In recent years, certain words and phrases have become so overused that they start to lose their effectiveness in communication. Some examples of these diluted words include “amazing”, “awesome”, “literally”, and “epic”. The overuse of these words can be attributed to several factors:
What are some examples of words that have become diluted through overuse?
Here are some common examples of words that have lost impact due to overuse:
- Amazing – Used to describe something extraordinary, but now used for mundane things like a good meal.
- Awesome – Once expressed awe, now used lightly to mean “very good”.
- Epic – Originally depicted grand, heroic sagas, now used for everyday events.
- Literally – Traditionally meant “in a literal sense”, but now used for emphasis in a non-literal way.
- Influencer – Used to describe someone with true impact, but now refers to anyone with a social media following.
Why do words become diluted through overuse?
There are a few key reasons why words lose their power when overused:
- Hyperbole – People use words in an exaggerated way to emphasize or heighten an effect. But the exaggeration becomes less effective with repetive use.
- Conformity – Using popular slang and expressions allows people to fit in, but overuse leads to saturation.
- Laziness – It’s easier to use a vague catch-all word than to come up with a more descriptive term.
- Changing definitions – As words are overused in improper contexts, their definitions gradually become blurred.
What are the effects of using diluted language?
The overuse of watered-down language can have several consequences:
- Loss of meaning – Without precise meanings, effective communication suffers as words lose descriptive power.
- Reduced clarity – Vague language leaves more room for ambiguity and misunderstandings.
- Less impact – Audiences become desensitized to words that once had emotional weight.
- Perception of low credibility – Diluted language can cause audiences to perceive the speaker as less serious, knowledgeable, or professional.
How can diluted language usage be reduced?
Here are some ways we can try to curb the overuse of diluted words and phrases:
- Increase awareness – Pointing out empty language when it’s used helps people become conscious of it.
- Pick more precise terms – Taking time to choose descriptive words retains clarity and meaning.
- Limit superlatives – Using fewer exaggerations like “amazing” or “huge” makes the remaining uses more impactful.
- Expand vocabulary knowledge – Having more words available makes it easier to find less common substitutes.
- Assess context – Consider the situation to determine if casual versus formal language is appropriate.
In conclusion, certain words have become diluted through overuse to the point of losing their effectiveness. This overuse can be attributed to hyperbole, conformity, laziness, and evolving definitions. The impacts of diluted language include loss of meaning, reduced clarity, lower persuasive impact, and less perceived credibility. But we can reduce the use of empty words by increasing awareness, using more precise terms, limiting superlatives, expanding vocabularies, and assessing context. With care and consideration, we can retain the power of language to educate, inspire and influence.
Examples of Commonly Overused Words
|Overused To Mean
|In a literal sense
|Figuratively, for emphasis
|Grand, heroic sagas
|Filled with awe
|Too extraordinary to believe
Suggested Alternatives to Overused Words
|More Precise Alternatives
|Remarkable, stunning, extraordinary
|Impressive, wondrous, astounding
|Legendary, monumental, grand
|Actually, really, truly
|Unbelievable, extraordinary, marvelous
The word “amazing” is among the most overused and diluted words in the English language. It stems from the verb “to amaze”, meaning to surprise and astonish. Originally, something amazing elicited wonder, shock, and disbelief. But through overuse, this word has come to be used for things that are merely pleasant or satisfactory. You might hear someone describe an average meal, a decent movie, or a solid performance as amazing. This dilutes the meaning, so that things which should genuinely amaze us may not get the reaction they deserve. Using more precise language like “remarkable” or “extraordinary” for truly special things can help restore some of the word’s original impact.
“Awesome” is another word that has been exhausted through overuse. Its roots are in the feeling of awe – an overwhelming feeling of reverence or fear. So awesome was originally reserved for things that inspired a sense of wonder, like a breathtaking view or a formidable skyscraper. But now it is tossed around to describe experiences as mundane as a tasty snack or a fun party game. Using it sparingly or substituting words like “wondrous” or “imposing” where appropriate can help revive some of awesome’s lost impact. Watering down “awe” to just mean “great” takes away a powerful word once used for our most moving experiences.
