Name It!   

Naming the object or concept rather than using weak, generic words increases everyone's vocabulary. Do you appear flat and listless, lacking semantic value? Those with a poor vocabulary pool use words that detract from their expressive meaning and mature stature. According to Aaron M. (former fourth grade student), "I feel that people who use these words didn't receive an effective education." Joseph L. (former first grade student) believes, "As first graders, we know more about effective communication than most adults."

For example,

Weak: Um, gimmy that dog, uh, stuff, like, over there, by the thing.

Strong: Please hand me the dog's food bowl adjacent to the refrigerator.

We've noticed these weak words in virtually every published fiction and nonfiction print source. Eliminating these weak words from our vocabularies drastically improves our articulation, which transfers into our writing. It isn't easy in the beginning, and we continue to catch ourselves in "weak" moments. NAME THE OBJECT OR CONCEPT TO THAT WHICH YOU ARE REFERRRING!

Worse yet, Adult authors abundantly use these weak, generic words - thinking it's cool and savvy - when publishing literature to children in the K-12 audience. Another tirade could easily begin when discussing commercials. Some words are used heavily because it's challenging to find a substitute for words that convey the right meaning or tone or because they're so comfortably ingrained in our habits.

Students striving for an educated America,

Dr. Lavelle's Cherubs

The List

Weak Word Explanation
thing, things, stuff People who use these words give the appearance of having a limited vocabulary. They use these words rather than retrieving words that specifically name the object/s to which they are referring. Often, the receiver of these words are left saying, "What are you talking about?"
try Try is a weasel word. "Well, I'll try," some people say. It's a cop-out. They're just giving you lip service when they probably have no real intention of doing what you ask. Remember what Yoda says to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: "Do or do not - there is no try." Take Yoda's advice. Give it your all when you attempt something. And if it doesn't work, start over.
whatever This word is a trusted favorite of people who want to dismiss you, diminish what you say or get rid of you quickly. "Whatever," they will say as an all-purpose response to your earnest request. It's an insult and a verbal slap in the face. It's a way to respond to a person without actually responding. When you say whatever after another person has said his or her piece, you have essentially put up a wall between the two of you and halted any progress in communicating.

The problem with this word isn't just that it's overused. The biggest problem I have with "whatever" is that it expresses contempt. It's dismissive, the verbal equivalent of rolling your eyes. Even if contempt is deserved, saying "whatever" rarely makes the speaker look good.
maybe People will sometimes avoid making a decision and hide behind words and phrases like "maybe" and "I don't know." There's a difference between not knowing something and using words like these as excuses. Sometimes during a confrontation people will claim not to know something or offer the noncommittal response "maybe," just to avoid being put on the spot. If that seems to be the case, ask, "When do you think you will know?" or "How can you find out?" Don't let the person off the hook so easily.
should "Don't should on me!" The word "should" is probably better than any other word in the English language for creating anxiety. When we tell ourselves we "should" do something it carries great authority. "Should" makes any sentence sound like it came straight from a higher authority. Some close relatives of should are "ought to," "have to," "need to," "got to," and "must." Can you feel the pressure and stress in those words?

We might tell ourselves we "should" be less anxious about going to an interview. But we know we do feel anxious. So the message we are giving ourselves is that we shouldn't feel the way we are feeling. This in turn makes us feel that we are somehow "wrong" or "bad" which produces even more anxiety.

Even something simple like "I should clean up my room" can create anxiety. On one side is this authority figure telling us what we should do; on the other side is our emotional self saying "But I don't feel like it." We get caught in the middle of this anxiety-producing conflict between shoulds and feelings. The problem with inner conflict is that, no matter which side wins, you always end up losing.

Is there a better way to motivate yourself (and other people) than using "shouldisms?" Definitely. Shoulds don't work. Shoulds creates inner conflict and resistance. Shoulds take away enjoyment and autonomy. Next time you start to say "should" to yourself, try substituting "could," "want to," "prefer," "might," "like to" and similar words. These are very liberating words if you have been subjecting yourself to shouldisms. 

Avoid shouldisms if you want to be a happy.
so, very, really, pretty Using these words before an adjective, as in "so high", "very high", "really high", "pretty high", are overused and have no effect. They are better left out.
rather, quite, somewhat, definitely, actually, basically, tend to Using these words words show that you are uncertain about what you are saying. Why read on? If you cannot simply cut them, then find out the facts or write what you are sure about.

"Yes, but"

or simply "but..."

This is another excuse. You might give your family and peers suggestions or solutions and they come back to you with "Yes, but..." as a response. They don't want answers, help or solutions. You need to call the "Yes, but..." people out on their avoidance tactic.
"I guess..." This is usually said in a weak, soft-spoken, shoulder-shrugging manner. It's another attempt to shirk responsibility. This phrase is only muttered when people half agree with you and want to leave enough leeway to say,"Well, I didn't really know...I was only guessing."
good or bad "Good" and "bad" are situational words. What might be good in one situation may be bad in another.
like "And he was like, 'Seriously?,' and I'm like, 'Yeah,' and he's like, 'No way,' and I'm like..." For some reason, "like" is more annoying than filler words such as "uh" and "um." Those filler words convey nervousness or low self-confidence. "Like" is, like, vacuous.

Reduced Forms:

Standard English

Reduced Form




 "I don't wanna go to the party, kuz it sounds boring."

bet you


 "I betcha can't eat ten hot dogs!"

could have + vowel


 "You kuda gone with me, if you'd told me in plenty of time."

could have + consonant


 "I was so hungry, I kudav eaten a horse."

did you


 "Didja like the film?"

don't you doncha "Doncha know?"

get you


 "I'll getcha a drink."

give me


 "Gimme all your money!"

going to + verb


 "I'm gonna do my homework now."

got you


 "I gotcha that candy bar you asked for."

has to


 "He hasta know how much he means to me."

have to


 "I hafta clean the house before I go out."

how are you + verb


 "Howarya doin'?"

I don't know

I dunno

 "I dunno what to think about that."

kind of + consonant


 "I'm kinda worried about that test."

kind of + vowel kindav  "This book is kindav interesting."

kinds of + consonant


 "What kindsa clothes does that shop sell?"

kinds of + vowel kindsav  "Look at all those different kindsav oranges for sale!"

let me


 "Lemme in!"

lot of + consonant


 "I've got a lotta respect for that guy."

lot of + vowel lottav  "There were a lottav English people at the party."

lots of + consonant


 "There were lottsa different nationalities in that chat room."

lots of + vowel lottsav  "There were lottsav interesting things to see and do."

might have + consonant


 "I mighta gone with him if he'd invited me"

might have + vowel


 "She mightav agreed to come if you'd been nicer to her." 

must have + consonant


 "I musta walked past her without even seeing her."

must have + vowel


 "She mustav intended to dump him before his birthday."

ought to


 "You oughta know more about that than me."

should have + consonant


 "I shoulda studied harder for the exam".

should have + vowel


 "He really shouldav opened up about his feelings."

should not have + consonant


"Where is she?  She shouldn'a taken that long!" 

should not have + vowel


 "She shouldn'tav ignored you like that."

want to


"I wanna go home."

what are you + gerund whatcha "Whatcha doin'?"

what do you + verb


"Whaddaya wanna do today?"

would have + consonant


"I woulda done the dishes if you'd asked me."

would have + vowel


"I wouldav asked you to do it, if I'd thought you would."

what is the matter wassamatta "Wassammatta witcha? (with you)