Seven Words To Avoid in Speech or Writing

Your presentations, business writing, proposal writing, and e-mails will produce better results if you avoid seven, overused, and often misunderstood words.

We all grew up with the impression that a superior vocabulary implies a superior mind.

So, when we wrote our term papers, we filled them with polysyllabic words to impress our teachers.

Today, we use consultant words like utilize, paradigm, reiterate, conundrum, initiative, caveat, and transpire.

Consultant and academic words slow down your readers’ brains as they try to interpret what you mean or how you are using those words.

Good writing is conversational writing. Your writing should sound as natural as a telephone conversation with a friend.

Please allow me to comment on a few of those words to clearly explain not only what I mean by conversational, but the why.

Let’s start with “utilize.”

The words “use” and “utilize” do not mean the same thing.

Don’t use the big word, “utilize,” when a clearer, shorter, more understandable word will work. Most of the time when people use the word “utilize,” they really should use “use.”

The word “utilize” means to use something successfully for a purpose for which it was not intended.

For example, using a hammer as a can opener.

Besides, you save time typing three letters (use) rather than seven (utilize).

Using three letters rather than seven allows your readers to read, skim, or scan your document easier and faster.

Direct them to focus on the importance of your document, not your vocabulary.

A “paradigm” is a pattern, model, or example by which you are supposed to learn something about the structure of the English language.

Although “paradigm” has been popularized by consultants, many people still do not have a clear picture of what the word means. If you ask 10 people to define a paradigm, you will get 10 different definitions.

If you mean pattern, model, or example, use those words, not a word that a lot of people don’t even pronounce correctly.

Be yourself and don’t try to imitate someone else’s words or style.

“Conundrum” is the corporate word for this decade.

Consultants use this word to imply a problem, challenge, or situation.

If you look up the word conundrum in a good dictionary, (not a Pocket Dictionary) you find that a “conundrum” is a mythical or mystical puzzle or riddle, the answer to, which is a pun.

How many people do you think really know that?

Most people use the word “reiterate” to mean to restate, repeat, or emphasize.

If you mean repeat, say repeat.

The word “reiterate” means to “say repeatedly.”

Most people use the word “reiterate” when they really mean to use “iterate” which means “to say or do again.”

Actually, they should be using the words, state, restate, repeat, or emphasize, depending on what they are trying to say.

I am mystified by the word, “initiative.”

My parents, teachers, coaches, and managers told me that I lacked initiative.

When I reached voting age, I discovered that an initiative was a procedure in the voting process.

Today, people use the word “initiative” to mean program, plan, or project.

I have not found that meaning or use in any of my dictionaries.

Let’s face facts.

English is a tough language to learn. It gets tougher when we take a foreign language word and try to force-fit it into our language.

For me, the silliest word that people try to use to sound impressive is “caveat.”

This comes from the Latin phrase, “caveat emptor,” which means, “buyer beware.”

A caveat is a warning.

“You may take that drug with the caveat that it may kill you.”

I still don’t understand why people can’t simply say, “You may take that drug with the warning that it may kill you.”

The word “warning” contains two syllables; the word “caveat” contains three.

Finally, we need to discuss the word, “transpire.”

The dictionary tells us that the word “transpire” is considered incorrect or vulgar. Rather than telling you the actual meaning, I recommend you look it up in the dictionary.

But, you might say, “Looking up a word in the dictionary wastes my time.”

Now you understand why you should use the shorter, more familiar, more easily understandable words when you write or speak.

Let’s compare the language of two sentences that should say the same thing.

“I must reiterate that nothing will transpire until we utilize our resources to shift our paradigms as a means of addressing the conundrum we face.” (25 long, confusing, abstract words)

If you were talking on the telephone, you would probably say:

“I must emphasize that unless we find a new way to refine crude oil, we will face gas shortages.” (19 clear, familiar, easily understandable words)

So, my message here is twofold.

1.  Using conversational language increases the chances that your readers will clearly understand and quickly read every word you’ve written

2.  You would probably prefer to read a clear, understandable, reader-focused message rather than a long, confusing, erudite opus that took you 10 minutes to read.

Let me edit your next important document – free.

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