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What’s Your Signature Word?

Matthew Malady wrote an interesting column for Slate last week about “signature words.” He says a signature word is basically a word we unknowingly use often in order to make ourselves appear smarter than we are.

He explains his word of choice as “iteration.”

Not too long ago, I was forced to come to grips with something terrible about myself. I use the word iteration a lot. More than any human being should. If I had to ballpark it, I’d set the over/under on daily utterances at five.

I’m not proud of this. I’d prefer to be a guy who can refer to a version or edition or plain old instance of something, and who doesn’t go around saying iteration over and over again. Alas, that is not me. And I found out about my iteration malady in the most jarring way possible. I had just started a new job. One day, a few weeks in, I heard three different colleagues with whom I interact often use the word iteration independent of one another. When the third of these, a woman I knew prior to taking the job, said it, I stopped her mid-sentence. “Wait, did you just say iteration? Why is everyone saying that word here?” Her response hit me like an unabridged thesaurus to the dome. “You should be psyched,” she shot back. “That’s one of your words.”

That leads to Malady’s next point, which is how these “fingerprint words” have a way of influencing others. So, before you know it, you might be dropping “iteration” in a sentence every so often because your smart friend or your boss at work says it all the time.

This article is timely, as I recently realized I say “actually” a lot. It’s just a filler word, really. I don’t know that it makes me sound that much smarter.

I realized this as my word of choice when I heard my four year old use the word, in proper context no less. A four year old probably isn’t going to drop “actually” into a sentence unless he’s heard it used often. Yeah, that’s me.

So what’s your signature word? Do you think you’re even aware of it?

(Image: TerryJohnston/Flickr)

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52 Comments Post a comment
  1. I think I have a few but my favorite is apparently

    Liked by 1 person

    September 22, 2014
  2. Hm….signature word….I use the word “perhaps” a lot. I don’t think it makes me sound smarter, but I like using it over “maybe” because most people use that word.

    Like

    September 22, 2014
  3. I’m not sure. Probably the F word. Someone needs to write a code that skims through say, your blog and calculates the most used words.
    Oh wait, there is something like that: http://www.online-utility.org/text/frequent_words.jsp
    Apparently my first word (besides things like I, it, in, the, that, and, etc, and not counting September, because of the month and the tags on my most recent post), is ‘leave’. How fitting. Then the F word.

    Like

    September 22, 2014
    • Thanks for sharing that site! It’s so interesting. After all the little words mine was “book.” “Really” was up there too, which doesn’t surprise me.

      Liked by 1 person

      September 22, 2014
    • Cool site. Thanks fro sharing!

      Like

      September 23, 2014
  4. I think this calls for a team survey. What do you think my word is?

    Like

    September 22, 2014
    • I honestly have no idea, but now I’ll have to listen.

      Like

      September 23, 2014
  5. EddieB #

    Moist

    Liked by 1 person

    September 22, 2014
  6. I was going to say “resource” ( a word I actually don’t like much), but when I ran my blog through http://www.online-utility.org/text/frequent_words.jsp, it turns out that I say “READ” more than just about anything. 😉

    Like

    September 22, 2014
    • The only catch is I bet our most frequent spoken words and our most frequent written words are different.

      Like

      September 23, 2014
  7. I am smart. If I know the word’s definition and how to use it correctly in a sentence, why am I not allowed to use it?

    Liked by 1 person

    September 22, 2014
  8. I don’t know that I have a word to make me sound smarter. I have taken to using certain adverbs. They are like pesky fleas I can’t get rid of. Words like: just and always and the connecting But.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 22, 2014
    • I probably say “like” too much. That’s pretty sad on my part.

      Like

      September 23, 2014
  9. Residual.

    Like

    September 22, 2014
  10. “Actually” is pretty common I guess. My dad uses “incorrigible” a lot (maybe because of me?) and I tend to use “absolutely” quite often

    Like

    September 22, 2014
  11. Theoretically. Like you, I realized I was over-using “theoretically” because it showed up in my kids’ speech.

    Like

    September 22, 2014
    • Haha. Now that would be funny to hear!

      Like

      September 23, 2014
  12. Interesting concept! You’re right that words spread… I’m trying to work out what mine are…

    Like

    September 22, 2014
  13. “exactly” i think that is the word i use most! just realized how silly i must sound!!

    Like

    September 22, 2014
  14. Ben #

    More annoying than signature words are signature phrases, especially the ones trotted out by high level gov’t officials on tv: “At the end of the day…” comes to mind; “Let’s be clear about this…” I also feel cheated when gov’t bureaucrats in pinstriped suits try to sound tough by refering to criminals and terrorists as “bad guys”.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 22, 2014
    • “At the end of the day” is a horrible cliche often used by athletes as well. It’s just filler.

