Thursday, October 18, 2012
How to Sound Stupid*
You read that subject line and thought, "He's going to say something like, 'run for president but don't reveal any details of your policies,' or 'ask whether sodomy is okay if it's for a good purpose, like killing infidels.' But no, I'm talking about simple ways that you can look really stupid just by using a few common words as verbal crutches.
I ran across this article by Mariam Jehangir yesterday: Five Words That Make You Sound Stupid. In the article, Ms Jehangir provides a helpful list of words that people drop into sentences - words which don’t add useful meaning or content, disrupt the flow of the sentence, and generally cause the word DUMBASS to flash brightly across their foreheads. Here's the list, with some of the discussion from the article and my own quasi-brilliant observations:
Actually. The word actual literally means that something is physically present or exists in reality, but it's often dropped into a sentence to add extra emphasis to a point ... the words basically and honestly (discussed below) are similarly misused. If you hear the word actually, you should probably be suspicious about whether the subject is actually actual.
Basically. A basic point should be one that is simple and fundamental to the argument. In much modern speech, though, the word is often used to add imagined weight to a weak argument and instill a sense of finality. Basically, you shouldn't use it.
Honestly. The article notes that people often use this word to add a tone of authority to what they're saying ... whether it's honest or not**. As soon as I hear someone say "honestly," I wonder why they haven't been honest with me before.
Like. If this isn't the most overused word in the English language, I don't know what is. Ms Jehangir notes that it should be used when describing something that has the same form or character as something else, but instead it's become a staple of teenage 'valley-speak,' peppering every sentence with useless verbal detritus that adds nothing to the meaning and makes one sound like a clueless idiot.
Literally. This word is supposed to describe something without exaggeration; instead speakers often use it in figurative or hyperbolic sentences. I find this to be literally unbelievable.
Here's one the list accidentally omitted:
You Know. People who have to say you know in every other sentence are actually insulting you by implying that you probably don't know. You know what I mean?
Any Four-Letter Word (or four-letter word used in combination with other words). Now, I've been known to use plenty of four-letter words myself, and sometimes they're just the only thing that really expresses what you mean. But the usefulness of the four-letter words that used to be considered vulgar and shocking has been diminished by constant use. There are a lot of people out there who can't say anything without dropping the f-bomb at least once ... and usually multiple times. All it means is that you can't think of anything better to say.
So, what are your recommendations for ways to sound stupid? Leave a comment. Inquiring minds want to know.
Have a good day. Actually, basically you should speak honestly and literally, you know? Like, do it now.
More thoughts tomorrow.
* I think I'm well-qualified to address this topic, so pay attention.
** See any political attack ad from either party for examples.