These are the words we're ALL overusing – and some eloquent alternatives
The English language is always evolving – getting faster, more succinct, breeding new terms and recontextualizing almost everything we say. But there are quite a few words that we all use (and use and use) that we've completely obscured the meanings of, routinely muttering them without a second thought. Even worse, there are so many sensational synonyms to these words that rarely make it to anyone's lips. It's time to reassess our vocabularies.
"Amazing" is defined as "causing great surprise or sudden wonder" and the root, "amaze", means "to astonish greatly, bewilder or perplex". We've transformed the term to generally indicate something positive – if I told you "your shoes are amazing", you'd take that as a compliment – and even that we've run into the ground. People now use "amazing" to describe even the most averagely adequate things; from Cobb salads to a balmy afternoon. Is it time we go back to using "amazing" only to describe magicians?
Alternatives: Decent, Swell, Genial
The definition of "basically" boils down to being essential, or the core construct of something. But more and more, it's being used as simply a placeholder, not having any real verbal value. Next time you hear someone (or yourself) say "So basically…", pause for a moment and ask yourself if the rest of the sentence is actually the bare root of the topic at hand. More often than not, it's not and "basically" is...basically a superfluous sentence starter.
Alternatives: Well …nothing? Just start your sentence with the sentence.
Intensifiers: Very, Really
Here, we have the right intention; we want to ensure everyone understands that the degree of something is greater than normal. You're hungrier than usual, for example, so you say that you're "really hungry". This use is understood and not technically improper, but it's certainly a tad pedestrian. If that sounds harsh, consider that there are so many intensifying words out there that can add colour, specificity and effectiveness to your sentence. Think about the hows and whys of what you're intensifying and a much more meaningful word will come to mind.
Alternatives: Acutely, Awfully, Inordinately, Strikingly
Maybe the problem isn't "literally" itself – meaning an unexaggerated, word-for-word situation – it's moreso what we follow it with. There's two common misuses here. Firstly, following "literally" with something patently figurative ("He was literally 1,000 feet tall."), without a trace of irony. The second fault happens when we follow "literally" with something that is so literal that it needs no qualification ("Lunch is literally at 12:00pm."). In actuality, the circumstances are quite rare to truly justify saying "literally", which is our case for keeping it on the back burner.
Alternatives: Precisely, Squarely, Unambiguously
"How are you?" "Good, how are you?" We do this at least once a day. Do you? We all know the general meaning of good, but it still tells us nothing. How are you good? Why are you good? There are so many other shades of "good", that it's a shame to not use them. Now we just say "good" instead of saying nothing at all and coming off like a sociopath, when we really should revel in our goodness!
Alternatives: Exceptional, Marvelous, Superb, Sterling
"Those shoes are $60? Unbelievable." Are you really stating that a pair of shoes, in front of your face, with a $60 price tag on them is beyond the realm of your comprehension? The human brain is very adaptable and we can accept and conceive a wide variety of things, let us not discredit ourselves. "Unbelievable" should probably be reserved for space travel outside of our solar system, spectacular illusions and animal hybrids, agreed?
Alternatives: Astonishing, Preposterous, Incredulous