26 Words (and Phrases) That Make You Sound Stupid
Big words, business jargon, and hyperbole intended to pump up your language only have the opposite affect. Check yourself before using any of these.
There are a couple of ways in which you can use the word "absolutely"—it can be both an affirmation and an intensifier. So, when someone asks you a question, you could simply reply, "Absolutely." On the other hand, you could use it to emphasize your point: "I am absolutely exhausted today!"
While it's fine to use as an affirmation, you may want to think twice about using the word as an intensifier. Like "literally," it can sound weak and unintelligent. Plus, it is another of the "Most Irritating Expressions in the English Language," according to the University of Oxford. Check out these 10 phrases you never knew were trademarked.
"For all intensive purposes"
If you've been using this phrase since before you can remember, the chances are you haven't a clue what it means. Many common English mistakes come from us listening and repeating what we think we hear, and "all intensive purposes" is not the correct phrase. What you mean to say here is "for all intents and purposes," as in "for all our needs."
Somewhere along the line, people misheard the phrase "shouldn't have" and started using "shouldn't of" instead. It conveys a lack of understanding of the English language that really irks some listeners.
"Could care less"
Most people use the phrase "could care less" to mean that they don't care about something at all. However, the literal meaning here is that you have the capacity to care more—not that you don't care. The correct phrase is "couldn't care less," which makes far more sense. If you could not care any less about something, it has the literal meaning that you don't care one iota. Find out more about tricky English grammar rules.
"This is almost always a signal that something biased is about to come," says Suzanne Wertheim, PhD, CEO of Worthwhile Research & Consulting. Generalizing or making assumptions about people based on their ethnicity, the way they dress, or anything else, is naive and a sign that you don't know what you're talking about.
"Girls" instead of "women"
Do you refer to a group of women as "girls"? If so, you may want to change your ways. This mistake can make you sound old-fashioned or unintelligent, as it reveals your bias against a group of people. "There are all kinds of subtle nuances that make 'girl' not the equivalent to 'guy,'" says Wertheim. "It's a word that trivializes and demeans women, their adulthood, their agency, and their accomplishments." You'll also want to avoid these 10 words that make you sound old.
"With all due respect"
This phrase can be almost comical, as it's often used in a disagreement when speakers want to signify that they have no respect for the person with whom they are speaking. When you use this line, you may think the phrase gives you permission to say whatever you want, but be aware that you're likely not-so-subtly insulting the person you say it to. Psst ... You should also think twice before starting a sentence with these 10 words and phrases.
You may think that slipping foreign phrases into your everyday language makes you sound fancy and smart. You're wrong: Not only does this sound pretentious but it also breaks one of literary great George Orwell's fundamental language rules. "Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent," he wrote in his famous essay, Politics and the English Language.
Business jargon is the devil. Many people make the mistake of using corporate phrases in natural conversation because they believe it sounds smart. The truth is that such phrases are off-putting, not to mention unclear out of context. While it may sound like a modern phrase, "actionable targets" was, well, an actionable target in Orwell's essay. Keep it simple by saying "goals" and everyone will know exactly what you're talking about. Check out memorable last words from famous people.
"At this moment in time"
More and more people have started using this phrase regularly, perhaps because they think it sounds brainier than saying "right now." In reality, it just makes the sentence longer than it needs to be; there's no need to specify that the time you're speaking about is this exact moment. Check out these ways to improve your vocabulary in just one day.