I heard the other day about a man who said to his well-educated wife: “I’m a smart guy. If I don’t know the meaning of the word you are using, maybe you shouldn’t be using it.”
I remember a day when I decided to start telling people when I don’t understand a word they were using. I realized that letting a word slip by hindered my ability to understand the rest of the conversation. So I started speaking up. “What does that mean?” “I don’t understand what you are talking about.” “I’ve never heard that word before.” “I am familiar with the word but I realize I don’t really know what it means.”
Once I started doing so, I began to learn more. I was able to follow what someone was trying to teach me. I also found that people want to be understood and when you ask for clarification, it tells them that you are genuinely interested. For people with mega-vocabularies, asking for meanings alerts them to the fact that their choice of words can actually prevent them from being understood and interfere with relationships.
Most importantly, I learned that telling the truth about my inability to understand something does not diminish me. That is the lesson I needed to learn.