I remember the first day in graduate school like it was yesterday. I had taken a year off after undergrad to work a regular 9 to 5 job. It was only a year, but I remember feeling like being away had put me at a disadvantage when compared to the other students who seemed, to so easily, talk about Derrida.
Using big words. When you’re outside of anything, and you’re looking in, you think that the thing standing in in the way of you being x like that person on the inside is something superficial. For me, in academia, it was big words. So to prove yourself worthy in this instance, you use big words. You talk in complex sentences and try to say really profound stuff because you think it sounds good. That was me when I returned to academia after taking a year off. I remember sitting in a class and being asked a simple question and feeling like I had to say something really, really smart in order to be considered smart and worthy.
But really? The thing that you learn when you’ve progressed in academia or any field for that matter, it’s not the person who can say big words that matters. It’s the person with big ideas and the ability to communicate those ideas in simple ways so that more people can understand what the heck he’s saying. Being able to “speak English” about Derrida so that anyone who speaks English can understand you…now that’s a big deal.
So, to sum things up, then goal then is not to sound smart. The goal is to be smart and smart enough to communicate your smart-ness without sounding like too much of a smarty pants.