Three Words to Eliminate from Your Life

By on May 28, 2013
Candence by Steve Henderson

By Carolyn Henderson –

Ever noticed how the average person talks to a three-year-old?

“It’s time for bed. Now.”

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“Eat your vegetables. Now.”

“That’s enough noise! Calm down, or it’s a nap. Now.”

It’s no wonder the kids get cranky; people are constantly ordering them about. Nobody, not even three-year-olds, likes to be told what to do or think.

And yet, we do this all the time, but being adults, we’re more subtle about it:

“You should eliminate all grain products from your diet.”

“If you want to truly lose weight, you must exercise a minimum of 45 minutes every single day.”

“You ought to eat butter instead of margarine,” or, “You ought to eat margarine instead of butter,” or, “You ought to replace all butter and margarine with coconut oil.”

It doesn’t really matter what the sentence is, and we could (gently, and in an adult-like fashion) argue all day about whether we should or should not eat Paleo, or whether any idiot knows that sensible people must go gluten free, or that truly devout people ought to go to Sunday School (there’s actually a song propounding this; did you know?), but the issue isn’t so much what we’re saying as how we’re going about it:

Must. Should. Ought.

This trio of words can be eliminated from 98 percent of our thoughts, writing, and speech, and life would still be good. While there are valid times and places for these words — “You probably shouldn’t use that particular tone when you’re talking to your boss” — for the most part, they turn people off, and before we use them, we might want to ask ourselves this question:

“Do I want to be right? Or do I want to be heard?”

We all hold strong, valid beliefs, and because we’ve read about our topic and researched the matter and put into practice what we’ve learned, we have valuable information to share — about how to eat, exercise, knit, cook, raise chickens, homeschool, live.  It a sad thing when our valuable knowledge and insight are discounted and ignored for no greater reason than that our unfortunate choice of words — most specifically must, should, and ought — incurs a sense of revulsion and distaste in our listeners/readers.

So give your message — your valuable message — its best chance to get across and think twice before you incorporate must, should, or ought.

Of course, you don’t have to (there’s another one to get rid of!), but you might want to.

This article was written by Carolyn Henderson, whose lifestyle column, This Woman Writes, examines modern life’s oddities and ends. Carolyn is a professional writer who has authored Grammar Despair: Quick, simple solutions to problems like, “Do I say him and me or he and I?” ($8.99 paperback, $5.99 digital at from which the information in this article was taken.



About Carolyn Henderson

Carolyn Henderson writes about modern life’s oddities and ends at This Woman Writes — She is the author of Grammar Despair: Quick, simple solutions to problems like, “Do I say him and me or him and I?” and the manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art.

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Three Words to Eliminate from Your Life