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The One Word Older People Should Never Say

Go ahead and remove this word from your vocabulary if you don't want to age yourself.

When it comes to language, everyone has their own set of words that are commonly used within their particular vocabulary. However, certain words are better left unsaid when it comes to specific groups. For instance, some vintage slang words like "Daddy-O" would just sound funny when used by someone from a younger generation now. And the opposite seems to be true, as well. According to one language expert, there is one word that older people should never say: "rad."

"The worst word [you can use] depends on your age bracket," Fern L. Johnson, PhD, linguist and professor at Clark University, explains. "When older people use words like 'rad,' they sound like wannabe young people."

Johnson says when using younger-skewing words, older people are actually aging themselves instead of making themselves seem younger. She says that this word choice is a sign that someone is "trying too hard to sound youthful."

"There's a certain sense of ownership that younger people feel about 'rad' because it signifies superlative quality and authenticity," she says. "It's an expression that belongs to their generation."

Johnson says it all has to do with understanding what language is significant to different generations. For instance, she says that she could "tell a student that her presentation in seminar was 'awesome,'" but that it would be weird for her to say that it was 'rad.' That's because the word "sticks out and sounds awkward when the speaker isn't generationally correct," she explains.

And while Johnson says that technically, any person can use the word "rad," "speaking freely might not reflect well on a speaker" if they aren't taking into account these unspoken formalities of language.

"Perhaps the best advice is to think twice about using any word or expression that you think is up-to-date and will therefore convey that you are up-to-date," she says. "What might the person who is more authentically linked to an expression think about your using it? Instead of saying, 'That's rad' you could say, 'you [your generation] would call that rad.'"

If you're curious about what other words might age you, read on. And for more words everyone should avoid, check out these 5 Words to Ditch From Your Vocabulary ASAP, Experts Say.


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Johnson says older people should also refrain from using words like "woke," because it inherently makes them seem not so "woke."

"'Woke' is a good starting point for digging into what expressions make a person sound dated, phony, or just plain old. The word has been around for a long time, but its current usage taps into the meaning of being aware of injustice and racism," she explains. So, if an older person is using the word to signify that they are "up with the current cultural trends," and not in conjunction with its updated racial justice connotation, then it is a word that clearly ages them. And to make sure you're up on your slang, check out these 100 Slang Words That Dominated the 2010s.


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Sometimes it's almost too obvious when an older person is trying to use younger slang—especially when it's a word like "bae," which was only added to the dictionary in the last year. This is evident by the popular Twitter account @BrandsSayingBae, which calls out brands using youthful slang on social media as an attempt to attract a younger audience. And trust us, kids can tell when the person tweeting this slang is much too old to be using it.


Happy grandmother chatting with granddaughter, sitting on couch at home, having pleasant conversation, positive older woman sharing news with pretty girl, grandchild, having fun together

"Snatched" is another word Johnson says may have been around for some time, but has changed meaning with the younger crowd. According to Merriam-Webster, the word has been around since the 1500s, typically describing something that was taken with haste. But now, younger generations mean it as a compliment for someone being attractive of well-styled, saying they look "snatched." And for words you might not know the meaning of, learn these 50 Words You Hear Every Day But Don't Know What They Mean.


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Older people should also take the word "sick" out of their vocabularies unless they're talking about being ill, author Jacquelyn Mitchard wrote for AARP. She notes that "sick" is "meant to connote something wonderful," but it only comes across as such if said by someone in the younger generation that gave it that meaning. And for more useful content delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Kali Coleman
Kali Coleman is a Senior Editor at Best Life. Her primary focus is covering news, where she often keeps readers informed on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and up-to-date on the latest retail closures. Read more
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