When the late and great Toni Morrison accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature, she said,
We die. Perhaps that is the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.
So how is our society doing in terms of language representing the measure of our lives?
I believe that most of us have challenges with our words. Many of the most articulate people that I know automatically insert words that undermine all they want to accomplish. Some even use ineffective phrases that work against their success. For example, when someone has been given a compliment for doing great work, they respond, “Oh, it was nothing?” What do they mean? I find most often it is, “don’t look at me, don’t pay attention, don’t judge me.” They have just lowered the probability of being complimented again.
Do you know what I mean?
Does that make sense to you?
I’ll try to get the point across and hope this will work.
Um. Maybe I know what you’re thinking.
At least, I’m supposed to know.
Honestly, ah, to be honest, maybe I want a raise.
You shouldn’t have.
The words that we use directly impact our success or failure in the world. In our culture, we often use ineffective words because we are too lazy to do better. Or, we are quite uncomfortable with leaving any space in our narrative. And yet, the greatest musicians in the world pay just as much attention to the value of space rather than using only notes.
Years ago, I had a colleague who began pestering me about using the word, “utterly.” It wasn’t enough to just be sad. I wanted everyone to know I was utterly sad. He suggested that every time I used the word utterly, I was to give him $10. I laughed and said, “I’ll agree to that if you give me $10 every time you say, “Amazing.” By the end of the month, we were even in handing each other money. However, both of us had stopped using these fallback words.
Before we open the doors to a new 12-step meeting, let’s review some of the worst junk words and phrases in play today:
Conveys lack of conviction, confusion, aimlessness.
Don’t count on me. I’ll try saving you from getting run over by a car.
Don’t count on me again. “Maybe I’ll come with you?”
You haven’t decided what it is at all. Is this “sort of” healthy? Like I think that “sort of healthy” is one box from Donut Princess rather than two.
We love this mind bleep. You are looking at a Matcha Tea Donut at Princess Donut and you are saying, “Can I have this Matcha Donut?” Dude, is the guy boxing donuts going to tell you, “No you cannot?”
This is my #1 most disliked word in the human equation. The only time this word might have a bit of value is when we are at the very bottom of the human condition.
Hope is antimatter to action. When we hope things will change, we wait.
On the other hand, optimism is the belief that our actions will cause improvement.
The only purpose of the word “supposed” is to indicate that wherever we are, it is wrong.
Now and then, I will be working with a client on a life-changing and critically important presentation. At one point, I will ask, “You have used the phrase ‘you know’ 26 times since we began. What are we supported to know?”
Junk words are like junk food. Use a favorite once in a great while, just for a deeply satisfying break from being articulate.
Um or Ah
This one indicates just how unsure we are. Or it makes those of us who are sure, appear unsure.
My partner and I were recently having lunch at a fairly upscale restaurant in Beverly Hills. Two young women came to the porch and asked for a menu. One said to the other, “Ew, these entrees are over $20. Like, all I wanted was a salad.”
The problem with like is that it indicates there was a better word that you could not remember.
Honestly or To be Honest
When someone repeatedly says this, then honesty seems like it is the exception rather than the rule.
With today’s rapidly dwindling brick and mortar retail war, the sole purpose of a retail worker is to produce a superior customer experience. So why is it that we thank someone and they respond, “No problem?”
Really? Thank you for delivering my $100,000 car. No Problem. It is such a pleasure to work with you. No problem.
No problem takes whatever enthusiasm someone has been given and crumbles the whole experience down to nonchalance.
The most common reason we use junk words is fear. We are afraid to be a man or woman of few words. But, men and women of power, whose style is to use few words, do not fill in the spaces with junk. Consequently, whenever they speak, everyone listens.
Want to get over it?
Have someone close to you make a deal. Anytime you use a junk word in a sentence, you are to give them $10. This can be used to buy lunch, give to a charity, whatever is designated. By the time most of us have paid out $50, we have changed the pattern. However, even if you pay out $500, it is well worth the price because people will listen to you more carefully. More people will respect what you say. And, you will eventually realize you have become more skilled and more confident in how you present yourself. And that, my friends, will be utterly amazing!