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  • Writer's pictureBill Holmes

Persuasion through unusual words

You have to be memorable!

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” George Orwell, 1984

“Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say infinitely when you mean very; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.” C.S. Lewis

The English language contains more than a million total words and at any given time 170,000 are actively used. The speaking vocabulary of the average adult American is in the range of 150,000 words, or 15% of the total. To make matters worse, the first 1000 most common words are used in 89% of all writing.

That is a lot of boring communication!

This lack of creativity in most work exchanges provides you with an opportunity to stand out! Over the years I have experimented with a variety of different words and terms, and I thought I would share a few of my favorites. You will notice that this particular grouping creates either a visceral negative response or an uncomfortable visual. That is what makes them memorable.

And fun!

Secrete: 1) (of a cell, gland or organ) produce and discharge. 2) to conceal in a hiding place.

What a great word! You can almost see something disturbing and organic when you hear the word. I was in a meeting a while ago and another organization was ostensibly trying to “help” my organization. I was asked how the process was working, and I casually noted that the organization was “secreting itself into all aspects of my operation, and I was a bit uncomfortable with how that felt”. I amplified the effect of “secrete” by making it personal to me. Who wants to be secreted on (in?)? And who wants to see that happened! Shortly after that, the other organization extracted itself from mine.

Extracted: Remove or take out, especially by effort of force.

This is another fun word with several different uses. The first is to convey a sense of violation over what someone else is doing to you In the example above, I said that it was going to take a while to "extract them from our operations", implying that my organization was so harmed that it was going to take considerable effort to get back to normal. The second is to show how challenging your work is. Next time your IM pops up with a request for a phone call, reply back that a you will get to them “as soon as you can extract yourself from what you are doing.” Extract! Wow, you must be doing something important!

Regurgitate: 1) Bring (swallowed food) up again into the mouth 2) repeat information without analyzing or comprehending it.

I am sure that when you read regurgitate, you got a vision of the first definition. It is powerful to generate an unpleasant visual and be technically correct in usage. I used this a while back in a meeting where I was having a disagreement with someone who was correct about a policy, but directionally wrong. After some back and forth, I said “I could stand here all day and regurgitate back to you what the document says, but don’t we need a higher level of analysis?”. The addition of the “back to you” created an important visual. Think of a bird feeding their young. Gross! Who wants that?

Burp up: burping and hiccuping simultaneously.

What a great visual, and great visuals are what influencing is all about. Several years ago I was in a meeting where my project was being thwarted by a byzantine (another great word) web (I really can’t turn it off..) of rules and policies. I got very frustrated by the bureaucrat who was torturing me and said “I wish I had a job where I could just burp up rules without any need to deliver anything.” Very powerful. I simultaneously forced the other person to put themselves in my shoes (need to deliver) while implying that a thinking person would take a different position. Not very nice, but highly effective!

These words are fun and effective if wielded properly. They are interesting and uncommon in a business context, and because they have their origins in biology they generate a visceral discomfort that can be used to great benefit.

Next we’ll identify some different words and phrases that are less biologically oriented.


I watch the news in amazement. Looters are allowed to tear down works of art (regardless of where you stand on the issue, that is what they are) with no consequences. It reminds me of what the Taliban did when they went into Afghanistan and destroyed ancient artifacts because they were “false idols”. I am fine with a vigorous debate on the merits of which portions of our past should be celebrated, but mob rule is never the right answer. The mob is never satisfied, and is fickle. Wait until they come for you!


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