10 Dollars

Ten Dollar Copy Words: Are You Smart (Or Dumb) Enough To Use Them?

Disclosure: Your support helps keep the site running! We earn a referral fee for some of the services we recommend on this page. Learn more

Sharing is caring!

Last Updated on February 24, 2020

Ten dollar words can be copy killers, or they can make a piece work.  The trick is to know which ten dollar words are worth adding to which texts, and where to put them.  If you are not already well acquainted with ten dollar words, then let’s start with a primer.


Ten dollar words can either kill your copy, or they can make it more effective. I know the mere mention of using ten dollar words makes Orwell fanatics cringe. How many of us have this quote memorized and stapled to our foreheads?

“Never use a long word where a short word will do.”

Or, how about this bit of advice from every writer’s grammar Bible, The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White: “Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able.”

Still, going counter to almost every piece of writing advice in existence, ten dollar words do have their place. But, to use them effectively you need to know how and why they are used, and which words you’ll actually want to consider.

What is a Ten Dollar Word?

A ten dollar word is a longer word that is used in place of a smaller and more well-known word. The origin of ten dollar words dates back to the early 19th century when writers and speakers would use highfalutin words to inflate their appearance and seem smarter than the more average man.

Words like these serve a very important purpose; they make you seem smarter than you actually are. One profession that’s very intelligent with their use of these words is the legal profession.

Many lawyers can use the well-timed placement of big words to win over juries and cement their authority.

Johnnie Cochran, famous for his role in the O.J. Simpson murder case would even go as far as inventing new and lengthy words to help him sound impressive in front of the high-profile jury members. Instead of these words creating a barrier between him and the jurors, it actually helped to form a deeper bond.

But, these words just can’t be used willy nilly. They need to be used effectively, otherwise, you’ll end up turning off your readers and make your copy a sinking ship.

When Can Ten Dollar Words Be Effective?

The use of ten-dollar words can extend well beyond the legal profession. If you’re writing copy to persuade, connect, and encourage action then you’re well suited to unlock the power of ten dollar words.

Now, these high-profile words aren’t perfect for every kind of audience out there. Especially, if your audience will take issue with the feeling of being talked down to. Ten dollar words can make your reader feel isolated, so only use them for the purposes we highlight below.

1. Persuasion and Impression

Ten dollar words can be effective vehicles to help you communicate and connect with more educated and sophisticated consumers. Since your audience is more educated, or highly technical, you’ll need to strengthen this bond by using language on their level.

Beyond this connection, you can also wow your readers with memorable ten dollar words, just like Johnnie Cochran. Big words make you seem more intelligent, educated, and of higher value. Three things that can help to bolster your image if it makes sense for your market.

For example, in the luxury beauty industry using a word like exfoliates will help your writing appear on the same level as the consumer. While at the same time building the luxury association with your brand.

If your audience is already using these words, then you’ll be doing yourself a disservice by not using them. You’ll come across as less educated than your consumers, which can put you at a disadvantage.

While, if you’re in a more down-to-earth industry, such as tire sales, you’ll want to avoid using words that will fly over your customer’s head. This will only create a break in your copy and reduce the effectiveness of anything else you have written.

If you’re in a market where expert positioning will help increase sales, then use ten dollar words to help impress your readers with your intelligence. But, make sure it’s not done in snooty “I know so much more than you” kind of manner. But, instead, done merely to impress your level of knowledge, understanding, and commitment to your industry.

2. Argumentative Clarity

Ten dollar words can also be used when clarity is of utmost importance. For example, is your goal to win an argument above all else? Are you comparing various products and need to highlight their different qualities?

If so, then you might want to take an example from our lawyer friends and use ten dollar words to help sway your readers.

For example, if you have a piece of copy that’s demonstrating the weaknesses of your competitor’s products and showing how you overcome those concerns, then you may want to use persuasive ten dollar words. You could show how your competitors offer an incongruous solution to the iPhone’s lack of headphone jack and how your product is the only sensible choice.

It even applies to your blog content as well. If you’re creating a thought leadership piece that goes against common industry wisdom, then you can use ten dollar words to craft a persuasive and powerful argument.

