Language hacking – changing the choice of words we use

Have you ever talked to someone who continues to use the same word over and over again?  Then you find that many people you chat with end up using the same choice of words quite frequently.  My wife and I see this quite often, usually with the word ‘Amazing’, ‘cool’, and ‘hope’.

  • Are these words necessary in conversation?
  • Do these words we choose lose value due to overuse?
  • Are we communicating effectively?
  • Do others who are jaded by these words associate other meanings or intentions to the words we use?

Lets focus on the word “hope”.  There are many places where hope is appropriate, but I find that most people misuse the word.  For example:

I hope to show up at yoga on Saturday

I heard this sentence and wonder:

  • do you want to show up to yoga on Saturday?
  • are you saying this to make me feel good?
  • are there other things preventing you from committing to yoga on Saturday?

What could be said is:

I am planning to show up at yoga on Saturday


I have a lot of things going on, if all goes well I will show up at yoga on Saturday


I don’t want to hurt your feelings by saying no, so to make you feel good I will be non committal about showing up to yoga on Saturday even though I have no intentions.

There are many ways to replace the word “hope”, and all of them achieve a clearer communication between two people.

Now with that said, what am I hacking?  For the last few months I have been reducing (almost removing) the words ‘awesome’, ‘amazing’, ‘hate’, and ‘hope’ from my vocabulary.

Why am I writing about this?  I might as well be in the open about this and invite others to join me in being deliberate about how we speak.  Once a month I will post a new word, feel free to join me in this effort and see how thinking about what you say and how you say it impacts your communications.

Also please leave comments on this post about specific words that you feel are overused – I could use suggestions of words.

update March 28, 2015 – this post has been translated:

Пост доступен на сайте Язык взлома – изменение выбора используемых слов.


Filed under personal

6 responses to “Language hacking – changing the choice of words we use

  1. That got me thinking. People of our generation focus on overused words of the younger generation–everything can’t be “epic”, for example. Yet as you indicated, we ourselves overuse words all the time; they just sound normal to us, so we don’t think about it.

    I don’t think it’s *too* bad to use certain words to express general “I like this” emotions, like “awesome” or “amazing”–certainly it’s better than not saying anything at all if you want to encourage someone–but you are correct in saying that more specific, deliberate language is a lot more useful.

    I do really like that you singled out “hate”. That’s a strong word, and “hating” violence means something very different than “hating” Windows. I’m sure I’m guilty of using it carelessly, but it really sticks out to me when people say they hate particular people. There are indeed people worthy of hate, but hopefully not that many, in one’s personal life at least.

  2. havvy

    It’s possible that many people use “I hope” in the same way Spanish has ‘Ojala`’ — which is to say, they probably use it as a signifier that they are using the subjunctive tense which doesn’t really exist in English.

  3. Words don’t always mean what is written on the tin. I hate to say that but that’s fine. We are not pieces of code. We are full embodiment of imperfections and still the beauty of it, it’s still working somehow. Quite cool, if you ask me. In fact, I find it amazing that it’s a feature of human languages, it enables poetry, which is basically a feature of the “incest in language” (search for Kristeva about this and attached semiotics to it). She is describing how some writers differ into their use of the language being either rhetorician (strong focus on symbolism) or stylist (strong focus on disruption and re-invention) of the language.

    I hope you will solve your inner struggle with language. It’s an amazing journey. Take for example the word [screen] that we use for computers. We went from something which is supposed to divide a room, to block a fire, to conceal information and meaning… to something which is in fact communicating information, through which we can understand meaning in the case of the computer.

    Maybe the game is not that much about being clearer about what we say, but more poetic by avoiding “suitcase words” (cool, amazing, etc) which make the language banal. Adding spices and flavors by enriching the vocabulary with more nuances and slips of mind will definitely cook for a more palatable expression.

  4. don

    Let me add in the current king of all linguistic programming idiocy that comes from the technology capitalist sector – “so.” I’m disgusted whenever I hear someone start an introduction or any sentence with “so” , “so my name is” , “so this is”

    Do you know how completely plastic and robotic that sounds? We need a movement to stop this linguistic programming from the technology masters.

    Understand this, you are not some mover, shaker or some important cog in the machine because you talk about some work you did by opening with remarks that are inundated with “so”. Get back to work you slave cog in a machine.

  5. don

    I should technology overlords, instead of technology masters – as in the manager overlords.

  6. I am giggling about you being the enemy of hope. I am the enemy of “fun”!
    Have you ever tried talking in E-Prime? I could never stick to it, but it was interesting to think about. Sometimes I notice other people doing it.

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