When I was in radio broadcasting, once a week I had to suffer through something called an “air check session.” This was an hour of sitting down with the program director and going through one of my radio shows step by step, break by break, word by word at an excruciatingly slow pace, while I felt myself growing more and more self conscious with every break. To say it was painful is an understatement. Imagine something you do being examined under a microscope by someone else, right in front of you, evaluating everything you did wrong (based on their opinions and expertise), and indicating what you can do to make it better. Eek. Hated it, but wow, was it ever productive.
Recently we did a Savvy Sunday News Release on how to stay relevant in our ever-changing world. Keeping an eye on trends is a part of it, although you certainly don’t have to follow every trend that comes along. That is akin to “The Shiny New Object Syndrome.” Exhausting, and not very productive.
Another aspect of staying relevant is language, although it can also be a crutch. Believe it or not, language is one way to discern not only the thinking process of others, but also our own thinking process. Words come in and out of vogue, and again, while you don’t want to follow every single trend, there are some you should pay attention to and update the language you use.
What are the words you’re using that are overused, soon to become passe? One thing about those air check sessions that was productive was uncovering “word crutches” — those words or phrases that have become automatic habits and therefore get used way too much. So much, in fact, that they lose their meaning. So much so that when you hear someone else using them, you might think they are on automatic pilot.
For example, I once had a friend who got in the habit of saying, “Due to the fact that…” and then she would complete her sentence. Everything was “due to the fact that…” It got so bad that when she used the phrase, I would cringe, which took my attention away from what she was actually saying. There are certainly times when “Due to the fact…” is an appropriate way to start a sentence — but she’d gone way beyond that. I’m sure that was not her intention; She was most likely buying herself some time to think about what she was going to say next, but it had a negative impact on my impression of her, and probably affected others around her the same way.
When you’re talking about your book, you don’t want people cringing because you have fallen into a word crutch. I’m not talking about the ums, ahs, you knows, and other such filler words that you are most likely past if you’re an experienced speaker and you’ve been out promoting your book. Today, we’re focusing on words and phrases that we fall into using but need to let go of.
The air check sessions helped me to identify my word crutches, and it’s important for you to identify yours, too. We all fall into them. Word crutches are those words and phrases used over and over again, which begin to lose their meaning after a while, and which end up making you less creative. After all, there are millions of words in the English language. Why stick with the same 500 over and over again?
Below is a short list of some of the far-too-overused words and phrases currently in our culture and our businesses. It may be time to retire them and come up with something else:
Authentic or authenticity:
Authentic is the word for when something has been investigated (and could bear investigation) and is found to be the real thing. But over the years these words have come to be used as a shorthand way to describe honesty and being “real.” That’s fine. It’s normal for language to evolve and meanings to change, but we don’t want to overuse them. “It’s important to be authentic,” is a wonderful thought, but used too frequently and the listener doesn’t really hear it anymore. The meaning is lost. The word transparency is not far behind, so the question becomes, “What to use instead? How can we say this in a new and unique way that is compelling?” Listen to what others are saying in your genre. There may be something new coming in vogue and by using it, you will be at the forefront, which is a much better place to be than to look like you’re locked into the past.
How many times a day do you hear this? Thought leaders are those considered to have a great deal of knowledge and expertise in their field, to the extent that they are leaders in that field. It’s a status most everyone wants, and if becoming that is your vision, then you absolutely need to fulfill that dream. It’s the terminology thought leader that is overused. As a side note, I often wonder, if everyone becomes a thought leader who will be the followers?
This word is right behind thought leaders and is one that is quickly approaching crutch-hood. Basically, the word refers to those with a large and engaged following on their platform. They don’t necessarily have the knowledge and expertise that thought leaders have, although I often hear these words used interchangeably. We see this often in our culture now. “Celebrities” who have fame but not for anything in particular. Influencer has started to be used in place of affiliate partner or joint-venture partner. The genesis of these words makes sense because it quickly describes a group of people so that we all quickly know what is being discussed. But as they have been used too much and too trivially, they have actually lost their meaning.
It is what it is:
Overused and rather depressing to boot. It’s like saying there’s nothing you can do about whatever it is. Not exactly an optimistic outlook.
Pick your brain:
This sound painful. If you’re connecting with someone and want to tap into their knowledge, find any other way to make that request without using this particular crutch phrase.
“That said,” “Having said that,” “That being said”:
These are more phrases, like “Due to the fact that…,” which may have an appropriate place starting some sentences (usually in writing), but have somehow become crutch words for too many people. This is verbal laziness. It’s a way to discuss complex issues that have multiple truths to it. Find other words or just drop them completely and get to the point.
At the end of the day:
Just watch and listen to how many use this phrase. Celebrities, politicians, it’s just a bad habit. What exactly does it mean anyway? At the end of the day… we all go to bed. It’s filler. Try taking a pause and then making your point.
Win/win. Or, win/win/win:
No, no, no. You could just say, “This proposal should make everyone happy.”
Came to be in the year 1986. Overused. Be more imaginative.
Thinking out of the box:
Words are shortcuts to understanding — phrases that help us to quickly “get” what the speaker is saying, and using them accurately is critical in the world of communications. But, like anything, there is a tipping point at which time meaning is lost through overuse. Paying attention to what we say and how often we say it allows us to consciously take control of how we are communicating. When we realize we have fallen into using a crutch word and consciously make the decision to change that, we take more control of our messaging.
To your success!
P.S. What word or phrase do you hear so much that it has lost its meaning? Contact me and let me know. I’m always curious!