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Superiority Words

 

Techniques > Use of language > Persuasive language > Superiority Words

Correction | Simplification | Obviousness | See also

 

When talking with others we often use words that serve to make us seem superior to others. This is often with the intent that they accept what we say without question.

Correction words

When we correct what others say, we position ourselves as knowing more and, by implication, being superior in all other ways. This is like a parent, teacher or judge who cannot be challenged.

Actually

A common way of correcting is with 'actually'. This works as a refutation, correcting what another person has said. It says 'What has just been said is false.'

This can also be used when others have said nothing to correct. 'Actually' at the start of a sentence says 'Everything that follows is true.' This acts an implied correction that says 'You may well be thinking otherwise, but here is the right way to think.' 

A short pause after 'actually' creates dramatic tension, lending it power. Another way this is done is by drawing it out, saying the word slowly.

Other words

Another way of correction is with 'but', which negates what has just been said before offering a 'better' alternative. Other words that may be used include 'in fact', 'really' and 'in truth'.

Example

Actually, this is the best you can buy.

Actually, she is a doctor. You'd better apologize for calling her 'Mrs Brown.'

You say John is fast, but Peter is faster.

Simplification words

Simplifying things can be helpful in keeping the description brief, perhaps indicating that more detail is available if needed. It speeds conversations and can also avoid the embarrassment of the other person getting confused by the detail.

However, simplification, particularly when you point out that this is what you are doing, also says 'You would not understand the detail', casting the speaker as clever and the listener as less intelligent.

Basically

'Basically' at the start of a sentence says 'What follows is a simplification.' When something is basic, it is greatly reduced in complexity, perhaps suitable for a child or beginner (who needs basic education).

Other words

Other words that indicate simplification include 'essentially', 'fundamentally', 'in short' and 'briefly.'

Example

Basically, the engine management system gives you the power you need when you need it.

Basically, she can help get this done today.

Essentially, it is just what we need.

Obviousness words

When something is obvious, there is no need to prove it. This provides the speaker with an excuse for omitting any reasoning. Much of what we say assumes the other person accepts what is said as truth. Stating obviousness emphasizes this when there may be a challenge or refutation.

Obviously

'Obviously' at the start of a sentence says 'This is so clearly true, if you do not understand and agree, you must be stupid.' This makes it difficult for the other person to ask questions and encourages them to think harder or accept any point that is not that obvious to them.

Other words

Words that have a similar meaning include 'plainly', 'clearly' and 'evidently'. 'Of course' has a similar effect.

Example

  • Obviously, she will not pass the test.
  • Clearly, this car is the best for you.
  • Of course, you have to be there.

Discussion

When interacting with other people, our needs are deep forces that act on us, shaping our conversation and the detail of the language we use. A particularly powerful force is our need for a sense of identity, of who we are. We largely define this in in terms of out relationship with other people and seek esteem. And a way to achieve this is to position ourselves as superior so they will look up to us, affording us a higher status.

A way of spotting superiority words is that they can usually be omitted without changing the sentence other than removing the status implication. As in the examples above, they also tend to appear at the start of the sentence, sending a signal that what is about to be said should not be challenged.

Superiority appears in language in other ways, for example in the use of commands and assumptive tag questions. It can also be noticed in polite conversational battles where what is said is often an escalation on the status-gaining comments of others.

Playing superiority games can indeed gain you status and consequent compliance. But it can also cause an opposing reaction, possibly at the unconscious level, reducing rapport and resulting in the other person feeling less comfortable with you.

The bottom line is to be careful in what you say (and how you say it) and constantly pay attention to the effect your words are having on others.

See also

Status, Needs

 

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