Linked: 5 Words That Make You Sound Stupid

Via Dictionary.com, Mariam Jehangir calls attention to some crutch words you should avoid that “detract from your main message and don’t add useful meaning to your statement.” Unlike my earlier take on really, this article emphasizes that these words ought to be avoided in conversation — arguably much harder than editing out filler from written communication.

I agree that misusing¬†literally in conversation will damage your credibility (e.g., “I could literally eat a horse.” Gross.). I also believe that making an effort to cut down or eliminate your likes, ums,¬†and uhhhs will help you sound more confident and authoritative. Taking time to audit your own language can help you identify and eliminate some of your own problem areas. (Some of mine? I tend to overuse “totally” and “awesome”–too much TMNT growing up, I suppose.)

However, I’m no SNOOT. I believe that while people who offer advice about grammar and usage generally have the best intentions, many of them are propagating myths. In this case, I think the author could have picked better examples of words that make you sound stupid (as you discussed with Jen in your workshop, many of these are of the four letter variety). The problem is that you can’t always know your audience’s linguistic pet peeves in advance, so you’ll want to err on the side of caution.

My advice is to frame these ideas in a more positive way. I believe that if you develop an arsenal of strong, specific words then you’ll be less likely to fall back on the overused, generic sort lamented in the above article. The goal is not just to avoid sounding stupid; you want to sound smart. Try spending some time reading through Angela’s Word of the Week series. It’s a great place to start building a better vocabulary.

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