What Your Choice Of Words Says About You

29 April, 2015

Language Seriously

The words people use tell us a lot about them. They give us clues to what they might really mean while trying to hide behind phrases they think are more socially acceptable.

But here’s the thing, we can all read the code. We know when they’re trying to pull the wool over our eyes or slip out of something sticky.

Here’s a list of things people say and what they might mean:

They say: “I’m definitely going to try that”

They mean: “I’m going to make a half-hearted attempt. If it suits me.”

They say: “I don’t have the time” or “I’m really busy”

They mean: “It’s not that important to me.”

They say: “I don’t have the money”

They mean: “I have the money but it’s not worth the price.”

They say: “I’ll do it when…”

They mean: “I’m never going to do it.”

They say: “I should…”

They mean: “I could, but I won’t.”

They say: “It’s cute”

They mean: “The house is friggin’ small.”

They say: “If only…”

They mean: “I’ll wait for the world to give me perfect conditions before I take action.”

They say: “I’m not good at that”

They mean: “I’m stuck in my ways and nothing’s going to shift me.”

They say: “You’re so lucky”

They mean: “I’m jealous as anything”

They say: “That’s not my scene”

They mean: “I’m not young enough/thin enough/rich enough…”

They say: “I was born this way”

They mean: “I’m too lazy to get off my butt and do something about it.”

They say: “Let’s hope for the best” or “let’s see how it goes”

They mean: “I’m not going to make an effort or take responsibility for it.”

They say: “It’s cosy”

They mean: “It’s the cheapest restaurant I could find”

They say: “I’m not ready yet”

They mean: “Fear is holding me back and I’ll never be ready.”

They say: “I can’t”

They mean: “I won’t.”


Recognise any?


But there’s more.


In the 1990s a research study was done by James Pennebaker who found that our use of function words – pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions and so on – offer deep insights into our sense of self.

Here’s an example. You ask a friend if she’s going to your birthday party. She says: “I don’t think I’m going to make it.”

This response is very revealing. For starters, the use of the double pronoun “I” tells us where she focuses her attention: on herself. She could have said “I’m not going to make it” or even a simple “No.” Counter intuitively, phrasing it like this would have meant that she’s interested in you more than herself.

But probably the most eye-raising of all the speak-and-tell is this: did you know that people’s choice of swear word says something about them?

They say: “*ss”

They are: Laid back

They say: “sh*t”

They are: practical

They say: “f*ck”

They are: logical

Look, this last one could be a load of crap, but the truth is that our speech tells others more about us than we think.

So, let’s think before we speak; say what we mean; do what we say. It might be difficult in the moment, but if we do, the spaghetti knots of life will certainly loosen up.

What do your linguistic x-ray glasses tell you? What words and phrases have you heard that you absolutely know not to be true? Please share them in the comments.

Robyn Young - Personal Leadership Branding for Executives

About the Author

Robyn Young

As a personal leadership branding strategist, Robyn Young helps individuals identify and articulate their unique strengths, values and goals, empowering them to build an authentic personal brand that resonates with their stakeholders.

Robyn has a keen eye for aligning personal attributes with professional aspirations, helping her clients project a powerful and compelling image in their chosen field.