[October 25, 2020] Leaders are at their best when telling us about their vision and the ways and means to achieve that vision. Top-of-the-line leadership means being precise in what you say to avoid misunderstandings and to communicate your thinking. That is why highfalutin talk is not recommended; unless you are purposefully obscuring something of importance.
I’m not sure about this phrase’s origin, but I do know that we used it a lot in the south where I grew up. It meant that someone was using pretentious language and was designed to conceal, usually empty or artificial. Such language could be flowery, high-sounding, ornate, or rhetorical. The idea is to draw attention to the words rather than the meaning, thus obscuring and hiding.
“American politicians, the pusillanimous and the mountebanks and even their opposites, used to be as highfalutin as Foghorn Leghorn with their gibes, which made politics fun for fans of Shakespeare, the Bible or obscure history.” – Unknown, found in Merriam-Webster online
I’ve recently been listening to politicians and their electioneering leading up to the current U.S. presidential election. Several readers sent me speeches Joe Biden containing highfalutin talk. If we were to remember much of what President Obama said before and during his presidency, he brought such conversation to new heights. The first question that we should ask of anyone using such talk is, “What are they trying to hide?”
The last debate, this past Thursday night, is a good example of some highfalutin talk. Joe Biden was at his best when he made general promises of bringing people together to be Americans, setting standards on behavior that drives right-wing violence, and creating a job for the poor single-parent woman who lives down the street. He said it better, but he used several words that I had to look up. There were many promises and no specifics.
More recently, I hear highfalutin talk from senior military leaders. My thinking is that I do know some things about warfare, yet, on occasion, I hear an Army General or Navy Admiral talk and be stunned in not knowing what they mean. The words are often pompous, exaggerated, and hollow, designed to sound good but have no real meaning or to have whatever meaning the other person wanted.
Using highfalutin words is not for real leaders. They are only for those who want to sound good but say nothing at the same time.