Are You Writing What You Really Mean?

Strange how some of the words and phrases we get in the habit of using mean, or can say something totally different from what we really mean. For example:

  1. Regional phrases are great. They carry a richness, a fullness that adds color, spice, and fun to your writing. They add special flavor – a tone – to what you have to say. For example:
  • She has to pick up the house before going to town. Don’t you just picture a frail-looking little old lady putting a full military press on her house to hold it over her head?
  • John will carry her to town for groceries. (Maybe John is the weight lifter after all.) Then he will tote them into the house for her.
  • You “carry” people (in your vehicle, of course), and “tote” groceries and other non–people things that need to be moved from here to there.
  • Then you can take up dinner, and save back a little something for a midnight snack. (Where is dinner being taken up to, and what is it behind when saved back?)

Think how confusing all of this can be for an English as a second language speaker/reader, who, if he or she were to take all this literally, would be sorely bamboozled! Take heed if you do business, or work offshore.

  1. Other phrases can become so habitual that we don’t notice them. But our subconscious does! For example, have you noticed that some people will end a sentence with, “I don’t think”? That phrase is similar to “I’ll have to…” and “I can’t…” in that when you hear yourself saying these things all day long, your subconscious begins to believe them.

Much better to say “I believe…” or “I’ll be glad to…” or “I can….

Try “I believe she won’t come today…”(Instead of “She won’t come today, I don’t think.”)

Or “I’ll be glad to get that information for you as soon as it’s available.” (Instead of “I can’t get that information for you until it’s available.”

Or “I can have that report on your desk Monday.” (Instead of I can’t get that report on your desk until Monday.”

Present yourself as one who has ideas and expectations; pleasant and willing to do what’s asked; and a positive achiever. The additional bonus: by feeding your subconscious positive, rather than negative words, you’re going to feel better about your job, your life, and yourself.

  1. Then there are phrases some people use over and again, being totally unaware of their potential effect on some of their listeners or readers.
  • One such word is “clearly,” when used to express an opinion, e.g., “Clearly this is entirely the wrong decision if we want to….” When used in this way, “clearly” becomes a shutdown word, inviting no further opinions, and with readers and listeners getting the message that if their opinions differ, their opinions must somehow be sub-standard. It can also engender anger. Neither response is generally what you want.
  1. There are words or phrases many of us were taught to use, frequently as children, to be polite.
  • For example, “Would you like to…”(go to bed now, carry out the garbage, or do your homework)? Today’s responders are as likely as not to say, “no.” And what you were trying to do was tell them in a kind and gentile way, what to do. Not ask them how they felt about it!

So – Are you writing, or saying, what you really mean?


You can Write less, say more – and get results!  Gail offers workshops, meeting presentations, executive coaching and   Consulting. We can also write, or edit your material for you. 

 We appreciate your inquiries and referrals. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it to your team members, and drop us an email at, so we can send the new post to them for you automatically next week.