9 words you should stop using if you want to sound smart, according to psychology

When it comes to sounding smart, we often think using big words is the key.

However, psychology suggests otherwise.

Some words can actually make us seem less intelligent than we really are.

As someone who’s always on the lookout for self-improvement, I’ve compiled a list of these words.

Here are 9 words you should stop using if you want to sound smart. 

1) “Literally”

This is a word that’s often misused in casual conversation.

We tend to use the word ‘literally’ for emphasis, but it can end up making us sound less intelligent than we truly are.

Here’s why, according to psychology.

When you use ‘literally’ in a non-literal context, it can confuse people and make them question your understanding of the word.

This can lead to them doubting your overall language competence.

Moreover, overusing ‘literally’ can make you seem less creative with your language.

It shows that you’re relying heavily on a single word to express yourself, which can be perceived as lack of vocabulary.

So, if you want to sound smart, it’s better to use ‘literally’ the way it’s intended – to refer to something exactly as it is.

2) “Just”

I learned this one the hard way.

I often used to start my sentences with ‘just’. “I’m just checking in…” or “I just thought…”. I believed it made my requests or ideas seem less intrusive.

However, I soon realized what psychology says about it – using ‘just’ can undermine the importance of what we’re saying.

It subtly indicates that we’re asking for permission or trying to minimize the impact of our words.

In turn, this can make us seem less confident and less intelligent.

Once I stopped using ‘just’ unnecessarily, I noticed a significant change in how people responded to me.

My ideas seemed to carry more weight, and people started taking me more seriously.

3) “Very”

We often rely on ‘very’ to add emphasis, but it can actually dilute the power of our message.

‘Very’ is an adverb that’s used to intensify the meaning of an adjective or another adverb.

However, instead of enhancing the meaning, it often weakens the impact of the word it’s modifying.

Interestingly, Mark Twain once said, “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

So, instead of saying “very good”, use “excellent”. Instead of “very big”, say “huge”.

By doing this, your language becomes richer and more precise, making you sound smarter!

4) “Um”

This one is a bit tricky because it’s not always a conscious choice.

‘Um’ is often a filler word we use when we’re thinking of what to say next.

While it’s completely natural to use fillers when speaking, overusing ‘um’ can make you seem unsure or uncertain.

It can give the impression that you lack confidence or clarity in your thoughts.

Instead, try to embrace silence.

A pause can give your listener a moment to digest what you’ve said and can make you appear more thoughtful and intelligent.

It’s okay to take a moment to collect your thoughts.

It’s better to say something meaningful after a pause than to fill the silence with ‘um’.

5) “Like”

‘Like’ is another word that can trip us up. It’s often used as a filler word, or to indicate that something is similar to something else.

However, using ‘like’ too frequently can make us sound unsure and unconvincing.

It can also give the impression that we’re unable to express our thoughts clearly.

Instead of using ‘like’ as a filler word, try to be more mindful of your speech.

Practice speaking slowly and clearly, and don’t be afraid to pause if you need time to find the right words.

Clarity and precision in speech can go a long way in making you sound smarter

6) “Always/Never”

Do you ever catch yourself using ‘always’ or ‘never’ in conversations? I have, and I’ve realized how these words can impact the way we come across.

These absolute terms can make us sound like we’re exaggerating or generalizing, which can undermine our credibility.

They can also close off discussions and limit our ability to see things from different perspectives.

For instance, saying “You always forget to call” sounds accusatory and leaves little room for understanding or discussion.

On the other hand, saying “You’ve forgotten to call a few times” is more precise and invites conversation.

A thoughtful and open-minded conversation style can make us sound not just smart, but also understanding and compassionate.

7) “Actually”

‘Actually’ is a word I once found myself using often, especially when correcting someone or presenting a contrasting opinion.

I thought it helped me sound more assertive and intelligent. However,

I soon realized that it often made me sound condescending and pompous.

The word ‘actually’ can come off as a subtle way of saying, “You’re wrong, and I’m right.” It can create an unnecessary divide in a conversation and make the other person defensive.

Instead of using ‘actually’, I learned to present my thoughts in a more empathetic and respectful way, which has led to more productive and meaningful conversations.

Sounding smart isn’t just about using big words, it’s also about communicating effectively and respectfully.

8) “Honestly”

‘Honestly’ is a word many of us use to emphasize our sincerity or truthfulness.

However, it can sometimes have the opposite effect.

When we preface a statement with ‘honestly’, it can make people wonder if we were being honest in our previous statements.

It may inadvertently raise questions about our credibility and trustworthiness.

In addition, ‘honestly’ can sometimes come across as defensive or confrontational, which might not be the impression you want to give.

Instead of using ‘honestly’ to emphasize a point, try simply stating your thoughts clearly and confidently.

This approach can help you sound more genuine and intelligent.

9) “I think”

‘I think’ is a phrase we often use to express our opinions or thoughts. However, it can sometimes undermine our authority and make us seem less confident.

When we preface a statement with ‘I think’, it can sound like we’re unsure or second-guessing ourselves.

This can make our opinions seem less valid or important.

Instead, try stating your thoughts directly. For instance, instead of saying “I think this is a good idea,” say “This is a good idea.”

This small change can make a big difference in how your words are perceived.

Final thoughts: It’s all about perception

The art of communication is not just about the words we use, but also how we use them.

Harvard cognitive scientist and linguist Steven Pinker once said, “People don’t judge us on the basis of our words and deeds, but on a mental image they construct of us which interprets those words and deeds.”

This means that our choice of vocabulary can significantly affect how others perceive us.

By avoiding the misuse or overuse of certain words, we can come across as more confident, intelligent, and articulate.

At the end of the day, sounding smart isn’t about using complex jargon or big words. It’s about expressing our thoughts clearly, confidently, and respectfully.

Language is a powerful tool that shapes not only how others perceive us, but also how we perceive ourselves.

Eliza Hartley

Eliza Hartley, a London-based writer, is passionate about helping others discover the power of self-improvement. Her approach combines everyday wisdom with practical strategies, shaped by her own journey overcoming personal challenges. Eliza's articles resonate with those seeking to navigate life's complexities with grace and strength.

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