Word Bans

October 12, 2009 § 14 Comments

There are words I would like to ban, not necessarily for their being negative, but more because they are not positive. Words and phrases like may, hope to, will try, could, and so on. Most often, these phrases could be replaced with WILL.

While we do fall short in our expectations from time to time, I think a mindset develops around the not-so-positive phrases I alluded to. But in the words of Yoda of Star Wars fame: “Do or do not. There is no try.”

We should train ourselves to talk and think in terms of “I will” versus “I will try” or “I hope to” … more positive things may happen.

I have found that often what follows after the hope to, may, will try, etc. is a coulda, shoulda, woulda.

Oh yes, I know some people feel the word hope is important because they say it is all some people have. There are people who have led challenging lives. There are others who have overcome incredible odds. I want people to realize there can be more than hope.

Another phrase to eliminate is  … I think. Either you know or you don’t know.

Wendy is right about the different interpretation of words. I think people sometimes just don’t realize the meaning of what they are saying. How many times have we been in a restaurant and the server has asked us, “Is everything okay?” In some diners, I have been tempted to respond, “shouldn’t it be?”

I know I can be anal, but okay to me is mediocre, nothing to write home about. When I have received exceptional service, I have even tried to do my part to train the server by responding, “Everything is much better than okay. It’s great, especially the service.”

Of course, the server should be rephrasing the question away from putting a standard on dining experience in the first place by getting the patron to describe their own feeling about the visit to the restaurant. Something like, “How is your meal?” Or “Have you enjoyed your visit to our restaurant?”

To me, okay is just … okay.


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§ 14 Responses to Word Bans

  • John Tyler says:

    I think that what makes us all unique is our own interpretation of different words and what we do with our own vocabulary. Not what others should do or think. Reading this post brought some memories back from High School English class – reading George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Newspeak.

    Check (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newspeak): “The basic idea behind Newspeak is to remove all shades of meaning from language…”, and “There are no negative terms; the only way to say “bad” is with ungood.”. Also: “The underlying theory of Newspeak is that if something can’t be said, then it can’t be thought.”.

    Your definition of “okay” is your own and that’s good! I don’t see why a server in a restaurant should change his/her definition on your account – unless you are good friends- which brings me to another point!

    I believe most people have different vocabulary “sets” depending on who they are with and the current situation that they are in! When I am at work, my words will have different meanings then when i’m hanging out with my friends. Even as I get to know each friend, I learn what their definitions are and I can adapt as I need to. The understanding of each others definitions also establishes unique communication and creates a stronger relationship.

    It is good to try and trim our own vocabulary and keep things positive, but we also have to be able to adapt to other’s definitions- or communication will break down and a positive situation could easily become a negative one! That would be ungood!

  • David Olinger says:

    Good discussion, John, but I believe a server shouldn’t be putting a standard on the dining experience. He/she should let me, the customer, determine how the meal has unfolded. As in, “How was your meal?” “How did your meal taste?” In some dining spots I have been, being asked “Is everything is okay?” has made me wonder if there was something wrong, if you know what I mean.

    I do agree that words can mean varying things in different company.

  • John Tyler says:

    Yes it does make sense- using your definition of okay (as a standard)! But the server doesn’t know you and how you define okay, so those three questions mean the same thing: a way to solicit your satisfaction of your food. And you provide your answer accordingly.

    Let’s look at another example. I take some photos and develop them myself. Someone I don’t know comes up to me and asks me if my pictures turned out okay, and I say yes they did. They all came out to my satisfaction. I have to assume the most basic form of okay, since neither of us knows each other’s definition. Now, knowing your definition of okay, as mediocre, you ask me if my pictures turned out okay, and I say no, they turned out better than okay. Two completely different meanings of the word okay with two different answers, but I adapt my definition depending on who i’m talking to.

    This is a very common occurrence – and probably how some arguments start. I’ve seen it so many times with communication in my family. One of us assumes our own meaning, then all of a sudden we are talking about two completely different things! You do raise a good point- how assumptions can be misleading if not checked.

