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An "Awesome" Exercise that Will Improve your Word Choice
Regular readers of this blog know that I generally write posts about the craft of writing. This post will be a little bit different. Yes, it’s about how to improve your writing, but today I’d like to focus on a single, simple change you can make that will increase your language creativity and force you to think about the specificity and clarity of words several times a day.
I would like to challenge you to remove the words “awesome,” and “amazing” from your vocabulary, and replace them with words that offer more precision (depending on the use.) Try this exercise for a month, a week – even just a day. If you are like me, what you learn will surprise you.
A few months ago I found a list of words that can be substituted for “awesome” on the web (I’m no longer certain where I saw this list, but similar lists can be found with simple web searches. You can also search for words that can be used in place of “amazing” and “cool.”)
Once I found this list (it was at least 25 words long) I started brainstorming words of my own. At this point, I was just playing around, since I really didn’t realize how frequently I went to the word “awesome” as a shortcut word.
Of course, the next time I turned to Twitter, email, texting, or tried to draft a comment on a blog post, I was horrified to discover how these two words—awesome and amazing—had become my go-to words to describe everything from good news about a friend’s new job to a video of a cat. Surely these two things weren’t so similar that they merited the same word to describe them!
So I gave myself a challenge—I wouldn’t use the words “awesome” or “amazing” (in writing—I’m sure I still let them slip in conversation from time to time,) as long as I could find a more specific, fresh, appropriate word.
I have been fairly successful, and I’ve learned a few things about myself, about the people I communicate with, and about the power of words along the way.
I learned that it can take a few long seconds to find the best word when you take “awesome” out of your vocabulary. It can take even longer if you force yourself to find a word that actually describes your thoughts precisely (that is, not just turning to “fantastic” or “great,” though I did fall back on those from time to time.) However, over time, I learned to say something was “inspiring” or “thought-provoking” or “game-changing” or even “I’m so proud of you” instead of “that’s awesome.” I hope this has made my interpersonal communication more meaningful.
I learned that people expect shortcut words. The first time I told a coworker that her presentation was “aces” instead of “awesome” it got a big reaction. It also started a discussion about word use, (and probably confirmed some suspicions that I am the weird word girl in the office.)
I’ve learned that words are ours to use, and we neglect the strength of our communication and our own breadth of vocabulary when we fall back on the same words again and again. After a few weeks of taking on this challenge, I noticed my personal vocabulary gaining a lot more strength. I saw much bigger rewards than you would expect from such a simple exercise.
I do want to be clear that I’m not advocating that we all drop the words “awesome,” “cool,” or “amazing” from our vocabularies forever. I firmly believe that shortcuts in communication have their place and can be very appropriate. However, if you find that you are over-generalizing in your own word use, you may want to drop your “pet words” for a while and see what happens.
Have you ever caught yourself falling back on the same few words as shortcuts in your own communication? Are they words other than “awesome” or “amazing?” Please share your thoughts in the comments!