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Avoid Using Trivializing Words

dstarner profile image Daniel Starner ・3 min read

After being around software engineers for a few years, I've started to pick up on some trends and habits that most devs follow. One habit that I noticed earlier this year is that engineers (I'm not sure about other professions) try to trivialize their sentences quite often. This was pointed out to me, because I was doing it and I didn't even realize.

What Is Trivializing?

In high school, I had an English teacher. Now, I was a good student, but I would be lying if I said I remember half the stuff he taught us 😅 BUT! I do remember that there was a rule in his class, and it was that we were never allowed to use the word 'just'. Through all of our explanations, presentations, and papers, if we said 'just' while trying to prove a point or state something, we would immediately lose points. Why was this the case? Because we were taking the complex topics that we were discussing in class, and we were trivializing them.

Trivializing, in my opinion, is using words that try to reduce, obfuscate, or hide the importance and complexity of whatever they are being applied to. The biggest words that I notice in daily conversation are just, simply, and basically. Think about these words. They don't really add any more meaning to the sentence, they are really just filler words to hide that we haven't fully thought something out.

Looking back, I realized that I was using these words a lot, in a majority of my sentences. Working with other engineers, I realized that most people use them just as freely as I did! Next time you are in a meeting or are talking to an engineer, listen for these words and count how many times they are said, it might surprise you.

The Productivity Effects of Trivializing

How many times have you been working on a project or task, and you've said something along the following lines?

Oh, I just have to do .....

You then start working on whatever it is you were trying to do, and next thing you know you're neck deep in complexities that you didn't expect. Your quickie project just turned into a whole mess, because you covered up all the hard parts with the trivializing word just.

I'm trying to adjust my attitude and language to not include these trivializing words, especially when it comes to projects and deadlines, because it almost immediately means that the project will be delayed, feature-bloated, or any number of mishaps will happen, because it was never thought out in full. As engineers, we sometimes want to work fast, assuming we will fill in the details as we go on, but we have to be serious with ourselves that this mindset just leads to messy code, messy ideas, and a broken workflow.

Design your projects to the point where the details are so planned out that you won't have to trivialize or obfuscate, and it'll lead to a faster and better build time.

The Social Effects of Trivializing

"Be mindful when it comes to your words. A string of some that don't mean much to you, may stick with someone else for a lifetime."
Rachel Wolchin

I'm fresh out of college and work as a junior engineer, so there's a lot that I don't know yet. When talking to a few engineers who are more senior though, it always bothers me or makes me feel self-conscious when they are explaining something to me, and include these trivializing terms. Like I know that you think this topic is easy and simple, but its totally new and confusing to me. It makes me feel like "Oh, this is so simple, why have I never heard of it? Am I just so far behind or such a bad learner that I never came across this before? Granted, I may be overthinking this a bit, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't feel weird in the moment.

An engineer may subconsciously says certain words or phrases that trivialize things they already know. This might work for them, since they know what they are talking about, but for the person on the other end, they may feel slightly hurt or self-conscious, because they don't know something that is just or basic or simple.

There's a place for these words, but just make sure that you use them appropriately.

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Daniel Starner

@dstarner

I am a curious person who enjoys figuring out the building blocks of the world, and rearranging them to build something even better.My career is developing software, but my life is adventuring.

Discussion

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I learnt this a while back. Not just in speech. Technical documentation is another common culprit.
"Configuring your project to use this package is simple! Just do this..."

Since then, I've been really intentional about my writing and speech. I try not to use "simple/simply" except I know it's likely to be simple to the person I'm speaking to. And I've run away from "just" since it always fucks up deadlines ("oh, I just need to finish this method and I'm done.")

 

Such an important thing to point out! My focus in this battle has been on the word "obviously", but I've also heard engineers in particular actually use the word "trivial" itself. As in, "it should be trivial for you to do xyz." Should it? What if it turns out not to be trivial? It often doesn't add anything helpful to use these types of words, but it does risk alienating people from each other and themselves.

 

Alienating is such a great word for this! I may steal it when I taught about this topic in the future 😂😂

 

You've bring really amazing point out here.

It's something almost as much frustrating as starting explanation with: "This is actually really simple" when someone was struggling with this for a while an finally decided that he need help.

Can make you feel even worse and demotivated because you have problem understanding something so simple.

When presenting any concept we should really remember that everyone has a different background, knowledge and experience.
Not less. Different.
I think we should stop assuming everyone has the same point of view.

 
 

I thought of this same article. It's so easy to slip that word in there and I have to consciously try to avoid it.

 

This was a great read, thanks for sharing it 👍