Let’s talk about word choice.

When you hear that someone is tired, what do you envision? Is it the same as when you hear that the same person is drained? Or drowsy? Sure, saying that one is weary may not be as colloquial as simply saying sleepy, but it paints a different image.

What you say carries a lot of meaning. In an era of shooting off quick texts and emails, sometimes people lose their sentiment. And that can translate to how you ultimately communicate to different groups of people. Sometimes you will certainly need to present yourself as more professional, obviously, than you do when you’re out with your friends. It’s important to be able to speak to your market.

Of course, we do need to make sure that we are saying what we need to intend. We can get trapped in thesaurusitis, where we replace what we are trying to say with obscure, difficult-to-understand synonyms. When was the last time that, instead of saying “I’m exhausted,” you were to say, “I’m enervated”? There would likely be someone scratching his head, especially if there was no context.

It wasn’t until my second full year of teaching that the reading coach let us know that we also needed to focus on vocabulary. While I tried to talk up to my students – and got called into the principal’s office for doing it – I always felt like it was important for them to know simple formal words have their place. For example, when explaining directions, I would tell them, “Your first task, or job, for this is to fold your paper like a hot dog.” (You can only get so far with first graders. We had no room for “vertical” and “horizontal” folds, we had “hamburger” and “hot dog” folds.) But “task” was a completely new word for these kids. Also, it’s a simple word that they should know.

I do this at home, too. When my elder boy was young and tried to interrupt a phone call, I asked him, “Is this pertinent to my conversation?” Maybe he didn’t know what it meant, but he waited until the end of the call to ask me again.

More recently, when I asked my younger kid to hang up a pair of his pants and he said, “But I wear them often,” it kind of made me happy. He still had to hang them, but I walked away knowing that, while cleanliness isn’t his strong suit, word choice is.