Our words are powerful. They impact not only how we feel and think, but how others see us too.
Our words can heal or they can hurt.
Yet so much of the language we use, we fail to scrutinize.
For example, the use of certain expressions becomes a habit. Or we adopt particular figures of speech, without giving them much thought.
But we all should be more mindful of the language we use.
What exactly is “classy” vocab?
Here’s the thing:
This article isn’t intended to make you feel bad or wrong for using specific phrases or words.
But the fact remains, the way we speak largely depends on how and where we were raised.
And sadly, classism very much exists within language.
People may judge everything from our word choice to our accent in order to make sweeping conclusions about us.
Academic Sonja Ardoin, Ph.D. has highlighted her own personal struggles with language snobbery.
Despite having “three degrees and over 12 years as a higher education employee” she finds her working-class roots still create “language barriers and tensions rooted in classism” at work:
“I do not believe we should have to conform to middle and upper-class expectations of language in order to do our jobs well. Why is it such a challenge to be a good scholar-practitioner of higher education and still “sound” like myself? (hint: classism and other -isms).”
And she poses some interesting questions for us all to consider:
Things like who gets to decide what language is “appropriate” or formal enough? And how our prejudices over class can come shining through.
Real class is all about being respectful and tasteful
Using classier vocab should be less about formality, and more about decency.
We don’t need elocution lessons. Neither do we have to use bigger or fancier words. Because, arguably, that’s just putting on airs and graces.
It’s more about showing respect for ourselves and others through the words we choose.
Because that’s what really makes someone classy and sophisticated.
Context is also significant. Social expectations create unwritten rules.
So the way we speak with our friends is likely to be very different from the way we speak to our boss.
But nevertheless, the expressions we use (and give very little thought to) can become outdated. Their origin is linked to a time in history we now view as inappropriate.
Plus certain phrases that we use can paint us in the “wrong light”, without us even meaning to.
So what are the phrases you should consider banning from your vocab if you want to become classier?
Let’s take a look.
Phrases to ban from your vocab
1) Curse words
I would be a total hypocrite if I were to tell you that a swear word should never leave your mouth.
Let’s face it, sometimes it feels good, and science backs this up.
Uttering a curse word has been shown to help relieve pain and help us get rid of frustrations.
But the fact remains that prolific swearing is very much seen as vulgar within polite society.
So it’s more about time and place, as well as how frequently you do it.
Because swearing can be (albeit, mistakenly), seen as a sign of low intelligence, low education, and limited vocabulary.
So at the very least keeping your indulgence of swearing to a bare minimum is going to help you to come across as classier.
2) Culturally insensitive words and sayings
So much of our language is made up of certain expressions or words that originated long before our time. So we often use them and pay very little attention to the origin.
But in order to be culturally more aware and sensitive, we certainly should keep up to date with those that have become outdated and are now viewed as offensive.
CBC News highlighted some of these, which language experts say can be hurtful because of their historical and cultural context:
- Ghetto — The term was assigned to describe neighborhoods where it was deemed less “refined” people lived and has derogatory connotations.
- Spooky — Is based on the term “spook” which was historically a racist slur used against black soldiers in World War II.
- Sold down the river — The expression that reflects some sort of betrayal has roots in slavery.
- Savage — Although many people use the word today to express something as fierce or harsh, the word was used by colonizers who saw themselves as better than indigenous people.
- Dumb — Is often used to suggest someone is lacking in intelligence, but originally it referred to an inability to speak.
- Lame — Is a seemingly innocent slight that implies someone or something is boring and uninteresting. But “lame” relates back to people having a disability in moving their limbs.
- Tone deaf — Has historically been used to describe someone who can’t distinguish musical pitch. It is also used metaphorically to imply someone is being insensitive over something. But the term may be offensive to those with hearing impairments.
- Crippled — Often used as a verb to express when we feel crushed by something. But the term dates back thousands of years to describe people with disabilities.
- Blind-spot and blindsided — meaning to be left unaware or unable to see something. Experts suggest this could be offensive to visually impaired people.
- First-world problems — This even became a popular hashtag on social media to discuss issues people living in countries with wealth and privilege face. But the classist setup of referring to anything as “first” implies it is better than other countries and places.
- Tribe — Perhaps you have used this word to describe your close friendships and networks (aka “my tribe”). But this metaphorical use of the original word can be offensive to indigenous people.
- Spirit animal — Is another seemingly “throwaway expression” we may use to describe an affinity we feel toward a certain thing. But yet again, this can be offensive to indigenous people from where the word originates and has far deeper spiritual connotations.
- Blacksheep, blacklist, blackmail — These are all negative terms, and all significantly contain the word black. They can be racially loaded as they associate black with something negative.
3) Self-derogatory remarks
Well, that same level of respect and dignity you direct toward others, you should also extend to yourself as well.
Certain phrases we use may be subtly undermining our confidence and power.
And not only in the eyes of others, but in our own eyes too.
- “I’m probably being stupid but…” — Sometimes we belittle our own feelings, thoughts, and ideas in an attempt to look more humble or for fear of asserting ourselves.
- “I’m no expert, but…”— Undermines your abilities, skills, knowledge, expertise, and the validity of having an opinion.
- “I can’t” — Is a passive version of “I won’t”. Using it suggests you are lacking in ability when in reality you are choosing not to do something.
- “Does that make sense?” or “am I explaining this alright?” — These types of sentences undermine your own authority.
- “I’m such a klutz.” — We often make all sorts of derogatory comments about ourselves, often without thinking. Whether it’s “I look so fat today” or “what an idiot I am”. How many times do you unwittingly insult yourself throughout the day? Name-calling is just as harmful when we direct it toward ourselves as it is when we direct it toward other people.
Being classy is a state of mind and not a hierarchy of worth that has anything to do with your social-economic background.
That’s why creating a classier vocab simply boils down to being as respectful as we can with the language we choose to use. Including towards yourself as much as other people!
We may not always get it right. But it starts with being more mindful and cultivating a greater sensitivity and awareness around our words.