    Hope that helps explaining it 🙂

    • Wendy Peters says:

      Mmm… yes, common meanings. I’ve actually had the opportunity to argue with someone when we were both saying the exact same thing. But because neither of us wanted to listen to what the other was saying, we continued to argue over it just the same… that is until someone walked into the conversation and clued us both into the fact that we were on the same page, just using different language. But because we had different meanings associated with the words each of us were using, communication broke down before it had even really begun! Words are funny things. I find more words that I have problems with as I continue to think about it. None of them, however, are ever words I ban based on the dictionary definition. They are all words I ban based on the experience and emotion I attach to them.

  • Cecilia Lu says:

    I’ve seen the word ‘attempt’ used – without the person even realizing it means to have tried and failed (probably). I agree, people need to take responsibility for how they shape their ideas and arguments.

  • davidolinger says:

    Good point, Cecilia. Particularly if peoples’ actions are likely to reflect their ideas and arguments.

    • Angie says:

      I love the part where you focus on the positive emotion versus the negative. If we truly focus on the ‘I will’ or ‘I can’ in things, we will all be so much better off (within). People are attracted to positive people and nobody wants negativity in their lives. Some circumstances sometimes cause us to be negative but when we rejoice in ALL things (because ALL things actually happen for a reason only God knows and has let happen) we release any hangups or negative energy associated with the issue. Great point David and great article!

  • Gina says:

    Great Post David. I have a whole list of words I’d like to ban, especially from business writing. Not because they are negative or positive, but because they don’t tell the reader what you really mean.

    I’m so tired of reading ‘corporate’ messages that say things like: “We will continue to leverage our positive momentum to advance the futures of the corporation.” Why not just say “We will build on our current success to keep our company viable.”

    I just find ‘corporate speak’ to be so disingenuous that it’s hard to believe people actually buy into it. Is it because people think high falutin’ language makes them sound more sophisticated and therefore more intelligent? Or do people buy into it because they want others to think they are sophisticated and intelligent?

    • Wendy Peters says:

      Corporate speak. It’s what we say to people when we don’t actually want to tell them the truth. Spin it up in a bunch of words that don’t say anything at all and you’ve covered your bases without leaving yourself open to anything. Literally. To me, this is another side to social media and why that is taking off so much. Online conversations are about transparency. And corporate speak doesn’t fly here. I think the people who use it are scared of what others may think or say about them if they actually are direct about what they want to communicate. People got away with it before because it was difficult for just anyone to speak up about it or call out the corporate speakers for hiding behind their words. Now, we can write blog posts about it, and others can comment about it, and we discover that the general consensus is that corporate speak doesn’t work. And even though we knew it all along, now those speaking the language can tune in too.

  • This is one of my favourite posts. As a fellow marketing professional, it’s amazing to see the difference it makes to ban words such as “try”, “attempt” and “maybe” out of your vocabulary.

    Have you ever thought about starting an interactive word bans dictionary? It would be an interesting exercise and a great resource to copywriters, sales professionals, business coaches… well, to everyone really 🙂

    Thanks for sharing,

  • […] vocabulary. My good friend, David Olinger, has written an interesting post on this subject titled Word Bans on his The Muse & Views blog […]

  • […] when David and I started this blog, we were talking about the meaning of words and which ones to ban from our vocabularies. I am hereby banning the word “excellence” from my vocabulary. Instead, well, instead.. […]

  • Erica DeSchipper says:

    The power of words is unimaginable, and this article is only s start by breaking down the vocabulary of the unconscious mind frames we are entrapped in that make up talk and express ourselves in certain manners. Which in turn at times, (for some more often then others) Yes, might be very negative without us even knowing it.
    We are the most complex machines to walk the planet and we have no real understanding why we use the kind of literature we use. The brain is an incredibly complex organ that has an infinite amount of synapses being stimulated every milla-second. Your mind can think over 1000 words a minute so it had thought about the for choices without you always being fully aware of why you chose that phrase or response. But with practice and awareness we are capable of altering our vocabularies into a positive manner, creating a higher chance or success, and in the end we all strive for success; but leads us to the big picture of creating a better sense of well being, happiness, and personal worth.

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