Actions speak louder than words, right?

Until you get judged by the kind of words you use in your speech. Or writing.

Just as you know that words are powerful enough to hurt or heal, they make a strong impression of you.

When you choose to use certain words or phrases to express yourself, you are not merely expressing your thoughts. You are making yourself known to your listeners or readers. It is therefore important to take note of your choice of words.

Some words are more commonly used in informal settings and they fit well in those environments. But in formal settings, you will do well to avoid those words.

Although this is quite obvious, it really isn’t, at least going by the number of people using informal words in a formal setting. This happens because these words easily become your go-to vocabulary after hearing them over and over.

There is however a serious danger in this. You risk being labeled as dumb. Yes, with all your education and skills, you can still attract that title.

What’s more, your career can take a downward turn since you won’t come across as someone serious enough to handle more demanding work.

So, if you’re interested in that promotion, growing your career, networking with more learned and experienced people in your industry, then drop these words. These words do a good job at dumbing you down in the face of the people who matter.

1. Irregardless

This word is not only common, but it’s also increasing in popularity. And what’s the problem with it?

It sounds wrong. And it probably would have been, only that a Merrian-Webster lexicographer made a case for it. It is not a very strong case anyway and she advises that people should use the more acceptable regardless.

This word gets a lot of bashing for being incorrect and the oxford dictionary considers it non-standard. When you use the word irregardless, you most likely mean regardless. You probably thought it was just similar to, especially as far as the prefix is concerned, the word irrespective.

The meaning is supposed to be the same but your audience will not forgive you for its use. They will just see you as uneducated or ignorant. And for that reason, you are better off avoiding the word altogether.

Stick to either regardless or alternate to irrespective.

2. Stuff

You may be using this word to refer to many related things when you are not giving specifics. And as valid as you think that usage is, it spells doom for you.

When you say This free E-book will teach you lots of stuff about marketing, you sound like an amateur marketer in need of email addresses. If what you want is to get people’s email addresses, then don’t use the word stuff.

Being so casual, this word shows that the material you are offering has no real value. It is only full of generalities. If you want to sell or promote your work and get something valuable (money, email addresses etc) in return, tell your customers exactly what they will get.

Are you giving advice on how to improve sales? Give a list of steps that your book discusses. Showing people how to make money online? Tell them your book discusses the challenges, the market, the procedures etc. Whatever you do, be specific and don’t say stuff.

3. Honestly / To be honest

This is a really bad one and you should avoid it. You may think you are being diplomatic in using this when about to say something possibly hurtful but you’re wrong. The effect is quite negative.

Using the word honestly or the words to be honest implies that all along, you have not been honest. You have been trying to be friendly by hiding crucial information but have now decided to be sincere.

If that is the case, then go ahead and ensure you explain yourself well enough. If that is not the case, make the effort to avoid using the word.

Something else that comes up here is the oft-made claim that you can avoid giving your friend some information so as not to hurt them. This only applies to children. They are the ones who cannot handle some information.

But if you are talking to an adult, you better look for a way of telling them the important information you have concerning them. To understand why, put yourself in their shoes and imagine something terrible happening to you. You fail to prevent it because you never knew about it, only to later learn that your friend knew something about it.

Would you be sure that the person is really your friend?

4. Oopsy

This is a diminutive form of oops. Funny enough, it is longer than the original form despite being intended to be the smaller version. That’s one reason it is weird. A bigger reason to stop using it is that it is too informal and sounds rather careless.

You know that when you mistakenly spill a drink you automatically say oops, followed by sorry. But if you were to say oopsy, you stop indicating it was a mistake and imply that it could have been utter carelessness.

This word has a tone of playfulness in it and that makes it a bad choice for starting an apology. Whether you have said the wrong words or made the wrong turn on the road, you will come out as mature when you simply say sorry.

5. Amazing / Awesome

As words used to describe something great and worth checking out, these two words have been overused for a long time. And more people are still using them. The overuse casts doubt on what is being said.

If everything everywhere is amazing and awesome, it becomes doubtful that anything really is.

Think about it. If there are three events being promoted on TV and all of them are said to be amazing, which one stands out? Which one of the three promotions will convince you to attend? Probably none.

And unless you are just looking for a way of spending time in things you are not sure about, you will not attend any of them.


It is doubtful that any of them will deliver value.

Anyone trying to sell something uses these words and as such, the weight of the words is reduced. If you use them, you will get banded together with those who use them to sell non-valuable material.

And what happens to such people? They get avoided.