      Liked by 1 person

      September 23, 2014
    • I also get my hackles up at “make no mistake.” I believe we should make lots of mistakes, and learn from them. The person who says “make no mistake” is often too certain of his or her own position, which may be the most grievous error of them all.

      Liked by 1 person

      September 23, 2014
  15. Delightful. I use it far, far too often!

    Like

    September 22, 2014
  16. I’m not sure about myself, I’d have to put some more thought into that, but my dad’s, growing up, was ‘constantly’. He was constantly saying constantly 😉

    Like

    September 22, 2014
  17. I would love to actually figure out which words are most common in my writing. Though I know the one I try to use the most is ‘multitude’. Though during edits, it usually comes out because it just doesn’t sound right.

    Like

    September 22, 2014
  18. Susan #

    “Intricacies,” not because it makes me sound smarter, I just like to say it. I also like “defenestrate” because it tickles me that we have a real word that means “to throw someone or something out the window.” Hard to work that one into everyday conversation, though.

    Liked by 2 people

    September 22, 2014
    • How would I use that in a sentence? “I would like to defenstrate my husband. ” -or- “Don’t make me defenstrate you!”
      Haha , that was fun. thanks for the word.
      I may just go defenstrate myself. LOL

      Like

      September 22, 2014
    • I learned a new word today! “Defenestrate” is a good one.

      Like

      September 23, 2014
  19. I am definitely in the dark about my signature word. I’m sure it exists but I have no idea what it could be.

    Like

    September 22, 2014
  20. Ethereal

    Like

    September 22, 2014
  21. Great article…I think my words would have to be…
    innate & inherant

    Like

    September 22, 2014
  22. Oh no, this is terrible; I’ve been called out — I definitely do this! I say “absurd,” “preposterous,” and “obscene” instead of swearing in front of people at work. “Obscene” is the one that’s come back to me most often: “Or as Kelley would say, ‘that’s obscene.'”

    Like

    September 22, 2014
  23. Lately I’ve been using superfluous a lot. Like a superfluous amount.

    Like

    September 22, 2014
  24. Someone told me kids who use “actually” are smart, (they are thinking about what they are saying) and I don’t think four is too young.
    I just learned “absquatulate” but it isn’t very easy to use often, because then I have to explain it.

    Like

    September 22, 2014
    • I’d like to think my 4 year old is smart, but I’m biased. 🙂

      Like

      September 23, 2014
  25. I am not sure I have a signature word, but I “feel good” when I used “simultaneously” or “procrastination”. . . Does that count?

    Like

    September 22, 2014
  26. I will have to start monitoring my words! Good post! (I seem to use that often in comments.)

    Like

    September 22, 2014
  27. I know I have a signature word, I just don’t know what it is. I’ll have to ask my students tomorrow!

    Like

    September 22, 2014
  28. When I’m writing, I use “alas” and the phrase “that said” pretty reliably. I love the word “paradigm” and use it in conversation because I love to picture it in my head. There is something about that silent “g” that amuses the day lights out of me.

    Like

    September 22, 2014
    • Yes, I’m a big fan of “that said” too, with the occasional “with that.”

      Like

      September 23, 2014
  29. Well this got me thinking! I like to use the word ‘heyday’ A LOT so I would probably count it as my signature word. Very interesting post, thanks for sharing!

    Like

    September 23, 2014
  30. I don’t know if I have just one signature word. I love words for their meaning as well as the sounds they make. Right now, my favorite is ‘spackle’. This is causing my husband no end of pain as it’s a horrible job. You have to admit it’s a cool sounding word though!

    Like

    September 23, 2014
  31. I think mine is “lovely.”

    Like

    September 23, 2014
  32. This got me thinking.. I’ve been asking my friends, and apparently one of my words is: exactly. 🙂 (with the “t”) lol

    Like

    September 23, 2014
  33. I’ll have to think about that. I love words and try to use different ones–there are so many of them out there to use! But a signature word…hmmm?

    Like

    September 24, 2014
  34. Jetagain #

    People on cooking shows overuse several words. Nice seems to come up most often and it really describes nothing–a “nice” beurre blanc, “nice” eggplant, etc. The most grating cooking show adjective is “awesome”–actually, it’s just the most grating adjective in any context. However, describing eggs or knife techniques as “awesome” is a massive overstatement.

    Like

    September 24, 2014
  35. Reblogged this on Doyds.

    Like

    September 28, 2014
  36. Reblogged this on jasonicandotcom and commented:
    Thingking

    Like

    September 29, 2014
  37. I had the same experience as Mr Malady: once I noticed that my flatmate used “absolutely” many times while we were talking and it turned out that she used it because she had heard me saying it all time. It sounded weird at first, but I found out that I actually use it a lot. And “actually” is just another one, but I see in the comments that these are quite common.

    Like

    October 11, 2014

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  1. ENG 4U – Reviewing the essay with an essay | Ms. Metler
  2. Silencing the Censor Within | Whatoftwasthought

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