15 phrases to ban from your vocab to look smarter

We’re all influenced by who’s around us and the way they speak. 

This unfortunately means that there are many phrases that enter our vocabulary that make us look immature, unintelligent and basic. 

The solution is to become aware of these subpar phrases and stop using them. 

Here are the top 15 phrases to ban from your vocab to look smarter.

1) “No offense.”

When you say “no offense” it does two things:

It makes you look insincere and cowardly

If you say something that is potentially offensive, own it. 

No offense is sometimes used as a prefix or as a suffix.

For example:

“No offense, but I think the guy you’re dating is kind of weird.”


“Your job honestly makes no sense to me. It kind of seems, I dunno, fake?… Like what do you actually do? No offense.” 

Adding “no offense” after saying something offensive is fake and snarky. 

Adding “no offense” after saying something that isn’t offensive makes you come off as overly scared to upset someone.

Conclusion: leave off “no offense.” 

2) “Actually…”

Saying “actually” as an interruption word or to argue with someone is very cringe. 

In fact, it’s so cringe that it even became an internet meme of “Akhsually…” 

If you disagree with somebody just go ahead and say it. 

There’s no need to play a Harvard professor educating everyone about their ignorance. 

There are some situations where actually is a necessary word and may be the most useful one to use. 

But more often than not, you’re actually using actually as a filler word or as a way to sound smarter and better than others. 

Try to minimize usage of the word “actually.” 

It’s vastly overused and usually not necessary. 

3) “Good vibes only.”

“Good vibes only” has become a really popular thing to write on one’s online dating profile, write on t-shirts and generally broadcast. 

It also makes you look kind of basic. 

When you insist on “good vibes only,” you’re promoting yourself as a New Age type of the more basic and unintelligent variety. 

There’s nothing wrong with good vibes, per se, but at least give bad vibes or weird vibes a chance. 

But seriously:

If you’re writing “good vibes” only on a profile or wearing it around, you’re kind of a walking stereotype. 

I think everyone can agree that good vibes are good, but it doesn’t really make you unique or impressive to be on team Good Vibes and trumpet that fact. 

When you insist on only good vibes, you make yourself look immature and boring.

4)“I’m just saying.” 

I’ve known various people who were fond of saying, “I’m just saying.”

Let’s just say that the more they said it, the more I lost a tiny smidgen of respect for them.


“The last time I saw her, she had gained a lot of weight. Not trying to be judgmental, but I’m just saying.” 

“That religion is seriously crazy. Like, did you hear about their marriage ritual and how they do all that washing and flower petal stuff beforehand? It looks like something out of Scientology meets the Beatles. I’m just saying…”

Why add in this smart-alecky phrase?

If you say this it’s kind of passive-aggressive and unnecessary. 

I’m just saying…

5) “Whatever you say.”

phrases confident people say 1 15 phrases to ban from your vocab to look smarter

If you want to say you disagree or don’t care, say that.

“Whatever you say” is just a snarky way of saying “f*ck you.”

On second thoughts, feel free to even say, “f*ck you.”

At least it’s direct. 

“Whatever you say” just bristles with angry, petty energy.

It makes it clear that you disagree with someone or find them wrong but won’t engage any further. 

The problem is that because it’s provocative, it directly contradicts itself. 

In other words, saying “whatever you say” means the opposite it means “you’re wrong, so I’m not listening to any more of what you say.”

Scrap it.

6) “Let’s circle back to this.” 

Former White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki became well-known for saying she’d “circle back” to answering questions. 

It was generally done to avoid answering a question and to give an official-sounding answer that actually meant nothing at all. 

When exactly is this “circling back” happening? Likely never. 

Saying that you’ll “circle back” makes you sound nerdy, incompetent and unintelligent. 

Part of the reason is that it’s clearly intended to sound smart

But the irony is that many of the least intelligent-sounding people give off that impression because they try so hard to sound smart

Don’t worry about sounding smart, it’s pretentious. 

Just try to stop sounding silly and “circling back” to things. 

7) “Lend me your attention for a minute.” 

