The Most Overused Words in English — And What You Should Use Instead

2 min read

There are over a million words in the English language alone. Of those, an estimated 170,000 words are in current use in modern vocabulary. Even though there’s an abundance of words at our disposal, people latch onto certain words or phrases and recycle their favorites. Some may like how a word sounds, or perhaps read it and felt it was a perfect descriptor. Or maybe it’s a word that seeped into popular culture, appearing in seemingly every conversation.

Instead of repeating yourself (again), let’s look at some synonyms for the most overused words to use as substitutes.

Amazing

If everything is “amazing,” then nothing is. The actual definition of this word is “causing great surprise or wonder.” Yet “amazing” has been hijacked to describe everything from a much-needed vacation in an exotic locale to a tasty latte — not exactly equals on the wonder scale.

Maybe it helps to think about whether something truly is “amazing,” or if it just sparks joy in that moment. Consider using an alternate adjective in place of “amazing,” such as “fascinating,” “incredible,” “stunning,” “unbelievable,” “magnificent,” or “prodigious” (if you want to show off a little).

Literally

For diehard fans of How I Met Your Mother, it’s hard to hear this word being misused and abused without recalling Robin telling Ted, “I literally want to rip your head off,” and Ted yelling back, “You mean figuratively!” This word crept into the popular lexicon around the mid-aughts as a way to emphasize strong emotions or reactions. It’s easy to fall back on in conversation, but “literally” deserves a figurative rest from overuse. Try “precisely,” “actually,” “plainly,” or the old standby of “really.”

Crazy

This can seem like a catch-all adjective for everything from “extremely enthusiastic” to “extremely annoyed” to downright “foolish.” People often use it as an adverb, too, as in “I’ve been crazy busy,” or the informal “I was laughing like crazy.” But the word also has a stigma attached to it, with a connotation related to mental health. Try to challenge your casual use of this term, especially when describing any behavior that doesn’t seem to fit a standard of “normal.” Pull out a more descriptive synonym. Maybe it’s more appropriate to use “passionate,” “excited,” “bonkers,” “absurd,” or a silly option like “bananas.” With over a million words at your disposal, are plenty of better options.

Hack

The word “hack” is definitely one of the worker bees of the English language. With both verb and noun usages, it can mean rough cuts to an object, a writer who produces unimaginative work, how someone is coping, and a horse used for noncompetitive riding.

But none of those are why “hack” is overused. As PC and internet usage became ubiquitous over the last quarter-century, it took on yet another meaning: “to use a computer to gain unauthorized access to data in a system.” In recent years, the word has been applied to any quick, novelty technique that helps people save time and be more efficient — often called a “life hack.” Tech startups, the self-improvement community, and many entrepreneurs casually toss this word around as if everything their business does is some kind of “hack.” At this point, it’s just another corporate buzzword. “Tip,” “trick,” or “how-to” work just as well.

Great/Fine/OK

“That’s great.” “OK.” “Sure, that’s fine.” These middling adjectives are used when there’s nothing to say, or maybe when the speaker is trying to avoid casting an opinion. Instead of falling back on a wishy-washy statement, take a minute to decide what you really want. Unless it’s where to eat dinner — that’s tough for everyone.

Featured image credit: Alessandro Biascioli/ iStock

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