4-ish Letter Words (that mean virtually nothing)
Good, nice, mean, cool, fine, like, sure, okay, alright, awesome, whatever, yeah, super, ace, great, tight, interesting
Someone at work has been bothering you all week and when he finally comes and asks you what’s wrong you say “You’re not being very nice. You’ve been mean to me all week. It’s your fault I was here until midnight. But you know what, it’s done, it’s fine, don’t worry about it.” (throws up hands and walks away)
When a stranger at the post office asks how you’re doing, you say “fine” even though you’re late for a presentation at work because your alarm didn’t go off and you’ve lost the disk with the presentation on it.
When your aunt Hilda gives you a vomit-green-colored sweater with florescent pink worms embroidered on the front you say “gee, thank you, it’s so…nice. I like it.”
Nice, good, bad, and mean are very general indicators of mood. If someone tells you they are having a ‘good’ day, do you get a real idea for how they’re feeling, other than nothing has gone particularly wrong? The words describe an emotion, but not a strong or detailed one.
The four(ish) letter words listed at the top are widely used in daily conversation. The words themselves aren’t the problem; they simply don’t mean much of anything most of the time they’re used. For the sake of real, meaningful conversations, the words have very little substance. Often, they’re what you say if you can’t think of anything, or are not in touch with the experience you are really having.
There are exceptions to this. Depending on the situation, a word can be descriptive or mean more. For example, the better people know one another (such as with close, long-term relationships), the more shorthand words are used and fully understood. New situations, or uncovered ground, combined with four-ish letter words are slippery territory. Old territory is valuable to cover again regularly as well; for example, love may be understood by lovers, yet more descriptive feelings will likely get a deeper response . . . so you know how you felt is felt by the other – love truly communicated.
I Feel Like…
I feel like you…
I feel like people are ganging up on me.
I feel as if I can’t do it.
Expressing a thought using the word feel softens one’s words, inviting others to take them less seriously, as after all, it is ‘just’ a feeling. Are you in touch with the feelings behind your thoughts? Feel is also used when one is expressing an opinion, yet not wanting to take full ownership for that opinion. Foe/Faux Feelings (from our section on Forgiveness) and ‘Should‘ are very relevant here, too. Along with softening ones words, and not accurately portraying thoughts vs. feelings, we often imply how others ‘should’ treat us. “I feel like you aren’t listening,” is actually “You should listen to me,” delivered softly. Note: what’s really underneath is “I feel withdrawn and have unmet needs for resolution. I wonder if you’re listening.” See Compassionate Communication (NVC).
When does it work well? Expressing a feeling as a simile works: “I feel like a tornado.” The phrase also works when one is indicating one’s SENSE on a matter (substitute “sense” for “like” for a while to train yourself – “My sense is that . . .”). If substituting “think” for “feel” makes sense, you’re likely expressing a thought instead of a feeling.
I Guess, You Know, Like, Kind Of, Sure
I guess, Sure: This limits the conviction/power of one’s words. Also used to indicate an action with resignation, “Okay, I guess I’ll do it.” (Dirty Communication #2)
When does it work well? When actually intending to venture a guess.
You Know, Like, Kind Of, Stuff: These mark an immaturity in our speech that can be extrapolated to more than just speech. These “fillers” close spaces in statements that may otherwise be a pause or an inability in the moment for us to articulate what we are saying. What they actually fill is spaces where doubt, inaccuracy, and/or non-descriptiveness rear their heads.
When does it work well? When indicating a preference, someone/thing you like, it is appropriate. As a “four-ish” letter word, like offers questionable descriptiveness and depth. Like as an “unnecessary” piece of speech (and its cousins), can build camaraderie/sameness in certain crowds. Initially, it can be helpful, but not necessary, for building rapport. ‘Stuff’ can be used as an earnest replacement when not knowing what to call things.
When was the last time you heard that word? Did it, as it so often does, come with a dose of indifference and apathy? Or maybe it came out of the oven sprinkled with resentment.
Whatever as a dismissive statement, or when covering up for an investment in a particular unspecified desire, is weak and potentially dirty communication. Similarly, ‘whatever’, when it stands in for a set of unspecified possibilities, erodes our ability to make an informed choice. Here, consider enunciating specifically the options included in the statement ‘we can do whatever’ i.e., “We can go golfing, swimming or hiking. Whatever you wish!”
When does it work well? Whatever works when you truly share equal investment in any of the presented options, or as an objective operator on a verb. A helpful trick is in a situation where it could be substituted for ‘whichever’ and a referent i.e., “I’m for whichever of those options we decide upon. My investment is in doing something together.”
Really / Very
Really and Very, when attached to an adjective, usually rob us of a more creative word choice.
We love the infographic below, from grammarcheck.net, as it communicates the point very clearly.
There is also a website that lets you type in adjectives and find a ‘very’ version: Lose The Very!