Do You Have STUFF to Do? Or THINGS to Do?

You’re telling a friend you have a lot to do today. Which word do you use?

I have ___ to do {stuff or things}.

According to Norbert Schmitt, your word choice might depend on how old you are.

In the past, most people would say they had things to do or things to buy. But people under 40 years old are instead trending toward saying stuff to do and stuff to buy.

Language has always changed over generations. We’re just better now at tracking it.

If you’re a word person like I am, you might find this ngram word tracker as fascinating as I do. It shows the usage of words found in texts over a period of time.

I inserted my One Word of the Year—Human—and discovered it really IS used more often than it used to be. It’s not just my imagination.

Use of word "Human"

I also inserted a series of words to compare usage: Human, Human Being, and Person. As you can see, Person was once used more, but now Human is increasing (Human Being never had much traction).

Use of word "Human" vs "Person"

This is just 1 of 100 things about how language works in Schmitt’s new book, Language Power: 100 Things You Need to Know to Make Language Work for You.

Why are books like this so intriguing?

“From the minute you wake up until the minute you fall asleep, you use language. Even when not actively reading, writing, listening, or speaking, you use language to think, and often to daydream. It is the essential tool that makes you human. It is the most complex thing you will learn in your lifetime.

How we use language matters. Words matter in our self-talk, in our conversations with others, and in society at large.

For example, when we say things one certain way in our circle of friends, then bump up into someone who interprets it differently, are we willing to make the effort required to shift our status quo vocabulary in order to communicate better? Schmitt calls it “language balancing,” and argues that we all try it.

The book addresses a wide array of interesting topics on language, such as:

  • TV ads use mainly male narrators (85%), even for gender-neutral products.
  • Over half of 18-24 year olds said they sent or received texts every hour up until midnight.
  • People make one or two slips of the tongue for every 1,000 words spoken (1 slip for every 7 minutes of continuous talk).
  • Knowledge of a second-language goes away mainly within the first 3-6 years of non-use, then levels off.
  • Spoken and written languages have their own distinctive styles, and people generally have no problem keeping the two types of language separate.

Each chapter of Language Power is centered around a question, such as: “Autism: What is it, how do I check for it, and how does it affect language?” and is followed up with information, a short summary (Power Point), and several links to interesting websites for more information.

So whether you want to learn more about body language, language and gender, understanding media bias, spinning political language, spell checkers, bilingual children, sign language, or any of the other 100 questions you might have about language, this is the book for you, too.

And because I’m a few years over 40, I’ll say this book will likely bring up interesting things about language that you’ve never even considered. (And if you’re under 40, that means interesting stuff about language).

Which do you use more often: stuff or things? Share in the comments.

My thanks to NetGalley for the
review copy of Language Power

8 thoughts on “Do You Have STUFF to Do? Or THINGS to Do?

  1. Martha J Orlando

    Being over 40 by quite a bit :), I do use the word “things” in the context you’ve described here, Lisa. I, too, love reading/learning about language and it’s various uses, so this book is a must-read for me.

  2. Trudy

    It is interesting how language changes over the generations, Lisa. I’ve noticed that among our grandkids. I’ll have to pay attention about the “things” and “stuff.” 🙂 I definitely us “things.” I find it intriguing, too, how words often used eventually find their way into the dictionary! Love and blessings to you!

  3. David

    Like! Nice ngram tracker too 🙂 Re language balancing: working in a cross-functional team, there are several “languages” in action and it’s very interesting to see who is (not) comfortable with that and what they do about it.

    * “things”, definitely. I’m so old I still think of “stuff” as a mass noun 😉

  4. Jean Wise

    HA I use stuff more than things. At least I think I do. Reminds me of the importance of really paying attention to what words I DO use. What a fascinating book this is – is going on my hint hint I want for Christmas list. Word nerds needs this sort of “stuff”.

  5. Donna Reidland

    I find words, their origins, and their usage very interesting, too. But to your question … I think I use “stuff” in a more negative way and “things” when what I’m doing seems more important or legitimate.

  6. Jeanne Takenaka

    Ahhh, Lisa. Language fascinates me too! I loved reading about this and the facts you shared. I am somewhere beyond fifty too. Can I confess I sometimes do say (and maybe it’s my son’s influence) I have stuff to do? 😉 It’s always fun to see how words, idioms, slang, and other language aspects change through the generations. 🙂

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