Why Do They Say “Look”?

Have you noticed how many times a political candidate or commentator will say the word “look”? Why do they say that?

Well, let us zoom the picture back a little and think about this. Linguists and psychologists have introduced us to what they refer to as “representational systems.” They tell us that people are prone to expressing their feelings, attitudes, opinions, and using one of three ‘representational systems.’ They have named these to be Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic. That is, people who think, express themselves, and understand others best when the language is visual, auditory, or kinesthetic.

Visual people tend to use words and phrases like, ”see what I mean,” “it’s clear to me,” ‘let’s look at,“ and other words or phrases that have a visual orientation.

Auditory people tend to use words and phrases like, “I hear ya,” “I like the sound of that,” “the word around town,” and other terms that have an auditory orientation.

Kinesthetic people tend to use words and phrases like “get a grip,” “I can’t get my arms around that,” “I’ll give you a hand,” and other words or phrases that have a physical orientation.

So, it would be easy to say that those “experts” we hear everywhere say the word “look” because they are visually oriented; I don’t think so.

A while back, I wrote about the incredible number of speakers from all walks of professional life who begin many statements by saying the word “well.” Have you heard it? Many people have commented to me that they now notice the overuse of that word. In my original writings, I explained why I thought that word was so overused; it still is.

Now we have a new word that is being overused. It is the word “look.” Why do they say “look”? First, I urge you to listen in for the word. It most often occurs in the middle of a reply to a question or an explanation of an answer or viewpoint. Unlike the word “well,” which is overused at the beginning of a statement, “look” is most often used in the middle.

When you listen to the context in which it is used, you will notice that it comes in the middle of a statement as an attempt to clarify what has just been said or is about to be said. The implied meaning of the one word is, “let’s be real,” “the reality is,” “here’s the truth about this issue,” or “I’ll give you a good example.” It has become the go-to word for pundits whose commentary may be obscure, perfunctory, canned, or even diversionary.

The belief seems to be that if I say,” look,” it implies that I will give you some inside perspective or a pragmatic truism about the topic. Speakers seem to think that if they say “look” somehow, listeners will drop the pretense of intelligent comprehension and insert an ordinary man, sometimes, “aw shucks” kind of receptivity. I, for one, am tired of hearing it.

Speakers need to learn how to say it right the first time. Stop trying to make us think that somehow you are now going to be more honest, more transparent, more sincere, etc. Saying “look” is not a characteristic of a visual representational system. Rather, it is a rhetorical trick, an attempt to seem more down to earth and talk like a friendly expert. I suggest you “look” somewhere else for a way to express your thoughts accurately the first time you say them. See what I mean?

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