Originally Published at www.thugstart.com | If You Begin, You Win.

Words That Even Make Smart People Sound Stupid!

Abhishek Shah
5 min readAug 15, 2016

Okay, I know you are not stupid and I don’t even mean to offend anyone by saying so because my intention is not to mock you but to help you stop using some crap words that make you sound dumb. If you have ever paid attention to how and what you speak, then you must have realised by now the words and phrases that you say inadvertently, that in reality don’t make much sense when you associate them with the context of your speech.

I have come across many people from friends to colleagues and even some of my teachers who are really great people and even very smart in their fields but when it comes to speaking, they somehow just lose the game there. We all have been guilty at some point in our lives when we might have used some words or phrases that are no less annoying. These are mainly known as crutch words, which are expressions we use quite generously throughout our language to gives us time to think, to emphasise our meaning, a verbal pause, or perhaps just because these are stuck in our brains that easily slide down our tongues.

These speaking hitches, of course, are not a matter of life and death because they are also a part of what makes each one of us the person we are. But when they add up it just makes you harder to understand and sometimes can even make you sound stupid, since people like to decide what kind of a person you are depending on what you say.

Although the amounts of speaking errors anyone can make are endless, you can always make efforts to consciously detect and eliminate these errors. So without wasting any further time in unnecessary chatter, I will come straight to the point by telling you some of the words or phrases that you can get rid of when you speak.

“Um” and “Ah”

So, you are aware that “um” is a filler word and so is “ah”, “er”, “uh” or any other noise that you might make while your brain focuses on the actual word you want to say, which in reality does not add any value to the conversation and at worst, it might make you look as if you are not sure what you are talking about. Yet, you say it and not only does it make you seem stupider than you are, it can also be very painful to listen and understand what you are trying to communicate. You might be a very nice person, but sadly you are not good at giving speeches if you use too much of these filler words.

Most simple way to get rid of these “ums” and “ahs” is to know your material better because then it is less likely you will need to use them. If you cannot plan ahead then make sure your words and sentences are simple and short, thus ensuring you don’t get stuck so as to resort to using the “um” instead of the actual word.

“You Know” and “Like”

I had a friend who could never get through a sentence without saying “you know”, which led me to take up the challenge to count the number of times she said “you know” in her 10-minute speech. The count was annoyingly forty-seven. Using these words just makes the listener lose interest in what you are saying because the “like” and “you know” is very distracting. Make an effort to stop using the word “like” unless you actually want to describe something of the same form, appearance or kind. If you want people to take you seriously, then drop these words.


I am sure you must have seen several memes around this word, and there is a reason for it. You cannot be literally dying of laughter because you are dyingfiguratively (unless you were really dying and are dead by now). Most people use the word literally to add emphasis in their sentences by placing the word before a figurative word or a phrase which cannot be taken literally. Well, using the word isn’t wrong but if it creeps into your speech more often than you know, especially when you don’t mean to describe an action in its strict sense, then you would sure sound funny. And don’t get surprised if you get picked on by grammar purists because that’s what they love to do.


It is probably a worse word than literally because it sounds as if you are criticising, making an indirect shot. There are people who start almost every sentence with anactually. And even if you are using it nicely, you probably might be wasting unnecessary space. You can simply say “I would rather take the bus” instead of adding an unnecessary word by saying “Actually, I would rather take the bus”. You can trade the word into using truly or really when you are in a situation where you need to say actually. At least then you might not sound as if you are trying to correct someone.

Big Words

We know you scored great in your GRE and all the credit goes to your stronghold over vocabulary but if you decide to use some of the big words in normal speaking to demonstrate the breadth of your vocabulary, then it may not go so well for you. I understand the urge to inflict your big vocabulary on everyone, but it may be wise to limit it to occasions when it is needed. There have been studies to show that using fancy words when simple ones can do a great job is a definite way to look dumb. If you want to showcase mastery over the language then use simple words with clarity rather than picking out the words from the thesaurus.

There are many other words such as ‘basically’, ‘obviously’ and even probably ‘honestly’ that have so easily crept into the way we speak that we cannot differentiate between the right and wrong usage of it. The list can simply go on and on, but the important part here is to be familiar with what words or phrases are your crutch words and work to eliminate them from your speeches. A simple way to do it is by recording your speech and then listening to the number of times you used the crutch word. Alternatively, you can take help from your friends or family members who can help you become a better speaker. It will take time and a lot of effort on your part but you will definitely get through to the other side because even I did. Yes, I have been guilty of using crutch words but after I realised, I have taken efforts to not allow those words to sneak in when I talk. As you progress you will realise that people take more interest when you speak and have fewer doubts as well. So don’t wait and start working on your crutch words because no one likes to sound stupid.

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Abhishek Shah

Nomad | Early Stage Investor | Wannabe Anthropologist | Technology Evangelist | Curious, Inquisitive & Experimental Entrepreneur