Sounding like the smartest person in the room without sounding like a pompous jerk is a delicate balance.
There is a special art to choosing the perfect word for a situation, particularly in the workplace. You want your vocabulary to be impressive but not so impressive it garners scoffs, professional but not stiff. It has to sound natural in context, like you’ve used it before. You want people to understand what it means, but maybe Google it “just to make sure.” Most importantly, it has to make sense, connotation very much included. If you’re looking to stretch your workplace vocabulary without sounding like a pretentious asshole, here are some suggestions.
1. Caustic /ˈkôstik/ adjective: sarcastic in a scathing and bitter way. Synonyms: derisive, acerbic, abrasive.
Example: I didn’t appreciate the caustic tone of that email.
Note: Yes, it also means “able to burn or corrode organic tissue by chemical action” or “formed by the intersection of reflected or refracted parallel rays from a curved surface,” but this is less likely to be applicable in the workplace. Unless of course you are a chemist or physicist, in which case a liberal arts major who works in book publishing is unlikely to be of much assistance anyway.
2. Idiosyncrasy /idēəˈsiNGkrəsē/ noun: a distinctive or peculiar feature or characteristic of an individual, place, or thing. Synonyms: peculiarity, oddity, eccentricity.
Example: Ah, just another charming idiosyncrasy of our printers I see. [sarcasm]
3. Paradoxical /par-uh-DOK-si-kuhl/ adjective: having the nature of a paradox; self-contradictory. Synonyms: contradictory, incongruous, anomalous.
Example: I know that this idea sounds paradoxical, but I believe it’s our most effective solution.
4. Beleaguer /biˈlēɡər/ verb: to cause constant or repeated trouble for a person, business, etc. Synonyms: harass, pester, badger, vex.
Example: The beleaguered school system can’t take much more of this.
5. Exacerbate /iɡˈzasərˌbāt/ verb: make (a problem, bad situation, or negative feeling) worse. Synonyms: inflame, aggravate.
Example: I understand that you’re trying to help, but what you’re doing is only exacerbating the situation.
6. Didactic /dīˈdaktik/ adjective: in the manner of a teacher, particularly so as to treat someone in a patronizing way. Synonyms: patronizing, pedantic.
Example: He would be a good choice for the conferences if his speeches weren’t so didactic.
7. Innocuous /iˈnäkyo͞oəs/ adjective: not harmful or offensive. Synonyms: harmless, innocent.
Example: There’s no need to be defensive, it was an innocuous question.
8. Parsimonious /pärsəˈmōnēəs/ adjective: unwilling to spend money or use resources. Synonyms: stingy, frugal, cheap.
Example: In this campaign, there is no room to be parsimonious.
9. Bloviate /blōvēˌāt/ verb: talk at length, especially in an inflated or empty way. Synonyms: spiel.
Example: It’s tough to watch them bloviate about sweeping change when our internal processes are still such a mess.
10. Aplomb /əˈpləm/ noun: self-confidence or assurance, especially when in a demanding situation. Synonyms: poise, composure.
Example: It was a tense meeting, but you carried the presentation with aplomb.