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The O-Word

Published 9/16/2016

In today's episode, we talk about talking. Specifically, we talk about using the word "obviously", as well as a few other "L-Y" words.

Why are words so important? How can word choice affect our thinking and relationships?

Thanks to listener Joey for sending in this question!

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone and welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and today is episode I'm answering a question from listener Joey. Thank you so much for listening to Developer Tea today. We released this show three times a week. If you don't want to miss out on future episodes, make sure you subscribe and whatever podcasting app you are using. And if you find today's episode particularly valuable, take a moment and share it with someone who you think can gain value from it as well. We've got some exciting things coming up on Developer Tea, some unique content that we're going to be releasing in the upcoming weeks. And I want you to miss out on it. By the way, if you like Developer Tea, then you are definitely going to enjoy some other shows on the spec network. Go and check out the other shows that we have spec.fm. We've got shows like fragmented, does not compute or thogonal and quite a few other shows. Go and check it out spec dot fm. So let's go ahead and jump into today's question from Joey. Joey is asking about the O word. He says hi Jonathan. I'm a relatively new listener, but I've been getting a whole lot of value out of the snippets you deliver to give you an idea of your influence. I am a software tester in Sydney, Australia. I've been noticing the word obviously in people's speech as well as in my own. Is it useful or is it just a filler word? It seems at best a filler word at worst. If the statement isn't obvious to the receiver, it's going to make the receiver feel stupid. I'd like to get your thoughts as there may be some subtlety that I'm missing. Please keep up the good work. Cheers Joey. Joey, first of all, thank you so much for listening all the way in Australia. It's always amazing and humbling to me to hear from the people who are listening to this show. So thank you very much for listening. Let's talk about obviously and some other L.O.Y. words. But before we can talk about that, we need to talk about why words are so important. Why are we dedicating an episode of this show to a simple word? Well, with every word comes meaning. And if you study language, you know that words are ascribed meaning both by the communicator and by the receiver. Our entire concept of language is built on the ascribed meaning being communicated from one person to the other through words. And a word can be expressed in many different formats and contexts. And those contexts may also change the meaning of that word. For example, one may use the word obviously in a malicious context or a sarcastic context or in a context where they feel nervous and are indeed using it as a filler word. An obvious disclaimer here? Notice I use the word obvious. I did not study linguistics, neither officially nor unofficially. So take everything I'm saying here with a grain of salt. Of course, I've said that on the podcast before. Take everything that I say on this podcast with a grain of salt. I'm sharing my opinion here and hopefully the opinion is valuable to you anyway. But the concept of communication between two people is ultimately dependent on a common understanding and protocol. In other words, you and I have to have a similar meaning for a word to make sense when I am sending that message to you. And this is exactly why an entire group of people, an entire country, for example, can become incredibly offended by one word. And the same word can be considered commonplace by an entirely other group of people. But the meaning of a word isn't totally assigned by a person out of thin air, right? The meaning of that word is often learned either explicitly or implicitly or both. The implicit meaning of a word coming from both the context of the word and the grammar in the language being spoken and the explicit meaning coming from a culturally propagated accepted definition of that word. In other words, a dictionary. So it's important to bring this knowledge to light when we talk about the proper way to communicate. Of course, picking every word in light of all of these facts isn't really the goal, is it? If we have to process all of this information and if we have to analyze our context down to the meticulous level of understanding exactly how someone else is going to receive this, well, we would be overly burdened and crippled by language analysis every moment of every day. Instead, we have to create some kind of guiding principles for ourselves when it comes to language. One of my guiding principles as a white male English-speaking developer in the southeastern United States is to avoid reductive L.Y. words. Reductive L.Y. words include things like obviously or clearly or easily or quickly. The problem with these words is that they are too broad sweeping. With the word obviously, you can make someone feel belittled and stressed with four symbols. With the word quickly, you're subtly saying something is otherwise not quick. These words mean something. And when you get down to it, Joey, words like obviously or not usually necessary to get your point across. Most of the time, these kinds of L.Y. words can be eliminated without losing meaning in your language at all. Instead, frame your language using factual words. If you mean to convey that something is common knowledge, ask yourself, why is that statement actually necessary? Are you potentially saying it at someone else's expense? Are you saying it to build your own knowledge up or perhaps subtly tear someone else's knowledge down? Because of the vagueness of the meaning of these words, the assigned meaning can cause harm that often isn't worth using these words in the first place. In other words, the way that people take this is usually going to be more damaging than it's worth for the person who is communicating it. So let's take a big step backward here. Zoom out and talk more broadly about language for a second. It's important for you to take some time and think about the messages you are sending other people with your language. This is going to be different for everyone. So we can't create rules that apply across the spectrum. In other words, I can't tell you, Joey, or anyone else who's listening to this podcast that the word obviously is going to be offensive to the people around you. Because everybody's context is different. I can't tell you that the word obviously is necessary or isn't necessary. I can tell you for my context. And even then, I may be making some broad assumptions that can give me in trouble. But it's important for you to take some time and think about the messages you are sending other people with your language. Joey, you're asking the right questions. Create guidelines for yourself. Use you decide to eradicate LY words as much as possible, or maybe you'll decide to slow down and simply talk less and listen more. Whatever you decide, remember that your communication and your language makes a huge impact on the way people around you perceive you. And in fact, also has an impact on the way you perceive yourself. Language is perhaps one of the easiest things to screw up. And also one of the most overlooked things when it comes to relationships. So be intentional with the way you use words. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. Joey, thank you for sending in your question. As of today, we have 4,391,000 unique listens to this podcast. It's a huge number. And I have so many people to thank for that. Namely, I have you to thank for that. The people who are listening. Right now, those numbers are coming from you. So thank you so much for continuing to listen to this show. Another group of people I need to thank is the sponsors of Developer Tea. And if you would like to be a sponsor of Developer Tea, we have some limited spots available for the fall and the spring, fall of 2016, spring of 2017. So please reach out, go to spec.fm slash sponsors. The people who listen to this show are motivated developers. They are the ones who are looking to level up in their careers. That's what spec is all about. And if your product or service can help them do that, then sharing your message through Developer Tea is a fantastic way to reach this incredible audience. Thank you so much for listening once again. And until next time, enjoy your tea.