Telltale signs of sloppy communication

Want to know whether someone is a good communicator? Watch for these common—yet damning—language mistakes.


It’s not clothes that make the man or woman; it’s words and how people use them.

I may be biased because I’ve been in the word business for more than 40 years, but I maintain that people who are sloppy with words will be equally sloppy in discharging managerial duties or being good team players.

What do I mean by “sloppy”? Here are some bugaboos:

Compliment vs. complement: The former means, of course, to praise or laud someone; the latter means to add a positive element to something, to complete it (same root). There is no way anyone should confuse these two words, but people often do. It makes me cringe.

That is an example of using the wrong word. Equally bad are gross mispronunciations. Here are three:

Realtor vs. relator: Guess what, world. Only one of these is an actual word. It’s “Realtor,” a person who deals in “real” estate. Yet, I bet you will hear someone pronounce this word the wrong way within a week if you listen closely.

Nuclear vs. nuculer: Are people so lazy they can’t get their tongues around the “cl” sound and must opt for the simpler “cu” version? For some reason, this mispronunciation seems to pop up more in the South.

Fiefdom vs. fifedom: Feudal lords held fiefs, hence the correct pronunciation. Why some people want to put a Colonial musical instrument in their vernacular is beyond me.

There are people who prefer to use polysyllabic words, because they think such words make them sound like management consultants. But shorter words communicate better. Think of poseurs who like to “utilize” things rather than “use” them.

However, a shorter word is better only if it’s the correct word. Consider the following:

Cheap vs. inexpensive: These words have very different meanings, but most folks don’t think it through. Simply put, “cheap” is both a price and value judgment. “Inexpensive” is only a price judgment. If something is of good quality but doesn’t cost a lot of money it’s inexpensive, not cheap.

What verbal miscues tell you that someone is sloppy?

John Bliss is the founding principal of Bliss PR. He contributes to the Bliss PR blog, where a version of this article originally appeared.

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