Thursday, May 18, 2023

Three Words That Irk Me and Why

Unlike 99% of my Money Talk posts, this one is different. It is not specifically about a personal finance topic such as inflation, investing, or retirement planning. However, the topic (language) does have financial implications. 

How so? The way that people speak and present themselves in the business world and are perceived by others can affect their job opprtunities, income, and experiences as consumers.

Curious about my three pet peeve words? The words that I avoid using myself and cringe at when I hear others use? Read on to learn about my concerns and suggested alternatives.



When “still” is used to indicate that something is free from noise or motionless (e.g., standing still), that is fine. However, when people use the word still to mean “at this time” (e.g., are you still working?), I have a problem with it. It implies that the action described after the word “still” is in some way abnormal or, at the very least, out of synch with most other people.

Even the IRS uses the word “still” in the “still working exception” rule that allows required minimum distributions (RMDs) from a current employer’s retirement savings plan to be delayed for older workers until they leave the labor force. IMHO, the phrase “continued working exception” could convey the RMD-postponement concept in a more positive way.

Other negative examples of “still” are “You’re 28 and still not married” and “My children are in their 30s and I’m still not a grandmother.” Many of these “still” phrases are a result of social clocks; i.e., norms governing the ages at which particular life events are “supposed to” occur. When I get a “still” question, I deflect it- unanswered- and talk about the work that I love to do.


A number of articles were written in business magazines a decade ago advising workers, especially women, to avoid using the word “just” in letters, e-mails, and conversations. Examples include “I’m just a [fill in a job title],” “Just checking in to…,” and “Just wondering if you…,” where people use “just,” often in a perceived effort to “soften” a request to others.

The problem with “just” is that it undercuts an otherwise coherent argument or information that follows it, thereby diminishing its importance and/or difficulty (i.e., when used to refer to an assigned task). “Just” can also reveal a lack of confidence when used as a hedging qualifier. When I review my written correspondence, I always check for “justs,” as well as for typos, and redo sentences as needed. I also avoid saying “just.” Along with “sorry,” “just” is a word I was socialized to use as a young woman. Today, I mindfully and proactively guard against using it.


As a “Jersey Girl Living in a Florida World,” the word “dear” (and its close cousins “sweetheart,”  “sweetie,” and “honey”), when used to address me by a total stranger, irks me the most and I don’t have a workaround. Mostly, I cringe and silently murmur to myself “I am not your sweetheart.” Numerous Southern friends have told me that “dear et al." is typical language in this part of the country. To me, and others, it feels like sexist and ageist “elderspeak” and I avoid using it…ever. I believe if you want to connect with others, use their first or last name or a derivation (e.g., Miss Barbara).

What words get under your skin and why? Let’s start a conversation.

This post provides general personal finance or consumer decision-making information and does not address all the variables that apply to an individual’s unique situation. It does not endorse specific products or services and should not be construed as legal or financial advice. If professional assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought.

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