When I hear people say them, I cringe. 95% of the time they are not necessary and serve as fill, lazy transitions, and crutches. I find myself visually seeing their words over their heads and putting a red line through what they are saying to drill down to the necessary words. It’s typically about half of what they said, if that much. Those of us who write for a living are in better habits of striking out large portions of copy, consolidating thoughts, checking tenses and eliminating the unnecessary. The question remains, why don’t do we do it when we speak?
I have teenagers. Listening to their friends in a group is painful, especially when one of them wants to tell a story. Every third word is, “like…”
Here’s a list of six words gathered by dictionary.com to start you on your journey to telling better stories, giving more concise answers and being more enjoyable to converse with.
- Actually: Actually is the perfect example of a crutch word. It is meant to signify something that exists in reality, but it is more often used as a way to add punch to a statement (as in, “I actually have no idea”).
- Literally: This adverb should be used to describe an action that occurs in a strict sense. Often, however, it is used inversely to emphasize a hyperbolic or figurative statement: “I literally ran 300 miles today.” Literally is one of the most famously used crutch words in English.
- Basically: This word is used to signal truth, simplicity, and confidence, like in “Basically, he made a bad decision.” It should signify something that is fundamental or elementary, but too often this word is used in the context of things that are far from basic in order to create a sense of authority and finality.
- Honestly: This is a HUGE pet peeve. Either all they typically say is a lie, or they are trying to convince you of the sincerity – watch out for this one. his crutch word is used to assert authority or express incredulity, as in, “Honestly, I don’t like it when she does that.” WHAT does that have to do with anything. You already said you don’t like it when she does that. What are you adding with “honestly?”
- Like: The grand prize winner for 25 and under people, especially children and teens aged 8 – 17. The cardinal sinner of lazy words like is interspersed in dialogue to give a speaker more time to think or because the speaker cannot shake the habit of using the word. Like should describe something of the same form, appearance, kind, character, or amount. But, very often, it is used involuntarily in conversation, just like um.
- Obviously: Regularly used as a lazy and condescending intro. This word should signify an action which is readily observable, recognized, or understood. Speakers tend to use it, however, to emphasize their point with regards to things that aren’t necessarily obvious: “Obviously he should have thrown the ball to first base.” That’s how it is condescending in tone.
What are your crutch words or others you hear people say regularly that tweak you or make you wince?