Crutch words — we're all guilty of using them. Like, seriously, how often do you start a sentence with useless filler words without even thinking about it? Since the invention of instant messaging (and maybe even before then) we’ve adapted crutch words into our writing, too. But what are crutch words and why are they so bad?
In short, they’re clutter — words or phrases we use to give ourselves a second to think while we’re speaking. Crutch words are like filler episodes in your favorite TV show. They interrupt the continuity of the show, and sometimes you forget where the show was going by the time the story picks up again. By cutting out crutch words you can streamline your point of view and stay focused on the message.
Let’s look at some common crutch words to identify and strike from your speech.
Like should describe similarities between two or more things, but somewhere along the line, it became one of the most common crutch words. Like is peppered throughout our sentences, and most of us aren’t even aware how often we use it. It’s so ubiquitous that it’s become a replacement for “said.” Remove this word from your speech and you'll find your sentences flowing much smoother and with more purpose.
At one point, seriously implied real levity. But these days, similar to literally, the word seriously has become more of an exaggeration. And that may be fine in some scenarios, when you want to be sarcastic or reinforce importance. But if you're just using seriously to fill time without truly saying anything of import, you might want to reconsider.
“Can you just…” Maybe this is how you start some of your requests. Just diminishes the meaning of the request or statement. If you take away “just,” you might notice you have a more powerful statement. It’s more definitive, and it sounds like you value what you’re saying. Just shows that what you have to say isn’t a big deal, and this can work against you.
Actually has suffered a similar fate to seriously. It used to pack a punch, asserting something as the truth, but these days, actually has become sentence seasoning. If you say, “I actually like that show,” you’re not countering a previously false statement. No one can refute it as incorrect, even if they disagree with you. So why is it in your sentence?
Literally may be the most misused crutch word. In the literal definition, if you take something literally, you’re taking it to mean exactly what the person said. If someone is flying down the street, they’re probably not actually flying. If they were literally flying, they’d have wings and soar above you. This crutch word has become so commonplace that most current usage of literally is assumed to mean figuratively.
Basically is another crutch word used in a way opposite its true meaning. It’s supposed to denote simplicity, something that’s obvious to everyone involved. As a crutch, it’s used more often in complicated explanations where things usually aren’t as obvious as the word implies.
It’s said that people who start a sentence with honestly are about to say something dishonest. While this may not always be the case, it’s certainly not used to emphasize honesty. More often this crutch word is used to show surprise or superiority.
Well is known as a hedge word. It’s used for your benefit, not that of the person you’re talking to, and it’s meant to soften whatever comes after it. On the other hand, “well” also decreases any value your statement might have had without the hedge. So just be thoughtful when you use this one in your speech.