10 words you should stop using if you want to sound smart

There is a clear connection between the words we use and how others perceive our intellect.

However, not all words are created equal. Some can make us sound intelligent, others can do just the opposite.

As someone who cares about how I am perceived, I’ve realized there are words that, despite their prevalence, may actually be undermining my credibility.

Here are ten words you might want to consider eliminating from your vocabulary if you’re aiming to come across as smart.

1) Literally

The word ‘literally’ is often used for emphasis in casual conversation.

I’ve noticed, however, that it’s frequently misused, sometimes to comic effect. When you say you’re “literally dying of laughter,” unless you’re actually keeling over, you’re using the word incorrectly.

In recent years, the misuse of ‘literally’ has become so widespread that dictionaries have even updated their definitions to include its informal use for emphasis.

But here’s the thing: when you’re trying to sound smart, it’s best to stick to words whose meanings you’re certain of. Misusing ‘literally’ can reveal a lack of precision in your language use, which isn’t a trait often associated with intelligence.

When you’re tempted to drop a ‘literally’ into your conversation, think twice. You might be better off opting for a more accurate word or phrase.

2) Basically

I used to be a frequent user of the word ‘basically’. I thought it was a quick and easy way to simplify complex concepts.

One day, a mentor pulled me aside and pointed out that ‘basically’ can actually come across as condescending. It might suggest that I don’t believe the person I’m speaking with can grasp the full complexity of what I’m explaining.

Ever since that conversation, I’ve been careful to replace ‘basically’ with more respectful phrases like ‘in essence’ or ‘in summary.’ This slight tweak not only makes me sound more intelligent, but it also shows respect for the intelligence of the person I’m conversing with.

It was a simple change, but an effective one. It taught me that the words we choose can have a significant impact on how we are perceived.

3) Irregardless

‘Irregardless’ is a word that has been in use for over a century, but it still stirs up controversy among language purists.

The reason for this is simple: ‘irregardless’ is a double negative. It combines ‘irrespective’ and ‘regardless’, both of which mean the same thing. So, in essence, using ‘irregardless’ is like saying ‘not regardless’, which makes no sense.

While it’s true that language evolves over time and ‘irregardless’ has gained some acceptance, it’s still seen by many as a marker of linguistic ineptitude.

If you want to sound smart, it’s safer to stick with ‘regardless’.

4) Just

The word ‘just’ might seem harmless enough, but it can actually undermine your message if used too frequently.

I’ve observed that ‘just’ is often used as a filler word or as a way to soften a statement. For example, “I just think that…” or “I’m just saying…”. This can make your statements seem less assertive and may lead others to take your ideas less seriously.

Instead of cushioning your thoughts with ‘just’, try getting straight to the point. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but with practice, you’ll come across as more confident and intelligent.

5) Like

The word ‘like’ has infiltrated our everyday conversation, often being used as a filler word or a verbal pause.

When used too frequently, it can give the impression of uncertainty or a lack of confidence in one’s own statement. For instance, “I was, like, really surprised,” sounds less assured than “I was really surprised.”

While it can be challenging to eliminate ‘like’ from our speech, especially if it’s become a habit, doing so can make your communication clearer and more impactful.

Practicing mindful speaking and pausing when you feel the urge to insert a ‘like’ can help you sound more articulate and intelligent.

6) Always/Never

‘Always’ and ‘never’ are words that I’ve learned to use sparingly. They imply absolutes and extremes, which rarely reflect the nuanced realities of life.

While it may seem like a small detail, using these words can sometimes create unnecessary tension or misunderstanding. For example, saying “You’re always late” or “You never listen to me” can escalate a conversation into an argument.

I’ve found that swapping out ‘always’ and ‘never’ with more precise language not only promotes better communication but also demonstrates a considered and thoughtful approach to conversation – a characteristic that is often associated with intelligence.

7) Fine

‘Fine’ is a word that I’ve struggled with in the past. It’s often used as a default response to questions like “How are you?” or “How was your day?”.

However, ‘fine’ is vague and doesn’t offer much insight into our true feelings or experiences. It can make us come across as disinterested or unengaged, neither of which are traits associated with intelligence.

Over time, I’ve learned to replace ‘fine’ with more descriptive words that accurately reflect my state of mind.

Not only does this make for more interesting conversation, but it also shows a level of emotional intelligence that can be very appealing.

8) Whatever

‘Whatever’ is often used as a dismissive response, indicating a lack of interest or concern. It can come across as rude or even immature.

Moreover, using ‘whatever’ to end a discussion may signal to others that you’re unwilling to engage in thoughtful dialogue or consider different perspectives, which can be detrimental to your image of intelligence.

Instead of resorting to ‘whatever’, aim for more respectful and thoughtful responses that demonstrate your willingness to engage and understand.

This not only enhances communication but also leaves a positive impression of your intellectual capabilities.

9) Actually

The word ‘actually’ is often used unnecessarily and can come across as condescending or argumentative. It implies that the person you’re speaking with is wrong or misinformed, which can create friction in conversation.

Communication is more than just the exchange of information; it’s also about building relationships and understanding.

Using words that build bridges, not walls, is a sign of emotional intelligence and sophisticated communication skills.

Hence, instead of ‘actually’, consider using phrases like ‘from my perspective’ or ‘I believe’, which invite dialogue rather than shut it down.

10) Obviously

The word ‘obviously’ is one I’ve caught myself using more times than I’d like to admit. On the surface, it seems harmless, a straightforward way to emphasize a point that seems clear.

But here’s the catch: when you use ‘obviously’, you run the risk of alienating your listener.

It implies that whatever you’re explaining should already be known, which can make the other person feel inferior or out of the loop if they didn’t understand it.

I’ve learned that communication is about sharing ideas and perspectives, not about proving how much we know.

By replacing ‘obviously’ with phrases that don’t assume prior knowledge, such as “You might find this interesting” or simply starting with the fact itself, I’ve found my conversations become more inclusive and engaging.

This approach not only respects the intelligence of others but also encourages a more open exchange of ideas, making for smarter and more thoughtful dialogue all around.

Final thoughts

Language, at its core, is a tool for communication. But it’s also a reflection of who we are and how we perceive the world.

The words we choose to use can influence not only how others perceive us, but also how we perceive ourselves. They can shape our interactions, our relationships, and even our personal and professional opportunities.

By being mindful of the words we use, and opting for those that accurately convey our thoughts and respect the intelligence of our listeners, we can elevate our communication skills.

This isn’t about pretentious vocabulary or linguistic gymnastics. It’s about clarity, precision, and respect for the power of language.

So the next time you’re about to drop a ‘literally’, ‘just’, ‘like’, or any other word that might be undermining your credibility, pause for a moment.

Consider your choice of words. Consider what they communicate about you.

Remember that every word is an opportunity to present the best version of yourself to the world. Choose wisely.

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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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