Whether you’re talking to someone personally, whether in person, over email, in a letter, or an audience in a blog post, article, or book, there are some words that you might be using that may make members of your audience feel inferior.
On a personal level, this is a bad thing because if you don’t notice that you use these words you may be using them all the time, which can be harmful in personal relationships.
In written content meant for a larger audience, using words that make the audience feel inferior may shrink your audience.
No one wants to be talked down to and if you are making your audience feel inferior they may find someone who doesn’t.
This article will talk about words that we use that make other people feel inferior, as well as why not to use them and some potential alternatives.
Words That Make Others Feel Inferior
There are a few reasons not to use the word “obviously” toward your reading or listening audience. The first of which is that something that is obvious to you may not be obvious to your audience.
Calling new information “obvious” to an audience that didn’t know it can make them feel inferior. On the other hand, if something is obvious to you and to your audience and you still preface it with “obviously” and say it anyway, it can come off as condescending.
The second reason not to use the word “obvious” when presenting information is that if the information is so obvious you probably needn’t bother including it.
This word is often used similarly to obviously but where “obviously” is followed by facts, “clearly” is usually followed by opinion.
Using “clearly” to introduce an opinion or an observation suggests that from the information provided, there can be no other alternative, and this may make your audience feel inferior in a number of ways.
The first of which is that if your audience had not yet come to their own conclusion, they may feel that they are slower than the average reader or at least slower than the writer or speaker and that they must take the writer or speaker’s word for it.
The other way that using “clearly” to introduce opinions or theories is that, again, the use of the word “clearly” implies that there is no other alternative conclusion from the given information, and if your audience had come upon a different conclusion, using the word “clearly” implies that they are wrong.
You may be thinking that using the word “clearly” to present theories or opinions in your writing may be a good way to present your theory or opinion as the only valid option.
Indeed, some forms of communication aim to get the audience on your side and some people do use words like “clearly” to imply that their conclusion is the only one available.
In addition to being an irresponsible method of argument, however, this is only likely to alienate members of your audience with their own ideas and win over members of your audience who already agreed with you.
This one is usually for people who are writing and assume the age of their audience. Actual age signifiers (implying that your readers are of a certain age by calling them “boys and girls” &c.) are most common in content targeted at youths.
When we address youths as youths, however, we are often, deliberately or otherwise, laying out a power dynamic that places us (the writers) as the gatekeepers of information and the audience as receivers who only get the content that we feel is appropriate for them to see.
This also alienates older readers who may be interested in the content but who may feel silly if they determine that they are reading content intended solely for children.
Age is a big deal to us, so one of the ways in which we self-restrict readership is by using it to establish context for an event, usually by referring to our own life experiences.
This is done when writers, or even speakers, set something up with “you were probably at work when Princess Diana died,” or “You were probably at school when the World Trade Center was hit.” This kind of language helps to establish context for your assumed or target audience, but it completely alienates members of any other age group.
(Hopefully) we seldom deliberately use language to make others feel inferior. Words and sentence structures that make others feel less important, however, can creep into our reading and writing where it can alienate readers and lose audience members.
Hopefully, this article helped you to think a little more about how your word or phrase choices can impact some members of your audience and why you should avoid them.