Deny Yourself a Word

This is a good exercise, at least I think so. Whenever you catch yourself using a word too much, or more particularly using it without thinking, or if you often find yourself unable to explain something without using that word, make a conscious choice to strike that word from your vocabulary for a little while. It can be for a single project, a speech or a paper, or a small stretch of time. If you are a teacher and find your students leaning on a word too much, ban it from their own vocabulary for a bit. Anyway, the point is to take the term out of the conversation for a little while.

Some might think the point here is to suppress a thought or any idea. Far from it. The point is to remind yourself (and others) what that word means in the first place. In you can remove a buzz-term from a conversation, you can force a group of people to think more carefully about the subject instead of just using the term as a filler for incomplete thoughts. If you catch yourself using a term as a crutch, throwing it away can force you to think of alternative ways to express the same thoughts. Once you’ve done this for awhile, once you’ve explored a few alternative ways to express yourself, you can safely put the word back in your vocabulary and move on.

If the exercise has had its desired effect, you can take the word or leave it at your leisure. If it helps you, great. If not, you have other ways of communicating.


As a side note, I find this particularly useful with respect to fallacies and fallacy accusations. Precisely because some fallacies are well known, at least in educated circles, they are some of the few technical terms from logic that you can get by with using in regular conversation. It’s useful short-hand. In some cases, just telling someone their argument is circular, for example, can be all you need do to convey a very specific criticism. Others may not know what you mean. More importantly, you should know what you mean. Taking the time to explain the problem without using the term for a given fallacy can help to sharpen up your critique and ensure that you are getting sloppy with the use of the term. It will also come in handy when you encounter someone who does not understand the terms in question and doesn’t get the point when you just drop the name of a fallacy.

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