Friday, December 17, 2010

More Words We Love To Hate

According to a recent Marist College poll of over a thousand American adults, "whatever" was chosen as the most annoying word or phrase for the second year in a row. "Like" came in right behind it. Other irksome terms included "you know what I mean," "to tell you the truth," and "actually."

Actually, to tell you the truth, I'm in complete agreement. Word One and Word Two are simply irritating space holders; our current versions of "uh" and "um." "Actually" says nothing. "To tell you the truth" makes me think the speaker or writer normally doesn't tell the truth, but is choosing to do so now.

Oh, now they've done it. They've fired up this grammar geek's engine of irritation. Now I'll have to add my personal language pet peeves that flab up your work and generally make what could be lean, mean writing a fluffy, obtuse mess.

1. In order to

Tell me, why is this flitter of words necessary? Consider this sentence:  "In order to get the cat into her carrier, we had to tranquilize her first."

Why not: "To get the cat into her carrier, we had to tranquilize her first." You get double the bang for your grammar buck; lose a couple words and make a clearer sentence. Or simply rewrite the whole sucker: "We had to tranquilize the cat to get her into her carrier." Done.

2. It is what it is

This was cute for a while, but is now way past its expiration date. It's back there with the green goo that used to be ricotta cheese. Its current use as a kind of verbal shrug has ruined what was once a brilliantly simple tenet of Zen philosophy. Thanks a heap.

3. Rain event

Have you noticed this creeping into our weather forecasts? As in, "We're expecting a rain event to slowly move into the Northeast." Why can't it just rain? Or is that not technical-sounding enough to justify all those whiz-bang graphics?

4. At the end of the day

What, "when all is said and done" isn't good enough for you? (Seriously, that sucks, too.) This tired phrase needs to be retired. What if we tailor this throwaway phrase into something more specific, depending on the situation? In politics, one could say, "When we finish digging through the mess the previous administration left behind." Or, in the case of any PR nightmare, "When we figure out who's to blame."

5. On a daily basis

Another useless chunks of words. Comedy writers seem to like this one. As in, "While I appreciate the occasional romp through a dumpster, it's not something I enjoy on a daily basis." The rhythm is kind of nice, but the tune's been played.

6. Often

Did I miss the announcement that we are now supposed to pronounce the "t"? Maybe I was, like, somewhere else at the time. Maybe I was researching the history of the word and its storied pronunciation past. Before the 17th century, according to Random House, the "t" was pronounced. Then it was gradually dropped by well-educated English speakers, American and British, and is now considered the preferred pronunciation. Sometimes contemporary speakers have added the "t" in a misguided attempt to sound erudite, which, at least in my opinion, makes you sound like you're trying too hard. After all, we don't pronounce the "t" in soften, fasten, listen, or glisten. But as more of us say "AWF-tin" and become accustomed to hearing it, it may sneak its way back into favor. Please stop. Friends don't let friends sound stupid.

7. Ad experience

I saw this recently on a commercial break, I was shown three alternative images and asked, "Which ad experience would you prefer?" Unfortunately, there was no option for "None, thank you." But... "Ad experience"? If I'm seeing an ad, aren't I already experiencing it?

8. Completely destroyed

 This is one of my favorite phrases to hate, and one still used by many otherwise literate journalists. "Destroyed" is... destroyed. Done. Finito. No more. The building is a pile of rubble; call in the backhoes. "Completely" is redundant. And there is no "partially destroyed" just as there is no "partially pregnant."

What are your favorite irksome phrases and groan-worthy words? And how do you pronounce "often"?


  1. My pet peeves:

    "In reality.." Whose reality would that be?

    "I'm so OCD..." (when they're not)

    "She's such a bitch..." When in fact she's assertive.

    "I don't do stress..." Really? Because everyone does.

    "Sorry.." Only when women use that word too much or for things they should not be apologizing for.

    "Nasty" I know that a great deal of people use this word but it rubs me the wrong way, and I react like they've said a really bad word.

    Thanks for asking this - it's such a fun thing to think about. And I can see it help me with my writing. Give a disagreeable character words to use that bug me, for example.

    Sometimes I enunciate the word often with the "t" or without the "t" - it depends.

    "It depends..." Sometimes bugs me because it's so indecisive! I think I just irked myself.


  2. I hate how people say "Sick" to describe something they love or something fun or a good time. I.e, "I had a sick time tonight."
    "That movie was sick."
    See, I thought the word sick meant, not feeling well; so why do people use it to mean something they like?

  3. Thanks, Ann! "In reality" is another one that irks me...and all this makes me miss George Carlin. He did this bit on useless words we toss around, like "at any rate..."

  4. @Genevieve, yeah, that's getting a little old. I'd reserve it for snowboarding or hip-hop dance crew routines.