Books Magazine

What’s Your Signature Word?

By Robert Bruce @robertbruce76

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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