Words Have Power

Words Have Power

“Tiff’s a chocolate whore.”

Ben is Tiffany’s husband, and he’s a well-meaning guy. He has a bit of a way with words.

The three of us are walking into a Godiva store to pick up a treat for Tiffany. Ben says “Tiff’s a chocolate whore.”

“Aficionado? Chocolate princess, maybe?” I offer.

Ben doesn’t care about word choices, it’s all the same to him, and he’s a person who chooses the wrong words anyway, so there’s no use. What difference does it make anyway?

“Well, one way Tiff’s a skillful, and elegant lover of fine foods. The other way you called your wife a prostitute.”

Facts about Word Choice

Tory Higgins, William Rholes, and Carl Jones wanted to see how impressionable people are.

They asked two groups of people to read about, then pass judgement on fictional test subjects. One group was subconsciously exposed to words designed to “prime,” or influence, their judgement. The researchers flashed words like “hostile” or “persistent” to the participants in the experimental group, then both groups read the description of the fictional subject.

The primed participants were very likely to characterize the subjects according to whatever word they had been exposed to. Perfectly lovely people were painted as hostile and reckless. Cads became persistent.

They published their results in 1997 in the The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

A year earlier The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology had published a similar study in which some participants were shown the word “elderly.” They walked and performed their tasks more slowly than the control group who had not seen “elderly.”

These are just two examples of from a large body of psychological literature that all lend themselves to the same basic conclusion:

Words have power.

Choosing New Words

The point is that when we choose to describe our wives as whores, that affects us. And her. When we choose to call ourselves idiots when we make a mistake, that sinks in. Facts about idiots become facts about us.

This is the “L” in NLP: the language we choose triggers our brains to think in certain patterns, and cast our perceptions in certain light, rosy or shitty.

Choosing positive words will create a positive impact on you and those around you.

It’s just a simple choice to begin saying “princess” instead of “whore,” but you will fail at first. Don’t be discouraged, it’s just a habit, and you need to retrain your mind.

When you catch yourself speaking or thinking in a negative or derogatory way, just consciously choose a better word to replace it. At first you’ll think negatively, and have to constantly correct yourself. Within a few weeks, the positive words will flow naturally.

When it occurs to you after-the-fact that you transformed, you’ll try to think of a negative word or phrase and it’ll hit you like a cat puking. Dirty and wrong. You can barely think it, never mind say it.

Ben’s a good guy, and he can choose better words when he’s ready, with only an ounce of effort. It might make all the difference. Insightful.

(Thanks to Wes Tansey for the help with the psych literature!)


  1. Kay ()

    This post made me smile. I LOVE it :)

    Plus positive language has high vibration energy anyway. Words have energy! (Reply)

  2. Karilee ()

    You’re right, Pete. It’s just a simple choice.

    Almost a year ago, I read somewhere about a strategy for reducing stress in your life. It was about not using catastrophic wording.

    The point was that I retrained myself to respond to things going wrong with “that’s annoying”. Not “that’s awful”. Not “that’s terrible”. Not “that’s totally wrecked my day”. Not “I can’t stand this”.

    I put some effort into catching myself and reframing using this milder phrasing. I knew I’d somewhat succeeded when a friend replied “Wow, that’s more than annoying, you certainly took that calmly” about some incident.

    Paying attention to word choice in this way has been a good strategy for me. I don’t always remember to choose the “right” words, of course, but reducing the times when I exaggerate the problem has been a good choice for me. (Reply)

  3. Kenya ()

    Very nice! Goes really well with the Law of Attraction. Our thoughts do hold power and are words are only the expression of our thoughts… (Reply)

  4. Christian ()

    You’re such a…prince of whores Pete. That love chocolate. :)

    Very nice post, I loved it. Perhaps this is why the phrase “Fake it till you make it” has a ring of truth to it. If you keep telling yourself you are, eventually you transform yourself to be.

    <3 (Reply)

  5. vicki wright ()

    well some of that may be true. but i dont know if i would be upset if some one called me a chocolate whore? maybe im not a sensitive as i used too be…but on the other hand i guess i would have had too been there.seen the body language..the tone he used to express it. you could have called me the princess of chocolate.you could call me the vampire of chocolate.wouldnt make me one. essense is u dont make me what i am.i would actually like to be called the vampire of choclate. i can see it in my mind. all that chocolate running down my chin. i think it could be a commercial.words do not make us who we are.i dont think the words are so hurtful. it is the intent.the intent hurts.and thats to put u down. okay here comes the limbic system that i use. didnt raise that person. dont know what they they went through. but at the end of the day i can take only so much. should only tke so much. and i can spell chocolate. yeah (Reply)

  6. vicki wright ()

    pete if u messed up and while taking the garbage out the bag broke. you say to yourself .im an idiot. does that make u an idiot.no.it means the bag broke.now u have evidence in many other ways that u are a really smart guy.a broken bag of garbage doesnt make u an idiot. u can say it one hundred times a day.it will not make u an idiot. u cannot even make ur self an idiot. it cant be done.and dont try to.u are a wonderful person.and i know u make these topics to help others. (Reply)

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