Crutch words. We’ve all got them.

You do. I do. Your neighbor does. It doesn’t matter whether you write for a living, or whether you rarely string sentences together outside of tersely-worded interoffice memos. Your brain repeatedly returns to words it finds comforting, much like you probably drink the same beverage every morning. You just do.

The key doesn’t always lie in ridding yourself of those words (although in some cases, it’s probably a good idea). Instead, the key lies in recognizing your particular set of crutches. Then you can decide how best to address them. For example, you’re probably more likely to notice when someone else giving a speech says “like” or “um” a lot. You may even make snarky comments about that person’s speaking ability — particularly if he or she is supposedly a professional speaker.

If you’re the one speaking, though, you probably won’t even notice that you have this problem right away. It may eventually become clear to you. More likely, a friend or colleague will be the one to point it out. After the initial sting of criticism, hopefully you’ll gather your resolve, learn from what you’ve done in the past, and improve your performance.

Crutch words can be problematic, both in speaking and in writing. Obviously, constructive criticism is what we’d all prefer, rather than the rampant douchebaggery present in telling us “U R WRONG ON TEH INTERNETZZZZ!!!!” with no useful feedback. It’s easy to feel stung by initial recognition that you have a problem. But once you recognize it, you can do something about it.

My biggest problem, to this point, wasn’t any of the words listed in the graphic above. Instead, it was “got.” I could take the easy road and blame years of watching Top Gear, but I won’t. There are also worse crutch words to have*, but again, it’s important to recognize them. Turns out, my speech was — and still is, sometimes — littered with “it’s got” and “that’s got” and “they’ve got”. That construction just tumbles out of my head with alarming frequency — alarming because I hadn’t ever realized it.

(For the record, I also say “Really?” a lot. At least that’s one verbal tic of which I’m actively conscious!)

It may, in some cases, be a matter of preference. In others, it may be a matter of “you use this word way too often, smartypants.” In still others, it may be a case of “I do not think it means what you think it means!”

Taking care with how we use language is an important skill for living. Period. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing or speaking. If you can’t communicate clearly, you lose. Recognizing your personal patterns is a step toward achieving clarity in communication.

If you write in a word processor, try using the Find feature to check completed pieces of writing. Then you can identify and replace or rephrase any and all instances of that word as necessary. You’ll be surprised at first — and then you’ll rewire the way your brain processes that word, because you’ll become more aware of it each time you use it. Eventually, you may progress to a point where you don’t need to do this check — your brain will automatically disallow you from using your crutches without careful thought.

Crutch words. We all have them. What are yours?

* = but not if they’re slowly driving your editor crazy! 😉