Most of us think that ‘sounding clever’ is something you can put on – just like the smart suit which you might wear for a job interview.

But it’s not – and there are several words which make you instantly sound stupid, or weak, or dishonest, even when you think you’re being at your sharpest.

Using needlessly long words, for instance, has been shown to make people think you are less intelligent – not more.

Daniel Oppenheimer of Princeton University in New Jersey said, ‘It’s not about problems with using long words – but about using long words needlessly.’

But what are the other words you should avoid when you are trying to impress – and why do they get up people’s noses so badly? Here’s a quick guide.


Brian de Haaff, founder of technology company Aha!, says that this word makes interviewers wonder if you are lying.

De Haaf said, ‘To be credible, you should be straightforward every time. And when you are, no qualifier like ‘honestly’ is needed. Authenticity is the only honesty you need.’


This sort of informal language makes a very bad impression on a lot of people – particularly the sort of senior management figures you might be wanting to impress in a job interview.

Lynne Taylor, author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant, says, ‘Whatever’ is part of a ‘set’ or family that goes with ‘Totally,’ ‘Like’ and ‘Um.’ A family that no one wants to visit.’


People overuse this sort of adjective – and it makes you sound like you’re gossiping on social media, rather than holding an adult conversation.

Keep your language understated, and you’ll sound wiser.


People tend to use terms such as ‘always’, ‘never’ and ‘forever’ without really thinking about them – but they can make speakers sound dishonest.

Using hyperbolic – exaggerated – terms such as this tends either to make the speaker sound dishonest, or childish.


Makes you sound less confident – as if you are trying to downplay what you are doing.

If you’re the boss, it’s worse – it sounds like you’re demeaning what people do for you.

Life coach Shari Alexander says, ‘When you are giving orders, be clear. You may think that the word “just” softens the orders, hoping that you don’t sound too harsh. But the truth is that it probably results in members of your team feeling unappreciated for their effort and energy.’


Most of the times people use this, it’s unnecessary – or used wrongly.

Many bookish types also shudder whenever they see or hear it used – as it’s often a hallmark of bad writing and sloppy speech.

In 1909, satirist Ambrose Bierce named the word on his ‘blacklist of literary faults’, saying, ‘It is bad enough to exaggerate, but to affirm the truth of the    exaggeration is intolerable.’


Most of the time, you don’t need to use this word at all. Makes you sound like you’re filling space.

Author and entrepreneurial coach Eric Holtzclaw named the word the one you should never say in business.

Holtzclaw said, ‘ For the experienced listener, “actually” is a dead giveaway of an area that at the least needs to be further investigated, and may point at a deception.’


Best avoided if you want to sound purposeful. In many contexts, saying, ‘Maybe,’ will be seen as a, ‘No’.

‘It seems to be about ambivalence, but it is really about power and boundaries,“ says Prudence Gourguechon, a psychiatrist in Chicago.

‘Person A who says, ‘Yeah, maybe,’ essentially puts recipient B on hold. B is powerless.’


This word sounds weak, and clumsy – and if you really want to emphasise, use a stronger one.

Mark Twain famously wrote, ‘Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.’


Many of us use the word ‘Sorry’ dozens of times a day – but it can make you sound weak, or (worse) passive-aggressive.

Saying, ‘Sorry, but’ before a statement in the workplace often negates the impact of everything that comes after it.

• Rob Waugh (yahoo)