12 More Words I Hate (And You Should Never Use)
Last year, I published a post containing some of my least favorite words and phrases. Dozens of readers commented on that post and added their own entries to the list—so in today’s post, I’m compiling the words and phrases you detest the most—and adding a few new ones of my own.
1. Happy Memorial Day: In the United States, Memorial Day is the day we set aside to honor the men and women who died while serving in the military. For many people, it’s a somber day of remembrance and appreciation, but for others, it’s little more than a reason to enjoy a long holiday weekend. “Happy Memorial Day” is not only a contradictory phrase (it’s like saying “Happy Funeral!”), but it’s disrespectful to anyone mourning a loss.
2. Utilize: This is one of those rarely necessary, pompous-sounding words. As reader John Barnett wrote, “I really hate ‘utilize’…for some reason government and academic writers love [that word] in order to make something sound very official and important…So I ask: what’s wrong with ‘use?’”
3. “With all due respect”: Reader scottinapac described this set-up phrase perfectly: “A business professional’s way of teeing up before taking a whack.” When I worked for Ted Koppel at Nightline, I remember all of us in the control room bracing ourselves whenever he started a question to a guest that way—we knew whatever he said next was going to be devastating.
4. Nazi: The word Nazi should be used to describe the fascist ideology that led to the slaughter of 11 million innocent European Jews, communists, gays, and others—including one million children. After Jerry Seinfeld labeled a grumpy chef “The Soup Nazi,” it seemed like the word started being used to describe almost anything (as an example, I see the term “grammar Nazi” regularly). My concern is that using the term broadly diminishes the true meaning of the word. And I can’t imagine how my family members who lost loved ones during or survived the Holocaust greet such a usage of the word.
5. “You know”: This piece of verbal filler annoys Brian Chandler, the president of Commonwealth Public Relations: “The phrase ‘You know’ is being used all over the place in interviews and by talk show hosts. It’s worse than saying ‘um.’” Suzanne Thornton agrees, writing, “I am appalled when a speaker begins or ends every sentence or comment with, “you know.” Caroline Kennedy once used the phrase 138 times during one interview—and it made her a target of mockery for the New York tabloids.
6. “At the end of the day”: Reader Barbara Quayle nominated this phrase, as did Terri, who said the term is vomit-inducing for her. Urban Dictionary is even more blunt, describing it as a “Rubbish phrase used by many annoying people.” At the end of the day, this phrase is unnecessary. Most sentences can stand alone just fine without it.
7. “Finally, and most importantly”: Every time I hear this phrase, I wonder why the speaker chose to bury the lead. There may be times when it makes sense to do so, but I typically find that the speakers who say this just sequenced their presentations badly.
8. Think outside the box: Wikipedia says that this phrase, thought to have derived “from management consultants in the 1970s and 1980s,” usually “refers to novel or creative thinking.” See the problem there? The phrase is so overused as to no longer be novel or creative—so if a management consultant is still using it, it’s a sign that their thinking may be stale.
9. (S)he gave 110 percent: This phrase is often heard in the sports world, intended to convey a sense than the athlete gave more than they were capable of. That, of course, is impossible. If the athlete gave it their all, it suffices to simply say that.
10. Very unique: As a reader named Lorrie says, “Unique means one of a kind, so can something be ‘very’ one of a kind? That one will drive you crazy listening to sports and news broadcasters.”
11. Going forward: Reader Wendy Vreeken writes, “I believe the phrase ‘going forward’ deserves special recognition. Gag worthy.” Kelly agrees, noting that “Going forward…drives me crazy because we all know we can’t return to the past.” Instead of telling an audience what you’ll do “going forward,” just tell them what you plan to do.
12. Hate: Given the title of this post, this may seem like a surprising entry. I don’t love the word hate, but the biggest problem with the word is that it’s a bit vague. There are many more descriptive shades of the same sentiment that add meaning and color, such as “loathe,” “despise,” and “abhor.”
What words and phrases do you detest? Please leave them in the comments section below, and you may be included in a future edition of this series.
The one that drives me mad is a habit of our (Canada’s) Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
In his (far too infrequent) interviews, he is wont to start his answers with “Listen…” That word in no way sets a good tone. It’s imperious, sets up a dynamic of “I am superior, you are inferior”, and is needlessly combative.
Great post! Many of these are so grating, for me 1, 2, 4 and 10 are especially so. I’d add literally. It seems people say “I was standing literally in the middle of the street.” You ARE standing in the middle of the street. No need for literally.
