The 10 Most Common Words You Should Stop Using Now


Is this what your thinking looks like?
[Thanks for the Japanese vending machine, Woesinger!]

Words are thoughts.

The better we choose our words, the more we hone our thinking machine, and just like software, it’s a case of GIGO: Garbage In, Garbage Out. Thinking hard is pointless if we don’t use the right tools.

Think and speak with precision. Less is often more. Here are 10 common words I have observed to cause stress, depression, and conflict due to their vagueness. All of them are overused to the point of being meaningless. The solution? Stop using them and find more descriptive alternatives. I recommend focusing on removing one or two each week, even if just as an exercise.

In no particular order…

1. Happiness
2. Success
3. Should
4. Responsible
5. Realistic
6. Reasonable
7. Spiritual
8. Good/Right
9. Bad/Wrong
10. Moral

Do you love some of these? Most of us do. But… try and define them without using an equally vague synonym or a tautology.

But why do we love them?

Because they remove the heavy lifting of real thinking. These socially-accepted throwaway terms are crutches for unclear thinking, just like “thing”, “stuff”, or “interesting”–enemies of good writers worldwide. But the above 10 are much more dangerous, as they encourage us to compare, judge, or fool ourselves and others.

Trim the fat and cultivate your thinking with more creative and expressive word choice. As Ludwig Wittgenstein once said, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”

Posted on: July 27, 2007.

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174 comments on “The 10 Most Common Words You Should Stop Using Now

  1. What one word do I wish people would stop using right now?

    Well, I can only think of, like, one word that, like, causes me to, like, explode when, like, everyone repeats it like ten times in, like, a single sentence. It’s like they can’t bother like even thinking of like, the right word.

    BTW,”like” is, like, closely followed by “‘ya know” and “whatever”.


  2. I definitely knew that some of these words are to be removed from my vocabulary. My personal coach is having me work on on removing them. I didn’t even think about happiness and success though. They are rather vague, and I think if you really do want to keep them, you should sit down and completely define what it means to you.


  3. I like this. I’d like to propose a word to use in place of most of these: integrity (which brings it’s own baggage, but is thought provoking)

    For me it’s difficult to use “integrity” in the way I communicate, but I use the above words all the time ;-(

    Thanks for the brain exercise.


  4. Tim,

    Along these lines, a great book to read is “Words that Work” from Frank Luntz. It’s quite political but the message is the same.



  5. I disagree about “moral.” At many times morals/morality can and should be used if you can define what they mean to you because once they are defined, they are shorthand for the long explanation.


  6. The 10 Most Common Words You “Must” Stop Using Now

    “Should” is the easiest one to pick on. “Must” is a much better word. Or “should” I say “must” is right? Use “must” and you will be more succesful, and happinness will follow. It is almost spiritual, actually! Responsible people use “must” because it’s realistic.

    Sorry for the weak humour above. Tim, you “must” add the word “truly” to your list. Not only is it cliche, it also has the effect of causing most of us to question one’s integrity when it is used!


  7. I’ve read your book, I like it. Walking down the path as well.

    So your argument is that those world simplify things? Isn’t that the whole premise of life. The one thing that is the absolute truth is that you are dead or alive. (I’m not going to bring religion into this).

    1. Happiness – This is what you want.
    2. Success – This is what you want.
    3. Should – I agree – shoulds are Regrets. I’m slowly removing all my regrets.
    4. Responsible – Sure if you don’t give a shit about anything, you can have no responsibility – but we are thinking and emotional people. You are responsible for yourself and what you believe in.
    5. Realistic – Realistic is accepting what you can change and what you can’t change.
    6. Reasonable – same as above.
    7. Spiritual – This is good, if you don’t fight, live, for something, you are just a machine. I know in the end, it doesn’t matter, but when you live – you live for something, even if it’s just that moment.
    8. Good/Right – I don’t like absolutes besides death/life. Everyone defines what’s good or right for themselves.
    9. Bad/Wrong – Same as above.
    10. Moral – W/O Morals or Principles – you are just straight up biological dna fighting for replication. Everyone should define what they want and live for. Otherwise your just genetic programming.

    I have a personal question for you though? Are you a silver spooner? I know you went to princeton and I’ve read your book and I agree w/ a lot your thoughts. How did you pay for school? Loans? Grants? Parents? Did you ever grow up feeling poor? Did you ever grow up feeling like you had nothing? Did you ever grow up like you had to be an adult and sacrifice for your family? I know you did not do everything from nothing – because no one does.

