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Be More Careful with Your Language

I tend to be a little over the top in my criticism of people’s mistaken language and grammar. I am by no means perfect when it comes to these areas, but there are some errors that cause me to want to smack people. (Not in a violent way, but more in a, “I’m taking my glove off and slapping you across the face with it to show you how stupid you are” sort of way.)

One such phrase is, “I could care less.” If you could care less, that means you care some. You should actually be saying, “I couldn’t care less,” because that implies that you have supplied the least amount of caring possible.

Another is, “I nipped that problem in the butt.” No you didn’t, because the real saying is, “I nipped that problem in the bud.” Nipping a plant in the bud keeps it from flowering. Plants don’t have butts.

And then there’s, “Well, now it’s a mute point.” If it was mute, it wouldn’t be able to speak. The point is “moot,” which means it’s irrelevant.

Can you feel my ire and frustration in just typing these? I realize that this is a very small concern in the scheme of great world problems, but it is my pet peeve. The inappropriate use of a word or phrase makes me want to yank my hair out, but I am guilty of a far worse offense. Saying, “I could care less,” “I nipped it in the butt,” or “mute point” really does no damage to anyone or anything except the perception of one’s intelligence.

Here is my biggest offense, and maybe yours. As a society we have begun overusing words associated with mental health disorders as running jokes or to describe brief moments in our lives. I am so guilty of this.

When I arrange things in my office I may jokingly say, “I’m OCD.” When I am not hungry at a meal and my friends ask, I might say, “I’m a little anorexic” as a joke. Have you ever lacked focus, and when someone asked about it said, “That’s just my ADHD kicking in”? Or how about this: has someone’s mood ever changed midday, and you just blurt out, “Are you bipolar?” When you are feeling sad have you ever told someone, “I’m depressed”? I have done this, and I am trying to stop.

By using these phrases flippantly we marginalize people who are suffering from genuine mental health disorders. Obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anorexia, bipolar disorder, and depression are true afflictions.

Have you ever known anyone who was diagnosed bipolar? It is not as simple as being happy one day and sad the next. Bipolar disorder is a debilitating illness that rips families apart and can be life-threatening.

“I was sad for a whole day” — that’s not depression. Real depression is a deep and dark path that I pray none of you ever has to walk down.

I realize that I am somewhat biased being a mental health professional and may be coming on a little strong, but it’s time that we stopped using these words as jokes or as adjectives that don’t apply. People who truly suffer from these disorders are made to feel that their problems are really no big deal or they should just “get over it,” and that is in large part due to our culture’s marginalizing of these words.

As a whole, our society has taken mental health diagnoses and made them synonyms for other words. Depression has become a synonym for sad, down in the dumps, or a case of the blues. Therefore, anyone who is diagnosed with real depression is seen in the same mild light as people who had a bad day.

Bipolar is now a synonym for moody. We are all moody from time to time, but that is not the same as bipolar disorder. Comparing moodiness and bipolar disorder is like comparing a flesh wound to having your entire leg chopped off.

Usually, real change does not come for individuals until they or someone close to them receives this sort of diagnosis. Wake up and have some compassion. This trend needs to change, and it can only change with awareness and action. Before I began working in this field, and even some time after, I was absolutely guilty of using this language. Awareness is the first step, and action is the next. You have been made aware — now take action.

This is something I have been working on but certainly still slip up from time to time. Now that you know, be aware, grow, and make positive changes in your life.

Gossip photo available from Shutterstock

Be More Careful with Your Language

Thomas Winterman

Thomas Winterman is a therapist, school counselor, author, and blogger who lives in Panama City, FL. His e-book, The Thrive Life, is available on Amazon. His blog can be found at

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APA Reference
Winterman, T. (2018). Be More Careful with Your Language. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 7 Jan 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.