Words I avoid

Hit and Miss #77

Some words I try not to say. They’re everyday words—seemingly innocuous, but possibly harmful or exclusive.

Some examples:

  • “Just” (not in the “justice” sense) and “only”: These minimize effort. When I use them—“Can you make this change? It’s just a small tweak, it’ll only take a few minutes.”—I diminish someone else’s agency, suggesting that I know their trade better than they do, or that I deserve to intrude on their time because I expect the intrusion to be short. (I’m often wrong.)
  • “Of course” and “obviously”: These exclude people who aren’t in the know. They suggest that my conversational companion should know what I’m talking about. This distances us when they don’t, especially if we don’t yet trust each other.

These words tend to slip in—fortunately, they can usually slip out without hurting the sentence. But some criticize this sentiment, suggesting that it’s a form of censorship imposed by the liberal lords of political correctness. (Major eye roll 🙄.)

I see it differently.

For one, I think it’s part of being polite. See, I’ve yet to find a good reason to be impolite. These words, and others like them, though not overtly rude, can surface power imbalances and distance people. I prefer to avoid that.

But I also want to challenge this popular narrative that rails against “self-censorship” (or, to avoid the overtones of “censorship”, “self-editing”). We always edit ourselves. Often unconsciously. There are some topics that rarely occur to me to think about or discuss. Choosing what to pay attention to and thus what to think about is a sort of self-editing.

Take candle scents as an example. I don’t talk about them. The thought never occurs to me to do so. It’s unconscious, but it’s self-editing nonetheless: I haven’t incorporated candles into my life, so I don’t encounter candle scents much, so I don’t ever think of them and thus never discuss them.

We unconsciously edit our potential conversations all the time, by editing what we incorporate into our lives. Making this process conscious and extending it to the words we use doesn’t seem so bad. Especially if it stops you from hurting someone else.

So I recommend you pay attention, to both the world and yourself. Edit constantly—you’ll be better for it. All the best for the week ahead.