Presidents do it, reporters do it, everybody does itWhen you focus on a particular area, your observational sensitivity will improve. For several years I drove a red Saturn Vue, a midsize sport utility vehicle (SUV). Once I started driving the Vue, I noticed other Saturn Vues. Now that I drive a Honda Accord, I seem to notice more Accords on the road. The same phenomenon is true when observing people.
Um and UhOnce I started paying attention to "ums" it seems like I found them everywhere. While driving today, I heard politicians, reporters, and others use "um." Using "um" seems to be the, um, audible sound designated to represent thinking.
SoAnother word that is overused is "so." So, I started listening for that too. Not only is "so" frequently heard in conversations, it is also proliferating into print. Perhaps starting a periodic sentence with "so" is alright, a series of sentences is not.
You know"You know" can also be heard in conversations. Perhaps people use this, you know, as a slight delay to allow thinking to catch up. Most of the time, I don't know!
ThingAnother word that I tend to overuse is "thing." When I can't think of the actual word, I'll substitute "thing." While "thing" can be used as a substitute for things, as indicated from the Dictionary.com definition below, I personally think it is used to much.
Samuel Clemens and the damn veryThe famed author Samuel Clemens (also known as Mark Twain) wrote, "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."
Clemens point: "very" was (and still is) overused. Perhaps the same strategy would work to eliminate other overused words.
My list of words to eliminateI decided to make a concerted effort to improve my speaking by eliminating these words:
- you know
To provide a visual cue, I wrote these words on a self-adhesive note and keep it in my planner. My wife saw this note and asked, "What is 'uh so you know thing?'" A tragic sentence would be one where all of these are strung together. "Um ... so ... you know ... that thing I was talking about."
"Metathinking" is a term used to describe thinking about thinking. As I speak, I am trying to anticipate what I'm about to say in order to filter out um, so, you know, and thing.
Change takes timeSimply deciding to make a change and writing that change on a piece of paper doesn't mean instant success. However, I believe that overtime I will come closer to achieving my goal of eliminating these words from my vocabulary. I encourage you to seek feedback from trusted others or record yourself to see if you use any of these words.
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