.
Not only can we learn from Socialspeakers, we can benefit by becoming ones too. Using too many abstract, “top-down” words and phrases detach the speaker from their message. The receiver of the message is more likely to feel an emotional distance from the speaker because of this detachment. Using Socialspeak creates the opposite effect and allows you to more easily build emotional connections with people.
There are, however, some problems with this kind of communication. People who only use Socialspeak may have a hard time communicating with people outside their (sub)-culture. I remember seeing a good example of this from a YouTube video (search “surfer on the news” on YouTube to see it): a news correspondent is interviewing a surfer and asks him about the big waves he’s been surfing. The surfer answers with a type of Socialspeak that only other surfers can understand. He definitely communicates his emotions well, but leaves outsiders in the dark as to what he’s actually talking about.
The lesson in this column is that we shouldn’t belittle those who use Socialspeak and shouldn’t blindly praise those who don’t. A lot of people, when they meet someone new, try to suppress their Socialspeak because they feel it is inappropriate or they think it makes them look intellectually inferior. In reality, people are distancing themselves from others with their “sophisticated” dialect.
Put aside the Socialspeak when talking about abstract or technical conversations, but don’t disregard it when you’re trying to build a relationship with someone.
LIOR GOTESMAN would like to hear your opinion on this column in Socialspeakese. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.