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Pop Culture

Matthew McConaughey makes the case the word 'unbelievable' should be removed from the dictionary

Did this guy study linguistics?

matt mcconaughey, dictionaries, sapir-worf hypothesis

Matthew McConaughey in 2019.

Actor Matthew McConaughey is known for being a bit of a philosopher. He played up the persona a few years back in a series of commercials where he pontificated while behind the wheel of a large Lincoln.

"Taking care of yourself takes care of more than just yourself. That's the sweet spot,” he said in one ad. "Sometimes you gotta go back to actually move forward,” he mused in another.

McConaughey’s philosophizing isn’t limited to TV commercials. He keeps the party going on Twitter where he regularly posts videos of himself discussing everything from journaling to how he’s arrived at his unique perspectives.

On May 16, he made a bold claim in a video that some may not agree with but it actually has a strong footing in science. In a video where he’s sitting on a lawn chair, McConaughey says that the word “unbelievable” should be removed from the dictionary.


“Unbelievable. It’s my least favorite word, I think we should wipe it out of the dictionary. Why? What’s so unbelievable about tragedy, about triumph, about people that raise us up or let us down?” he asked.

“It happens every single day we shouldn’t think that the most beautiful sunset or the greatest play or the greatest love of our life or the greatest moment of euphoria is unbelievable. Believe it! It’s happening right in front of you,” he continued. “In you! We shouldn’t feel like the greatest tragedy of death or earthquakes or national disasters or loss is unbelievable. It’s part of life too! Believe it. We see it happen every day.”

He suggested some words we should use to replace “unbelievable.”

"Unbelievable? I don’t buy it. Awesome, horrible, incredible. I believe those. That’s a good way to explain things. But unbelievable? Nah. It just happened. Believe it,” he said.

McConaughey is asking people to reframe how they see people and events to accept the entire spectrum of reality. Even if that means coming to the realization that people can be incredibly altruistic and also downright evil. Or that when we see a powerful natural phenomenon—whether deadly or beautiful—we accept it all as part of our awe-inspiring universe.

He’s asking us to put aside our judgments and take it all in. Because when we label things "unbelievable" we set them apart from reality when we should be incorporating them into our worldviews.

The funny thing is that McConaughey’s thoughts are in alignment with one of the most powerful ideas in linguistics, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. It posits that the language we use has a strong effect on how we interpret reality and that people who speak different languages see the world differently.

The idea is still up for debate, but linguists believe that “language influences perceptions, thought, and, at least potentially, behavior” (Holmes, 2001). Therefore, McConaughey is right. When we deem the things we see with our own eyes to be “unbelievable” we are divorcing ourselves from reality. Why cast the extremes aside when we can embrace the entirety of our scary, beautiful and mysterious existence with our entire hearts?

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