Bad Words Week: Can’t

Note: This week I’ve selected words I think we should consider removing from usage for various reasons.

When we talk about what we’re not good at, let’s stop using the word can’t.

Today I’ll be at the ACDA Michigan Conference, and of course on the minds of me and my fellow Michigan choral conductors will be Dr. Steve Zegree, who we lost in March (especially with headliner Joe Miller, Steve’s former colleague at WMU). So today I’m borrowing a word from the top of Steve’s bad words list.


The problem with “can’t” is simple – it feels permanent. I can’t breathe underwater. I can’t digest iron. I can’t fly unassisted. Those are all permanent states.

I can’t run a marathon. I can’t figure out what that chord is. I can’t write a new blog post every day.

Those aren’t can’t. Those are temporarily unable to. 

I truly can’t run a marathon today without hurting myself; but in two years I’ll be able to. I couldn’t analyze those chords when I was in freshman theory, but now I do it without a conscious thought. And I haven’t missed a day writing since Nov. 4, 2014.

Can’t is a powerful word because it both describes our present and influences how we perceive the future. So don’t let it. Let’s get rid of it.

Word: Can’t
Reason to Eliminate: Sense of permanence.
Suggested substitute(s): Temporarily unable to.


Bonus: here’s Steve’s son nat talking about can’t from a video shown at the Steve Zegree Memorial Service.