Whether we’re chatting by the water cooler, by the wet bar, or over email, there are certain words and phrases that we've used, either consciously or subconsciously, to buy ourselves time or haphazardly prop up our arguments. Unfortunately, they often serve as flags signaling weak ideas. Even Joe Biden—no stranger to debates or public speaking—has been widely criticized for using the word "literally"literally constantly. It’s a shitty habit on par with pointless cursing, and it’s one we intend to break.
The sort of people who always complain about the way other sorts of people speak refer to these words as "weasel words." It’s a strange term inspired by the feeding habits of weasels, which suck the contents out of an egg while leaving the shell intact. Weasel words undercut any idea they touch, leaving speakers (and a lot of advertisers) with empty, breakable eggs.
Men who care about winning arguments—otherwise known as men—should take pains to excise meaningless or frivolous words from their vocabularies, not just because they dumb down their opinions but because it’s an easy trick. Sounding smarter than the next guy is—more often than not—more about what you don’t say than what you do.
Basically: This is a word that’s clearly a filler, representing a pause while the speaker thinks of how to best sum up their argument. It’s meant to suggest authority, but comes across as stalling or, even worse, as a verbal red flag that marks the guy in the room looking to dumb down the discussion.
Many: This word suggests some sort of number, but fails to actually name one. “Many Facebook users took to the platform to share their ALS Ice Bucket challenge videos,” is a true thing a human could say, but it isn’t meaningful. What does the “many” really signify in that statement? Basically, that the person saying "many" didn’t do his research.
Arguably: If you’re in an argument, you should know it. What “arguably” does is undercut the case you’re making by giving the impression that your argument consists of points that can themselves be argued. That’s called shaky footing.
Obviously: Treat your fellow conversers with some respect and don’t use “obviously,” which reeks of condescension. It also weakens your own argument, suggesting that the facts or angle you’re presenting would be evident to anyone with half a brain. If that’s the case, you’re either wasting their time or you have something fractional in your skull.
May/May Not: Commit to your argument. Don’t wander around the point, scattering “may” or “may not” in as a defense mechanism. It shows that you’re unsure, that you’re actively protecting against criticism. Instead, focus on making strong claims with sufficient evidence and rhetorical precision.
I Just/I Think: These two common phrases alter how many women are viewed in the workplace. “I just write copy for an advertiser” or “I think we should ditch that shitty Keurig machine in the break room” invalidate the idea that follows before even getting there. Both suggest that you’re hesitant about the opinion you’re about to express. Leave it out and just articulate your hatred for the Keurig machine in the most pointed way possible. “The coffee machine sucks.” Done.
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