This phrase just rubs me the wrong way. 

It makes you look hungry for attention or somebody to hear you out. 

If you have something important to say, don’t beg for attention.

Somebody should be giving you their attention, not lending it to you. 

I realize that may sound a bit pedantic, but small details like this do make a difference and it’s important not to undersell yourself

Ask for somebody’s attention politely and then get on with what you have to say instead of clothing it in garbled corporate speak. 

8) “You wouldn’t understand.”

Telling someone they “wouldn’t understand” has a really passive-aggressive feeling to it. 

Also, the phrase is self-defeating. 

If you are sure somebody would not understand something, then don’t bring it up, or give a succinct or summarized response that you feel is simpler. 

Telling somebody they won’t understand is more or less just an insult. 

9) “Can you squeeze me in?”

Asking if you can be “squeezed in” on a schedule or with meeting somebody is very low confidence

You’re not a book being squeezed in a shelf, or another thing to pack into a trunk. 

You’re a person. 

Asking if you can be “squeezed in” makes you sound very self-deprecating and like you don’t recognize your own value. 

If an appointment or meeting is very important to you, say so. 

But don’t minimize your own needs or value to try to get what you want. 

10) “I’m kind of busy right now.”

Saying, “I’m kind of busy right now,” makes you sound passive-aggressive and rude. 

Just say, “I’m really busy. I’ll have to call you back.”

The “kind of” makes it sound like you’re so sorry to be busy but also adds that hint of snark that’s just totally unnecessary. 

If you’re busy, you’re busy. So be it. No need to make it a catty comment. 

11) “I have so much sh*t to do.”

common phrases intelligent people avoid 1 15 phrases to ban from your vocab to look smarter

Referring to your work or life responsibilities as “sh*t” makes you sound like a college frat bro. 

It’s really unnecessary.

Go for “stuff,” “things,” “tasks,” or even “stressful things to catch up on.”

But there’s no need to call what you have to do “sh*t.”

Even if it is less than ideal, referring to it this way is going to add to the stress and resentment in your own mind as well. 

12) “It’s hard to explain.” 

Similarly to my advice not to say “you wouldn’t understand,” “it’s hard to explain” is another phrase to discontinue or reduce. 

If it’s hard to explain, then don’t bother starting. 

If it’s complicated, say that and ask if the other person wants you to really explain it all. 

Something being hard to explain may be objectively true. 

But more often than not, “it’s hard to explain” is used to push somebody away or to imply that you are smarter

13) “That’s crazy!”

Saying, “that’s crazy,” makes you sound immature and not very observant. 

It is often the sort of thing somebody says when they are basically cutting a conversation short. 

If that’s the case, just say something like “sorry, I’m busy, I’ve got to run.”

Saying “that’s crazy” as an apathetic retort is really immature and unintelligent. 

14) “Yeah, totally.”

Saying “yeah, totally” doesn’t really add anything to a conversation or interaction. 

To be sure, it’s far from the worst offender on this list. 

But it’s just not an overall useful term.

If you agree or like what’s being said, say so. 

“Yeah, totally” has a definite connotation of “I don’t care, go away.” 

15) “Uh, like, um…”

Filler words such as “like,” “uh” and “um” make you sound less intelligent. 

We almost all use them, but the key is to be aware of them and minimize their use. 

If you’re a bit lost for words, don’t be afraid to pause or think through what you want to say for a moment. 

Remember that leaving pauses can add to the gravity and impact of what you say and doesn’t have to be perceived as you being less confident or knowledgeable. 

Phasing out phrases

Phasing out the above phrases will certainly make you sound and look smarter

If you slip up now and then, don’t beat yourself up. 

We all use phrases that make us look a bit dull and basic from time to time. 

The key is becoming conscious of it and reducing our usage.

Also read: 21 phrases to avoid if you want to sound like a strong and confident person

Picture of Paul Brian

Paul Brian

Paul R. Brian is a freelance journalist and writer who has reported from around the world, focusing on religion, culture and geopolitics. Follow him on www.twitter.com/paulrbrian and visit his website at www.paulrbrian.com

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