A commenter, responding to my Another Reason to Keep Your Writing Simple post, wrote:
Eugene, that’s incontestably good advice if you’re need to persuade, but it does “dumb down” a profession that is supposed to be educated. A law prof once marked me down for using “complicated words” — turned out she didn’t know what “aegis” meant. Had she ever read a 19th Century judicial opinion?
As I mentioned in my earlier post, I don’t think that we should worry about “dumbing down” in this context. Smart writing generally stems from smart ideas, not fancy words.
But here I want to point to a different matter: I understand why the commenter was troubled that a law professor didn’t know what “aegis” meant. But is it likely that this law professor was a distant outlier among lawyers, clients, and judges (the commenter’s future audience)? Or is it likely that this law professor’s knowledge base — or ignorance base — is fairly representative of that future audience? Might it even be that the typical member of that audience is likely to know even fewer fancy words than this law professor does? What practical guidance should one draw from that professor’s reaction?