The biggest loser in the English language

Should. It’s the most useless, redundant word used in everyday language. It’s a word that annoys, frustrates, causes anger, and acts as a catalyst for guilt and other negative emotions.

When was the last time you said it? Talking about a mutual friend “well you know what she should do, she should tell him to”. Or maybe at work “you should go and speak to”. Or with your partner “we really should go to that party/christening/dinner”.

The worst type of conversation involving the word should is the one you have with yourself. You know that discussion with your internal voice where you think about what you should or shouldn’t do. Or what you should have or shouldn’t have done.

The more I type it the more I despise the word.

The redundancy of should is not new to me. It’s a concept I’ve been sharing with people both in my personal and professional life for at least the last couple of years. I had assumed that once I had explained the case for never using that word again that I would never hear it from those people. I was completely wrong. I underestimated the power that people’s inner voices have over them.

Let me explain why you must remove the word should from your vocabulary. The word is subjective.  By that I mean its use is based on a person’s feelings, ideas, and experiences and not on facts. We cannot assume another’s feelings, ideas or experiences as every person on this planet is unique.

Should never relates to fact and can never be used to tell yourself, or another person, how to behave, think, feel or act. How quickly do you switch off when someone tells you how you should do something?

Even as I typed this I thought it could be useful to look at the online dictionary definition of the word and I got the following:

  • Used for saying or asking about the right or sensible thing to do or the right way to behave; used for saying what is correct, especially when the situation is different from this
  • Used when you have strong reasons for believing or expecting something
  • Used after “if” or instead of “if” for describing a situation that may possibly happen
  • Used for saying what someone thinks is important
  • Used for saying what someone decides, suggests, or orders

The first example there is about the right or sensible thing to do or the right way to behave. Well don’t we all have different ideas about what is right or sensible? I saw a man yesterday walking down the street wearing only a pair of speedos and a hoodie, for him that was his ‘right’ way of behaving. It wouldn’t have been my personal choice of outfit on a cool day (on any day in fact) but he wasn’t breaking any law so why not?

Breaking the law is often people’s counter argument to me when I talk about losing should from vocabulary. A frequent response I hear is “but the law says that you shouldn’t kill someone as that is wrong.”

No, the law says that you cannot or must not kill.

The dictionary’s second point is that it’s used when you have strong reasons for believing or expecting something. Beliefs are personal and not based on facts. E.g. some people believe in religion, some people believe eating bread will make them fat.

Beliefs cannot be applied unilaterally. Expectations are also non-factual.Who can predict the future?

And talking of predicting the future we reach point no. 3 in the dictionary definition – the possibility that something may happen. Well, let’s use ‘may happen’ instead of should. If you were conducting an experiment where you placed a tooth in a cup of cola overnight there is no rule to say that you
should find the tooth dissolves overnight. You would say that three thing may happen: 1) Nothing would happen to the tooth 2) the tooth would partially dissolve, 3) the tooth would completely dissolve. There’s no should about it. Something will happen or something won’t happen. It’s the
same when we’re predicting the future of our lives.

I won’t go through the rest of the dictionary definitions. I’m sure you can see by now how it works.

All I ask is that for one day you replace the word should with could or would. Take note of what happens to your inner conversations. Listen to the change in your external conversations. See what happens to your written communications. Perhaps it will take a bit longer to explain something, it’s worth it for the more positive results.

If you manage a day without it, see if you can do two days. You’ll start to notice how often it’s used and yet how useless it is. Join me on my mission to make should the dictionary’s biggest loser.




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