    In the end you have to give up everything to have everything.


    Hi Thomas!

    Thanks for the thought-provoking response and adding to the dialogue. I have to run to lunch (roasted pork sandwich with swiss cheese, for those interested in my “free” day diet) but to answer your question: I am not a “silver spooner” at all. My parents never made more than 50K per year combined, and a lot of people, several grants/scholarships, and personal work helped pay for school.

    I realize some of these words can have religious connotations, and my suggestion to remove them will therefore seem anti-religious. It isn’t. It’s a recommendation to examine your thinking and — if you choose to use words that are defined by a particular religion — realize that you’re using a word defined in dozens of different ways depending on the creed. Rather than label something “immoral”, for example, talk about the sin you’re referring to and explain yourself. Such words can be very dangerous when used without clear intent.

    Thanks again for your ideas!

    Pura vida,



  8. Although I see your point Tim, happiness will be a hard one for me to remove from my vocabulary. Good/Right, Bad/Wrong are also going to be tough. My world must be limited. I really enjoy your blog, however removing these words might not be very realistic. ;)


  9. Interesting list, Tim. I’m guessing this is compiled from the viewpoint of personal development (or commercial development even more so), and therefore might severely limit a person categorically avoiding using such words. I see the point and mostly agree on ‘should’, ‘reasonable’ and ‘happiness’ due to their vagueness. The latter two are so hard to codify that they can get you trouble unless you acknowledge the fuzziness. And therefore, instead of avoiding these words – wouldn’t it be better to acknowledge their limitations and use them more cautiously, especially when it comes to goal-setting and personal development?

    That more or less applies to the first seven words on your list, but recommending not using the last three? Sure, absolute moral judgments in the relative world we live in are the source of all trouble and turmoil, but this doesn’t mean they must be avoided. Instead, we must (not ‘should’, mind you) strive to using these words better – not perfectly, perfection being an unattainable absolute, but just better. World isn’t as black and white as to impose the complete avoidance of moral comparisons. Even in areas where we can apply more precision than in ethics – such as personal goal setting or building your business – these are useful terms, as long as you manage your use of them. After all, if you are not sure when you’ve arrived, you just need to keep going, ‘better’ being a much better alternative than ‘good enough': even if you’re not sure of what moral is and what is right, you should aim in the direction you think most likely to be the best.



  10. Tim, I really like this list, probably because four of the items are ones I also wish people would strike from their vocabulary when they’re in conflict. As a business mediator, I see a great deal of “should,” “right/wrong,” “responsible,” and “good/bad” judgment being flung around. It’s not only black-hole language (meaning it just sucks people in), but it’s a trap because it sidetracks the conversation from what can be accomplished. Here here!


  11. You could throw in ‘stress’ itself as well – it sounds like something that just happens to you, a fact of life, which stops you looking at the source of the problem and what do to about it.


  12. I always thought ‘miscommunication’ is the most over-used word in the office to hide incompetencies. Today, I learn something new. It’s true that thse words give you a ‘feel good’ feeling but don;t really mean much.


  13. Hi Tim,

    Interesting subject, and I could see your point of view till I hit number 7. Numbers 7 through 10 are concepts that are generally understood through religion (take your pick.) I suppose that if a person has not considered the the concepts behind the words, then the words themselves would lose all impact and meaning. However, to those of us who practice a religion, those words not only have meaning but are, to many religions, kind of fundamental.

    I also noticed that the final 4 words are all well tied into the religious concept of conscience – and to take the thought a step further, if you do have a conscience that is bothering you, of course you will feel ‘stress, depression, and conflict.’ The solution to resolving that conflict is not to stop using a particular word but to face the issue that is causing you stress head on.

    As I see it, the result of removing the concept of right or wrong from how we live our lives would eliminate the need for the words morality and spirituality and I’m not so sure I want to live in a world where everyone does what seems right in his/her own eyes.

    Maybe I’m way out in left field on this one, and I’m sure your readers will let me know if I am…



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  15. But, Tim, while they do encourage vagueness, they are dependent on the sentence they’re part of to make them seem so. Although, must admit 3, 5, and 7 I could live without. “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual”…as much as I hate that word, the sentence makes me hate it even more. Just my dos centavos.