There are plenty of ways to make your writing sound pretentious, but here are five I keep running into:
1. Beginning a sentence with “for.” What? Have you ever done this in person? For if you have, you surely have no friends. “For” at the beginning of a sentence (okay, except in this case, because it’s weirdly the subject of the sentence) is the equivalent of an exclamation point at the end of a joke. Speaking of…
2. Using an exclamation point at the end of a joke. It’s like laughing at yourself. Or, not quite-quite-as-bad-but-still-ruining-it: it’s like saying, “Get it? I just made a joke!” See how funny that was? Not very!
3. Using the word “shall.” Shakespeare’s Mom just called. She wants to know: ‘Shall she shoot your writing career now, or wait?’ Thou shall not use this in modern speech. Period.
4. Overusing “quite”. “Quite” isn’t really a no-no, especially when used negatively, as in: “It’s not quite right.” But “The weather is quite nice”, and “You have quite the talent,” or “I am quite a smart fellow, see how I use the word ‘quite’ quite a bit?” doesn’t work. Especially if you’re an American – then you just sound like an idiot.
5. Making things a “must”. I realize this makes me sound like a half-baked postmodern hippie-type, but really, “must” – it just sounds so grandiose. Compare: “Good writers don’t use adverbs,” and “Good writers must not use adverbs.” Oh, I almost puked writing it. I think there’s only one person who can use this word, and that’s the president of the United States.
6. Using foreign languages. Leave the Latin phraseology in your research paper, please. And even then, please. We are no longer a trilingual culture – we aren’t trained in grade-school to read and write Latin and Greek. As they say: obscurum per obscurius.
7. Using any complicated word in place of a simple one. I know – you want us all to know that you can say “nugatory” instead of “trivial”, but really: no one cares. This doesn’t mean you can’t use rare words, if they have precisely the right meaning – it just means you need to balance specificity with simplicity.