Which Ten Dollar Words You Should Use

There are hundreds of ten dollar words you can use. Just head over the Thesarus.com, type in your favorite word and start browsing its synonyms to find the perfect replacement. But, if you’re not in the mood to search, then you’ll find thirteen very useful ten dollar words and a little advice on how they can be used most effectively:

This word refers to anything that is a grotesque product of imagination. Other definitions of the word actually relate to a mythological fire-breathing monster with a lion’s head, a serpent’s tail, and a goat’s body. It can be used to help address opposing claims that have been fabricated, or exaggerated, and show how they’re not grounded in reality.
Admonish is another word for scold, or expressing disapproval. The definition of the word relates to expressing disapproval in a gentle manner. But, in our modern use of the word, it seems to carry more force than a gentle reminder. If you want your reader to avoid doing something at all costs, like buying a competitor’s products, then use this word.
This word refers to something that is incompetent or ineffectual. It can also refer to an individual who is generally inept and ineffective at whatever they do. Once again, this word can be very useful in disputing claims made by competitors. It can help to devalue anything they might have said and show that their claims don’t hold any weight.
This word refers to something that happens as a result of something. It’s a cause and effect word, which can help make you seem objective and rational when drawing a conclusion. You can use this word when you really want to make a point, or show a logical conclusion to your argument. This word, and words like it, help to remove any levels of bias or subjectivity from your writing.
This word actually refers to making jokes or statements in a bantering sort of way. But, it’s often misinterpreted to mean baseless, or spineless. For example, someone who makes a facetious remark typically acknowledges the claims of another party, but does so in a dismissive joking manner. Using this word in your writing can come across as snarky, but help to create a very distinct tone if readers agree with your sentiment.
This word means that something does not fit properly, or well. It can also allude to an incompatibility, such as a President whose words are out of alignment with his policies. If you’re trying to draw attention to something that’s out of place, then this would be a good word to use.
This word refers to the tendency to show favor in something. It’s also a great way to highlight the decision-making preferences of your readers. If you’re the kind of person who loves this, then you’ll like that too. For example, if you have the predilection for fine wine, then you need to try our wine aerator today!
This word refers to an unwillingness to spend money, to a point of being incredibly stingy. It could be used to refer to your competitors and their unwillingness to invest in themselves and their programs. Or, you could use to encourage your readers to take action by not being parsimonious with their wallets. For example, if you’re the kind of person who’s parsimonious with their spending, then this investing program might not be the best fit for you.
This word refers to something that serves no useful purpose, is futile, or functionless. It’s another great comparison word and can be used to cast down competitors products or services. But, be careful this word hasn’t been used in popular writing for quite some time, so it might leave your readers hanging.
Bête noire
This word refers to something that you strongly dislike or want to avoid. It has French roots, so it can add a certain level of style and flair to your writing. It can be used in a similar way you’d use the phrase “bane of my existence”. For example, the way my competitor’s use dishonest marketing claims is my bête noire.
This word refers to a commonsense rule that can help to solve a problem. In psychology, it’s used to describe little rules people have that help them make daily decisions. It’s commonly applied in marketing environments to help persuade and influence decisions. It can be used to help describe behind-the-scenes processes that are going on inside their heads, so you can build trust.
This word refers to something that has little to no value. Once again, it’s a great argumentative phrase that can be used to dispute claims made against you or your business. For example, recent research on alternatives to Acai berry have proved nugatory, it’s still the most nutrient-rich super berry on the market.
This word refers to a model of perfection or excellence of any kind. If your product or service is considered nonpareil, then there is no competition, it’s simply the best on the market. If you’re looking for a way to showcase the quality of what you do, then consider using this word.

When to Avoid Ten Dollar Words Like the Plague

Let’s hammer this point home. Ten dollar words should be used like salt and pepper. In small doses, it can really help to bring a dish together, but too much and the entire meal is ruined and unpalatable.

To use these words effectively, you need to have an in-depth understanding of your audience. If your audience enjoys the use of simple words and short sentences, then continue this straightforward approach.

For instance, you don’t want to use ten dollar words when explaining the difference between static and dynamic programming languages. With copy like this you wouldn’t want to take the risk of confusing your readers. Ten dollar words can make your copy murky and your information hard to connect with if the words aren’t readily understood by your reader.

But, if your audience is more sophisticated, then your copy could benefit from the use of ten-dollar words. Create two versions of your copy and test them. See if your audience is more receptive when you included these words, versus when you don’t.

Finally, you have to be wary of how ten dollar words are read. The tonality of these words causes the reader to read the word in a voice similar to Aldous Huxley. This isn’t always bad, but could distance yourself from your reader, if you’re not using it for one of the intended purposes mentioned above.

In Closing

Ten dollar words can be a useful tool in your copywriting toolkit. Just make sure you use them sparingly. Do you have any favorite ten dollar words you enjoy using? Let us know your favorites in the comments below, and why you like using them.

Last update: May 19th, 2017

Kevin Wood is a freelance writer specializing in technology and human potential. When he’s not digging deep into technical topics, you might find him getting lost in the woods or scrawling lines of poetry in a notebook.