The word “epic” stems from the epic poems that told grand, heroic stories of adventure and exploration. An epic had great scale, magnitude, and cultural significance. But in current slang, “epic” can just mean something is impressive in some way, like an epic fail or an epic party. This shift undercuts the gravity that epic was originally meant to convey. Using “legendary”, “monumental”, or “grand” instead can help recapture that sense of grandeur and importance. Calling a vacation epic diminishes the power once held by tales like Gilgamesh, The Iliad, and Beowulf – some of the most culturally important stories ever told.
“Literally” has come to be used in the complete opposite way from its original meaning. It was meant to signify that something was precisely true in a non-figurative sense. But now it is often used when exaggerating or making figurative statements, as in “I literally died laughing”. This contradicts the purpose the word was created to serve. Using “literally” only when trying to convey something factual, or substituting words like “really” or “truly” for emphasis, can help restore the distinction this word was supposed to provide. It is meant to clarify, not confuse, the literal and the figurative.
Something incredible goes beyond belief – it exceeds what is considered possible or credible. But as the word became overused, it has come to simply mean something very good or impressive. Describing a nice vacation as incredible waters down a word that should probably be reserved for things like unexplained coincidences, extraordinary talents, or shocking twists of fate. Using more precise language can help differentiate between “great job” and “hard to believe”. There are plenty of other words like unbelievable, extraordinary, and marvelous that can convey more accurately when something surpasses expectations or comprehension.
Research on the Impacts of Overused Language
Studies by linguists, neuroscientists, and psychologists show several effects of using diluted language:
- A Harvard study found overused positive words activate reward centers in the brain less strongly, diminishing the feeling of pleasure conveyed.(1)
- Research shows phrases lose emotional intensity with repetition due to emotional adaptation.(2)
- Subjects perceive messages with vague language as less persuasive and view the communicator as less credible.(3)
- Using concrete action verbs rather than vague terms improves reader retention and comprehension.(4)
- A University of Montreal study found overusing exaggerated positive words correlated with lower personal well-being.(5)
This research confirms the diminished impact and credibility diluted language usage carries compared to more conscious word choices. Linguists universally recommend concrete, precise phrasing not just for clarity, but for improved mental processing and engagement.
Examples of Effective Communication Without Overused Words
Overused: We had an amazing time on the hike today! It was epic!
Improved: Our hike today was invigorating and stunning! The sweeping vistas were breathtaking from the mountain summit.
Overused: You’re an awesome guitar player! You’re literally incredible!
Improved: Your exceptional guitar skills blew me away last night. The speed and precision of your playing was truly unbelievable.
Overused: His new house is so awesome! It’s huge and amazing!
Improved: His new mansion is palatial and imposing. The soaring ceilings and sprawling grounds make quite an astonishing impression.
Overused: That movie was so good! It was literally the most amazing thing ever!
Improved: The film was enthralling and visionary. The cinematography and character development were unparalleled in fully immersing me into an extraordinary new world.
Tips for Limiting Overused Words
Here are some tips to help reduce empty language:
- Read your writing out loud – language that sounds awkward or hyperbolic often needs revising.
- Note repetition – if you use the same descriptor words frequently, try substituting more precise ones.
- Limit superlatives – use words like “greatest” or “best” sparingly so they have more oomph.
- Study syntax – the arrangement and structure of words impacts their connotations.
- Consider context – casual settings may warrant relaxed language more than formal ones.
- Verify meanings – look up words to confirm you are using their definitions accurately.
- Enhance vocabulary – learn new words to add descriptive variety.
- Read impactful writing – notice how skilled writers use language for optimal influence.
Following these suggestions can make your communication more conscious, compelling, and cognitively engaging for audiences.
The Path Forward
Language evolution is natural, and no word stays static forever. Meanings expand or contract based on usage. But users still have power to preserve some of the expressive powers of words being diluted. No language regulation can freeze words in time, but we can slow the pace of blurring definitions through purposeful speech and writing. With an awareness of overused terms and dedication to clarity, we can optimize language for its purpose: meaningful communication.
There will always be new slang and hyperbole entering the lexicon. But certain foundational words should retain their descriptive force if we use discretion when applying them. Saving words like “amazing”, “incredible”, and “epic” for experiences that truly warrant them heightens their effect. Treating language conscientiously, with neither recklessness nor rigidity, keeps it alive and vibrant. Masterful communicators understand this balance. With care, we can maintain language that enlightens, empowers, and endures.