An “Awesome” Exercise that Will Improve your Word Choice

Regular readers of this blog know that I generally write posts about the craft of writing. This post will be a little bit different. Yes, it’s about how to improve your writing, but today I’d like to focus on a single, simple change you can make that will increase your language creativity and force you to think about the specificity and clarity of words several times a day.

I would like to challenge you to remove the words “awesome,” and “amazing” from your vocabulary, and replace them with words that offer more precision (depending on the use.) Try this exercise for a month, a week – even just a day. If you are like me, what you learn will surprise you.

A few months ago I found a list of words that can be substituted for “awesome” on the web (I’m no longer certain where I saw this list, but similar lists can be found with simple web searches. You can also search for words that can be used in place of “amazing” and “cool.”)

Once I found this list (it was at least 25 words long) I started brainstorming words of my own. At this point, I was just playing around, since I really didn’t realize how frequently I went to the word “awesome” as a shortcut word.

Of course, the next time I turned to Twitter, email, texting, or tried to draft a comment on a blog post, I was horrified to discover how these two words—awesome and amazing—had become my go-to words to describe everything from good news about a friend’s new job to a video of a cat. Surely these two things weren’t so similar that they merited the same word to describe them!

So I gave myself a challenge—I wouldn’t use the words “awesome” or “amazing” (in writing—I’m sure I still let them slip in conversation from time to time,) as long as I could find a more specific, fresh, appropriate word.

I have been fairly successful, and I’ve learned a few things about myself, about the people I communicate with, and about the power of words along the way.

I learned that it can take a few long seconds to find the best word when you take “awesome” out of your vocabulary. It can take even longer if you force yourself to find a word that actually describes your thoughts precisely (that is, not just turning to “fantastic” or “great,” though I did fall back on those from time to time.) However, over time, I learned to say something was “inspiring” or “thought-provoking” or “game-changing” or even “I’m so proud of you” instead of “that’s awesome.” I hope this has made my interpersonal communication more meaningful.

I learned that people expect shortcut words. The first time I told a coworker that her presentation was “aces” instead of “awesome” it got a big reaction. It also started a discussion about word use, (and probably confirmed some suspicions that I am the weird word girl in the office.)

I’ve learned that words are ours to use, and we neglect the strength of our communication and our own breadth of vocabulary when we fall back on the same words again and again. After a few weeks of taking on this challenge, I noticed my personal vocabulary gaining a lot more strength. I saw much bigger rewards than you would expect from such a simple exercise.

I do want to be clear that I’m not advocating that we all drop the words “awesome,” “cool,” or “amazing” from our vocabularies forever. I firmly believe that shortcuts in communication have their place and can be very appropriate. However, if you find that you are over-generalizing in your own word use, you may want to drop your “pet words” for a while and see what happens.

Have you ever caught yourself falling back on the same few words as shortcuts in your own communication? Are they words other than “awesome” or “amazing?” Please share your thoughts in the comments!

24 Responses to An “Awesome” Exercise that Will Improve your Word Choice

  1. Nancy Tandon Apr 2 2014 at 7:21 am #

    This challenge is the bee’s knees! I’m going to try it.

    • Julie Apr 2 2014 at 7:25 am #

      That’s super, Nancy! Glad you liked the post. 🙂

  2. Eliza Tilton Apr 2 2014 at 7:31 am #

    Ha! I use awesome all the time. This will be great for me.

    • Julie Apr 2 2014 at 7:34 am #

      Hi Eliza! I honestly didn’t realize how often I used “awesome” until I tried to stop. It really shook me up, which, ultimately was a good thing. Best of luck with this! 🙂

  3. Brooke Apr 2 2014 at 8:42 am #

    Oh I like this. I have to say that I probably use them quite often. Although I think my go to word for this type of explanation is “fantastic”. I will have to look at how often I use these words!

    • Julie Apr 2 2014 at 9:53 am #

      Hi Brooke! Funny that “fantastic” is your go to word – I have taken to using “fantastic” as one of my substitute words for “awesome.” 🙂 I guess we all have our own habits. Maybe the best goal is to try to mix things up. Thanks for commenting!

  4. Robyn Campbell Apr 2 2014 at 12:11 pm #

    Hahaha, great challenge. I’ll take you up on it. 🙂 My word is bodacious. I’ve been trying to stop using it as much. This will help me in my writing for sure.