6. Nope and Yup

Is everything ok? Yup. Did the client raise any questions? Nope.

None of these responses sound good. Especially if you are responding to someone above you in rank. These words show disrespect for the person you’re responding to. They make you sound as though you care little about the conversation you are having.

If you care about what you are talking about, give it sufficient attention. That means you will give relevant explanations and offer any important information. And that cannot happen if you start your response with these words. It just sounds off the mark.

The use of these words is too casual for a respectable person to use. Although they may have been popularized by informal communication among friends, they need to remain in those circles—if at all they must be used.

If the answer you are giving is in the affirmative, just say yes. If it’s in the negative, stick to no. Anything else will work against your best interests. You will reduce your prospects of landing a better job, connecting with the right people or even signing that much-needed deal.

7. Always

“Is this a bad word to use?” you may ask.

The word itself is not bad but the idea it paints is often a wrong one.

Always means all the time and that is where the problem comes in. If you are delivering a speech to investors or a technical team and use this word, you are saying that there are no exceptions. What you are explaining happens exactly the way you are saying it does. And it never changes. Possibly never will.

That is where the problem lies.

You open yourself up to being challenged. You put your speech or copy in the firing line. You are basically saying that no-one can disprove your statements because they refer to what happens all the time.

If the people who are listening to you are smart or experienced enough, they will know that you are exaggerating. Even if you have the figures to back up your statements, are you sure about the future?

When you say always, you are giving an assurance that you most likely cannot guarantee.

For example, you may be talking to investors about an investment opportunity. When you say that the returns are always high, have you considered potential limitations? Are you being unrealistically positive?

When you say that something, especially something good, always happens, someone who is keen enough will take your speech to be mere hype. It is more like the interpretation of the words amazing and awesome.

Before someone interjects or just ignores your idea, stop promising what you can’t deliver by using this word. Tone down your communication and be more realistic. It is better to get unexpectedly higher returns than expect more only to get less or nothing.

8. Whatever

This word gets much use in referring to something either entirely unknown or not fully understood. But that’s not the problem. The problem comes with the usage as a response to someone’s question or statement. In that usage, saying whatever actually means you don’t care.

Did someone say something and your reply was “whatever?” Was a colleague explaining his point in an argument and you said “whatever?”

What you really said is that you didn’t care what they were talking about. It didn’t matter to you. And do you know what that means?

It means that you are proud. Other people’s opinions are simply not good enough for you to try and understand. As long as they did not agree with your perspective, then you are not ready to spend time to understand them.

9. Like

This is not the “Like” used on Facebook to express approval for a post. Neither is it the use of the word in making comparisons. For example, someone might drive like his father. Or cook well like a professional. Those usages are correct but what is not is slightly different.

“How do you, like, manage to pass without studying at the last minute?”

“Where do you, like, buy your clothes?”

The use of the word like in these examples make it a filler word. A filler word fills a gap. They indicate a pause while also signifying that the speaker has not finished speaking. When using them, you are simply taking a moment to think of the best way of saying what you want to say.

Is that a bad thing?

Yes, filler words ruin your credibility. They simple shout from the rooftops that you aren’t sure of what you are saying. Or you were never prepared for the speech in the first place.

Don’t get this wrong though. Filler words have their place in speeches. Even professional speakers use them and they get celebrated.

However, you could end up misusing them when you no longer stay in control of them. Filler words come almost naturally and they help you arrange and re-arrange your thoughts in your mind before speaking them out.

When used properly, filler words help you deliver your speech perfectly but when you overuse them, you land into trouble.

When you, um, say that you ah, kind of, prefer speaking, to, you know, writing, you also portray yourself as lacking in confidence. Confident people know what they want and they say it well. If they use filler words, and they usually do, they will be minimal.

If filler words are filling up your prose, then it’s time for some work. Since this happens unconsciously, you may not realize it until someone tells you. Now that you have read about it, start checking your words.

This needs some work so embrace the journey.

10. Each and Every

This is one place where the need to emphasize causes repetition. Minus the need for emphasis, no sentence will lose meaning simply because there is no each and every in it. Consider the below three sentences.

Each and every one of you should register for this course.

Each one of you should register for this course.

Every one of you should register for this course.

Do you see what each and every does to your sentences? It makes it unnecessarily lengthy and adds a dumbing repetition. When you say “each one” or “every one”, the meaning comes out clearly enough.

If what you want is to emphasize, then look for other ways of doing it and avoid repetition. This repetition implies a lack of sufficient vocabulary. And that is not a good thing.

