9 words you should stop using if you want to sound smart, according to psychology

We all want to impress someone. Usually, we do it using our intelligence and wordplay.

But according to psychology, some of the words we often use can actually diminish the impression we aim to convey.

In fact, even if you have the knowledge and wisdom, certain words can make you come across as less intelligent.

In this article, I’ll share a list of words you might want to eliminate from your vocabulary if you want to sound smarter.

The key?

It’s not using big, fancy words, but avoiding those that can undermine your credibility.

So, let’s dive into it and explore what not to say if you aim to sound more intelligent.

1) “Literally”

We’ve all heard it, and probably used it… a lot. It’s the word “literally”.

Ironically, this word is often used in a figurative context, which goes against its actual meaning.

“I was literally dying of laughter”—well, not unless you needed medical attention!

In everyday conversation, it might not be a big deal.

But when you’re trying to sound smarter and more professional, overuse of the word “literally” can quickly undermine your credibility.

It’s because the misuse of this word can make your statements seem exaggerated and less accurate.

My advice here is this:

When you think of using the word “literally,” think twice. Is it necessary? Does it add value to what you’re saying?

If not, leave it out. Replace it with more precise language or simply let the impressiveness of your statement stand on its own.

2) “Just”

Here’s a word that I realized was holding me back: “Just”.

I used to throw it around innocently, not realizing how it was undermining my confidence and authority.

I’d say things like, “I’m just checking in” or “I just think that…”

Upon reflection, I realized that “just” was my way of softening my statements and making myself less assertive.

Using “just” too often can make us appear less confident and convincing.

It subtly implies that what we’re saying isn’t important or needs an apology.

So, I started consciously removing the word “just” from my emails, reports, and conversations.

The result? My statements became stronger, clearer, and more assertive.

Try it. You might find, like I did, that this small change can make a big difference in how you’re perceived.

3) “Um” and “Uh”

When we’re thinking of what to say next, “um” and “uh” often fill the silence.

These are known as filler words, and they can sneak into our speech more often than we realize.

These words can make you sound unsure or unprepared, and they can detract from your overall message.

Instead, try embracing silence when you’re thinking.

It might feel uncomfortable at first, but it can actually make you sound more thoughtful and confident.

4) “Like”

Remember the ’80s Valley Girl talk?

“Like, oh my god!”

While it may have been trendy then, using “like” as a filler word can seriously undermine your credibility today.

Frequent use of “like” can make you appear less confident and knowledgeable.

It’s seen as a crutch, a way to buy time or soften a statement, and that’s not the impression you want to give when you’re aiming to sound smart.

Instead, focus on speaking clearly and confidently.

If you’re unsure or need a moment to gather your thoughts, take a brief pause.

It’s far better than filling the silence with “like.”

5) “Always” and “Never”

two woman argue 9 words you should stop using if you want to sound smart, according to psychology

Absolute words like “always” and “never” might seem harmless, but they can subtly undermine your credibility.

Why? Because life is rarely absolute.

Using these words can make your statements sound exaggerated and unbalanced, which can make you appear less thoughtful and rational.

It can also create defensiveness in others if you’re discussing their behavior or performance.

Instead, opt for more nuanced language that reflects the complexity of real-life situations.

Words like “often”, “rarely”, or “sometimes” are more accurate and can help you come across as more fair-minded and intelligent.

6) “Should”

“Should” is a word that carries a lot of weight. It implies obligation and judgment and can often lead to feelings of guilt or resentment.

I’ve learned that telling myself or others what we “should” do isn’t always helpful or kind.

It can create pressure and stress, undermining our ability to think clearly and make wise decisions.

Instead of “should”, try using words like “could” or “might”. These options promote possibility and choice rather than obligation.

They’re more empowering and respectful, both to ourselves and others.

This simple shift in language can have a profound impact on our mindset and emotional well-being, making us appear not only smarter but also more compassionate and understanding.

7) “I guess”

During a performance review early in my career, I was given a piece of advice that stuck with me.

My manager pointed out that I often prefaced my ideas with “I guess…”, which made me sound uncertain and unconvincing.

“I guess” implies doubt and lack of confidence.

It waters down the impact of your statements, making your ideas seem like mere suggestions rather than strong contributions.

Taking his advice to heart, I consciously worked on eliminating “I guess” from my professional vocabulary.

Instead, I started stating my ideas directly and confidently.

The change was significant. Not only did I sound more confident, but I felt more confident too.

It was a lesson in the power of words and the effect they can have on our self-perception and how others perceive us.

8) “Whatever”

Dismissing something with a casual “whatever” can come across as apathetic or disrespectful.

It suggests that you don’t care enough to engage fully with the topic or person you’re speaking to.

This lack of engagement can make you seem less intelligent and less respectful.

It’s far better to articulate your thoughts or feelings clearly, even if it’s simply to say, “I don’t have a strong opinion on this.”

Remember, effective communication is more than just the words we use.

It’s also the attitude we convey through those words.

Always aim for respectful engagement, even when you’re indifferent or disagreeing.

9) “Actually”

The word “actually” might seem harmless, but it can subtly undermine your message.

It implies a correction or contradiction, which can come across as condescending or defensive.

For instance, saying “Actually, it’s like this…” can sound like you’re correcting someone, even when that’s not your intention.

It can create a barrier between you and the person you’re speaking to.

Instead, practice stating your thoughts clearly and directly, without the need for qualifiers like “actually.”

It’s a small change that can enhance your communication skills and make you sound more confident and knowledgeable.

Words and wisdom

The art of language lies in its flexibility and adaptability. It shapes our reality, influences our thoughts, and mirrors our intelligence.

But it’s not just the words we use; it’s how we use them.

As Mark Twain once said, “Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.”

In other words, sounding smart isn’t using complex words or jargon. It’s clarity, precision, and the ability to convey your thoughts effectively.

So next time you’re crafting an email, preparing for a meeting, or engaging in casual conversation, remember this: Your words are a reflection of you. Choose them wisely, and choose with intention.

Perhaps the most intelligent thing we can do is to continuously refine our language, ensuring that our words serve us, not undermine us.

After all, in this ever-changing world, adaptability is intelligence.

Picture of Ethan Sterling

Ethan Sterling

Ethan Sterling has a background in entrepreneurship, having started and managed several small businesses. His journey through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship provides him with practical insights into personal resilience, strategic thinking, and the value of persistence. Ethan’s articles offer real-world advice for those looking to grow personally and professionally.

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