I am looking for a word that could be used to describe a writing style that uses lots of uncommon words, making the writing difficult to understand to the everyday reader. It's as if they make an effort to use words from their word-a-day calendar.

Andrew's _______ writing style used so many words I had never seen before, making it very difficult to understand his point.

The word pretentious comes close, but it implies that the writer is intentionally doing so to sound more intelligent than they are. I would like a word that removes intent and only describes the writing, not the writer. I want to allow for the option that the writer is in fact very intelligent and just doesn't realize that other people don't have as large of a vocabulary.

I should also mention that I would prefer a word that doesn't fit this definition itself, so a word (or hyphenated set of words) that is not too uncommon. I'm trying to avoid the irony of using a little-known word to describe someone's use little-known words.

  • I added that I'm open to hyphenated words, or basically anything that would fit in an <adjective> place in a sentence. Feel free to edit tags as necessary.
    – David K
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 13:46
  • @Rob_Ster I had considered verbose, but that's more about using many words rather than uncommon words. Grandiloquent could definitely be a possibility.
    – David K
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 16:01
  • 1
    @rhetorician Thanks! That got me "lexiphanic", which is pretty much exactly what I want to say, though unfortunately it describes itself as well.
    – David K
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 16:10
  • Note that the duplicate title is more accurately 'English word that means the use of out of place uncommon words'. Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 19:15
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth Although this is ALMOST a duplicate, the poster additionally specifies a common, easily understood English word, and the accepted answer on the putative duplicate is neither, nor are most of the the other answers provided there. Voting to reopen. Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 20:28

6 Answers 6


You might call it obtuse:

2b: difficult to comprehend : not clear or precise in thought or expression
definition from m-w.com

  • This is the best answer IMO. This word is very commonly used to describe language that is hard to follow, but because of complexity or obscurity, not due to poor literacy or ignorance.
    – barbecue
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 18:46
  • Obtuse also means 'blunt; not sharp", and is more often used to describe a person who "stubbornly doesn't get it", or is perhaps being too simpleminded to understand something. So it's not ideal for describing text that's loaded with complex words, and (without the explication about "many words I had never seen before") could be interpreted to mean the writing was so simpleminded it failed to convey important details.
    – gojomo
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 23:46

Magniloquent” might work. Whether or not it fits with a good flow, that’s another story.

Using high-flown or bombastic language.

(Oxford online Dictionary)

  • 2
    please define the word so you aren't magniloquent yourself
    – depperm
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 13:43

"Esoteric" is a negative word used to describe any kind of work (writing included) that expects its reader to know a lot of very specific and rarely used concepts or vocabulary, especially in academia. It's used negatively because it implies that the author makes the content so inaccessible and difficult to understand that he/she negates any effect their work would have on the real world.

Ex: Professor Comssa has spent five years working on an esoteric thesis that will never sell more than two copies: One for him, and one for his mother.

Ex: I tried to talk to him, but he used so much esoteric vocabulary that I couldn't understand what he was saying.

  • 1
    I think esoteric is a neutral word, used more about the subject than the writing style. An author of an esoteric piece is only aiming at a small, specific audience, and in that context the use of specialised, unusual words is perfectly legitimate. I don't see any mention of negative connotations in dictionaries, and as the OP mentions everyday readers, I don't even think esoteric applies.
    – JonLarby
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 15:50

The phrase "written in a flowery style," denotes the exact meaning you are looking for.

I'm guessing it's not widely used anymore (or,someone else would have mentioned it) but if you look it up - it's still in the dictionary.

  • Florid, from the latin for flower, is a one-word way to convey the same idea, and often used to describe prose. (Google's definition of florid notes "(of language) using unusual words or complicated rhetorical constructions" .)
    – gojomo
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 23:51

Consider ornate.

(of literary style) using unusual words and complex constructions. OD

using unusual words and complicated sentences Macmillan

Of literary or oratorical style: embellished with flowery language or rhetoric; elaborate; extravagant. OED


I have a few synonyms for you to consider.

Obscure: "mysterious, hazy, vague"

Rarefied: "distant from the lives and concerns of ordinary people"

Both of these nicely fit your request by not implying judgement. What is obscure and rarefied to a reader might be clear and commonplace to the writer... or the writer might be a self-aggrandizing elitist; these words don't pass that judgement.

Finally, if you wanted to be rarefied yourself, while describing someone else's obscure style you could use Abstruse. Which is a formal way of saying 'obscure'.

Note: EdwinAshworth brought my attention to an interesting thing. I knew that you could find both 'rarefied' or 'rarified' in the dictionary, but had mistakenly thought that the 'i' form was the more authoritative English spelling. Etymonline hints at a bit of interesting history of 'e to i and back to e' for rarefy. ( Ancient Latin rarefacere > Medieval Latin rarificare > Old French rarefier )

  • I do like obscure, as in an obscure vocabulary. Thanks!
    – David K
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 18:20
  • I have been known to use 'rarefied'. Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 23:54
  • @EdwinAshworth I've seen your comments around. I'd be a bit terrified of any subject that is rarified to you. Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 15:23
  • I was trying to hint that 'rarefied' is the more common spelling. Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 15:33
  • @EdwinAshworth Advice applied. Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 17:13

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.