As an example, you can implement emphasis by shifting attention from the people you are addressing and putting it on the course. You could say, “This course offers useful knowledge for anyone desiring to advance in their career in business management.” This will communicate the importance of taking the course.

11. Due to the fact that

This is another phrase which seeks to put emphasis on something. You often use this when trying to convince people about something. To back your statements, you use some evidence as the foundation of your premise.

For example, you could say “Due to the fact that math is essential in engineering, everyone must attain at least a pass.” What if you instead said, “Since math is essential in engineering, everyone must attain at least a pass?”

Do you see the unnecessary repetition? Math being essential in engineering is a fact. When you add due to the fact, it is as though your audience is doubting the fact. You are therefore restating it so they believe it. But do they doubt that math is essential in engineering?

Generally speaking, words and phrases are dumbing because they are either informal yet being used in formal settings, or they are too common. They could also be too simplistic, especially if used in professional talk where particular jargon is expected.

There are adjectives which paint a better picture of what you want to communicate as opposed to many other simple words. This calls for an improvement of your vocabulary. For example, instead of saying you were extremely happy, you could say you were ecstatic.

12. Kinda

Here is one informal word that casually finds its way into formal speech. Instead of saying kind of, you say kinda. Yet that is not all. The bigger problem lies in the location of the word in a sentence and its intended meaning.

This word is used to describe something which you don’t have the right words for. You may be trying to describe something that was bad but not ugly. Since you don’t know which word to use, you end up saying “It looked kinda ugly”.

What you are really saying is that it was ugly but not really ugly. So what did it look like? If you are to communicate well, you need to build your vocabulary. And note that this does not mean you go after the big words. Using big words is not an indicator of you being smarter. It could in fact have the opposite effect.

In business and other formal settings, communication is meant to pass a message. Your language should therefore be simple and grammatically correct. Your vocabulary comes in to assist you in your efforts to be accurate.

You vocabulary is useful in describing situations, things, events etc. This helps you capture the right emotions as you paint a picture using words. Avoid technical terms unless you are talking to technical people.

13. You know

“This new software will help you, you know, get better results.”

“I was able to, you know, convince him, without breaking a sweat.”

The question is, when you say, you know, what makes you think I know? Aren’t you supposed to explain it to me so I know?

Using this phrase in your communication means you are assuming that your audience is aware of something that is supposed to help them understand what you’re talking about.

If for example you are telling them something, then they are listening because they don’t know in the first place. Stop assuming that they know and tell them what they should know.

Something else that comes out with this phrase is a sense of pride. You are being proud of yourself in the way you utilized your abilities and achieved your goal. Whereas it is important to acknowledge your abilities and even celebrate your achievements, expressing pride is often not appreciated.

Did you really convince him without breaking a sweat? That means your abilities are great. You are probably hoping to get some praise. And although you may get it, it may not be with genuine appreciation or love. It might even be the last time it comes your way.

14. Totes

This word is meant to be a short form of totally. But it’s nothing but an informal breaking of a word. To make it worse, it sounds quite childish. If you are not a teenager interacting with your age-mates, stay clear of this word.

If your child uses it in a chat or text message he sent you, just understand what it means but don’t adopt it. Do not even use it in your response to him. It might stick and land you into problems later.

When you are asked a question and answer by saying totes instead of totally, people will really wonder what it is you just said. This word is not even in the mainstream dictionaries. It is in the urban dictionary which aptly says that the word is used by teenage girls.

That should tell you that even when hanging out with your friends over the weekend, you should avoid the word.

15. Went

This word describes an action you took of moving from one point to another. Nothing wrong with that. But what if you were more descriptive?

When you say you went to the grocery store, the message is passed, albeit with some ambiguity in regards to the movement itself. It would be better to point out by which means you went to the store. For example, you could say you drove or walked to the grocery store.

This is part of helpful communication as it eliminates the lack of clarity.

The only time you can safely use the word went without any problem is when being general.

You could say that you went shopping. That is perfectly okay. In this case, you are not specifying where exactly you went to but your supplies. You also don’t specify what supplies you bought.

But saying you went to the supermarket; you went to work; you went to your friend’s place etc, invites some questions. How far is your friend’s place? Did you walk? Jog? Take a taxi?


Avoiding these dumbing words, embrace the better alternatives provided, or others from your dictionary and strengthen your vocabulary. Stand out by being clear and communicate more effectively.

15 Words That are Dumbing You Down

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