    • Julie Apr 2 2014 at 1:46 pm #

      Hi Robyn! I have to say, “bodacious” is a pretty fun word, in my humble opinion. I might try to *add* that one to my vocabulary. 🙂 Good luck with the challenge!

  5. Kelley Apr 2 2014 at 1:19 pm #

    I love this post, Julie! I’ve been annoyed with myself lately for using those two words so much, because you’re right: they’re not very descriptive! I think a lot of times I just use them as kind of… shortcuts. But this is definitely motivation for me to try the exercise with more determination! 🙂

    • Julie Apr 2 2014 at 1:49 pm #

      Hey Kelley! Great to hear from you! I agree – they are both definitely shortcuts for me, too. Even in this comment thread I’ve had to search around for substitutes! But I know you are a “word girl” like me, so I know you are up to the challenge! 🙂

  6. Cari Apr 2 2014 at 5:20 pm #

    Love this advice! I think I’ll have my students practice this as well. We can discover new words together. =)

    • Julie Apr 2 2014 at 10:13 pm #

      Hi Cari! I think it’s great that you want to use this with your students. It can be really fun but surprisingly challenging. Good luck with it! <3

  7. Traci Krites Apr 2 2014 at 7:03 pm #

    I just noticed yesterday that I used the word amazing a LOT in comments of blogs, writing to others, talking. Yes, this is a wake up moment for me to try harder for freshness.

    • Julie Apr 2 2014 at 10:21 pm #

      Hey Traci! Funny, one of the first words I noticed this problem with was the word amazing. I tried to fix it and switched myself over to awesome haha. Good luck with your efforts at freshness! 🙂

  8. Adam Silvera Apr 3 2014 at 2:07 am #

    This is an eye-opening post, Julie!

    *cough* awesome post *cough*

    • Julie Apr 3 2014 at 9:56 am #

      Heehee thanks Adam! I think the word for your comment might be “awesomesauce!” 🙂

  9. Meghan Jashinsky Apr 3 2014 at 3:55 pm #

    This is such a great challenge! I was watching some of my older vlogs and realized that I say amazing and awesome several times in each one, and listening to that gets old pretty quickly (especially when they’re only 4 minutes each)! Definitely accepting this challenge. 🙂

    • Julie Apr 3 2014 at 4:46 pm #

      Hi Meghan! I love vlogs, but they do really expose all of our speaking habits. I was listening to myself relate a story the other day and I noticed (to my horror!) that I said, “And I was like…” before quoting myself. I’d say that’s much worse than a few “awesomes” and “amazings.” 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

  10. Cortney Pearson Apr 3 2014 at 9:47 pm #

    Thank you for this post! I’ve had the same thought lately, especially in my personal correspondence with friends where I find that I use the words “awesome” and “amazing” over and over. It’s definitely time for a change. I love this, it’s really beneficial…er, there I go trying not to use them, lol! (Okay, and lol is another one I overdo completely!!)

    • Julie Apr 4 2014 at 5:31 am #

      Hi Courtney! Congrats – ” I love this, it’s really beneficial” is much more precise than “this is awesome” and I couldn’t even tell you were searching for a substitution there (in other words, it didn’t seem stilted or forced.)As for lol, I find myself switching off with haha and even heehee. 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

  11. Alexa S. Apr 4 2014 at 10:25 pm #

    This is such a great idea! I am actually pretty conscious of which words I use very often (and yes, awesome and amazing happen to be among them). Challenging myself to make a conscious effort will be hard, but also pretty fun! I can’t wait to see what happens. So glad you’ve written about this, and shared your own experience!

    • Julie Apr 6 2014 at 10:51 am #

      Hi Alexa! I’m glad you’re taking this on! It can be really challenging at times to find the precise word rather than just fall back on the general, but I know you will enjoy it. Thanks for your comment!

  12. arvilla newsom Apr 12 2014 at 8:52 pm #

    The word cute shows up too frequently in my conversations. Been trying to eradicate it , but it’s tough, especially when I’m talking about my cute ,I mean clever cats or my very cute, I mean adorable grandchild.

    • Julie Apr 12 2014 at 9:01 pm #

      Hey Arvilla, this is something I hadn’t noticed, but now that you bring it up I realize I probably overuse the word cute myself. I also think I overuse “too cute” haha. Thanks for pointing this out (though I’m quite confident your cats and grandchild are very deserving of the word! :D)

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