But we love and respect language, and many people don’t. Sigh.
A few off the top of my head:
1) “at this time”: extra words that make something sound more official without adding any meaning.
2) “touch base”: annoying, overused expression in the business world.
3) amazing: probably the most overused adjective in the English language, at least in social media.
4) “No offense”: People add this before or after saying something offensive as if that absolves them of being offensive.
“In terms of…”
‘Circle back’ makes my hair stand on end.
I contemplate words and language constantly so find this post to be pure catnip … unless that last phrase offends, in which case it merely interests me. It’s a good list, and I agree with the new suggestions. Bob’s in particular made me smile; though I only lived in Canada for 3 years, I definitely recall Stephen Harper demanding the audience “listen” during his interviews.
However, a few on the original list don’t bother me, perhaps because I no longer engage the corporate world regularly. “Going forward” feels pretty innocuous, as does “at the end of the day.” If I heard them all the time or repeatedly in a single presentation, I might feel differently. But as it is they sound like countless other transitional phrases peppering our modern discourse. “In the future” or “Looking back” aren’t particularly annoying so why should “going forward” be? Seems a succinct way of suggesting lessons learned, as in “Going forward, we’ll need to keep x in mind.”
I consider “utilize” a bit like “sterilize.” Yes, “clean” may do but “sterilize” indicates something more, perhaps a technical aspect. In a similar way, “utilize” may at times fit. One might use a software program, for example, while a company utilizes a prescribed regimen to sterilize parts when manufacturing computer chips. The difference is subtle and arguably unnecessary, but I wouldn’t be perturbed by its use (though I might cringe at its utilization).
The important lesson is to consider word choices carefully, simplify when possible and avoid stock phrases. In other words (a phrase which might also be on someone’s list), don’t be lazy when expressing yourself.
For me, “deeply saddened”, when used to refer to grief over the death of a prominent figure, has become as trite and saccharine as “I apologize to anyone I might have offended.” I find that the phrase is used most often in official condolences from organizations not wanting to appear silent on the passing but not really having much to say about the late Mr./Mrs. Doe, either.
Irregardless . . . When I hear this non-word tossed out there; especially by a communications practitioner, I want to take a hostage. Truly a show stopper.
“…still remains…” I learned of such grammatical improprieties as a college freshman. This phrase gets uttered by (insert euphemism for “stupid”) broadcasters far too often. Whenever someone says, “the situation still remains”, I cannot take seriously anything they say afterwards. This still bothers me. Or, This remains irksome. Pick one. You don’t need both. Avoid the department of redundancy department.
Along with all the aforementioned (like that $5 word?), this is what grinds my gears: The baseball sportscaster who remarks when a batter swings and misses: “He had a good cut”. GRRR It is pure little league.
In business, I hear folks say “Net Net” — this phrase was really popular about 10 years ago, but I still hear it. It is suppose to mean “when everything is netted out/the takeaway/the bottom line idea.” However, it is truly meaningless and redundant.
It also drives me crazy when folks turn a noun into a verb: “medaling at the Olympics” “impacting a situation” (like a tooth?? – it should be “have an impact”)
Not only is “most importantly” idiotic, it is ungrammatical. You can’t use “importantly” when the word doesn’t modify an object. The correct phrase is “most important.” Even so, it is to be avoided. I hear speakers using “most importantly” all the time. It’s just used to stall, fill the air while trying to think of a response, or sound pompous, only succeeding in the latter.
The word no one has mentioned yet is “resonate.” Used “this really resonates with me.” Does it really?
Anyway, most offending words, phrases and sounds like “um” can be forgiven if the speaker only uses one or two, once or twice. I’m really pretty easy-going.
I dislike the unneccesary phrase “in order.” Instead of saying, “I went to the store in order to buy milk.” Just say, “I went to the store to buy milk.” I’ve never seen an instance where “in order” added anything to a sentence.
The phrase “in order to” drives me crazy.
Just tell me what you need or what you plan to do. It is unnecessary filler that people add to make themselves sound smart, or a habit people pick up in school to hit a word count on an essay.
“As you may know…”
“Shall” is not commonly used by Americans, so when I hear one of us use it, it sounds to me like the person is trying to be overly formal.
“With that being said…”
It drives me crazy when people begin conversations or responses to questions with the word, “So”–and they tend to emphasize the O in the word. For example: “Soooo, the reason this study is important is because it explains the difference between blah, blah, blah…” Use of the word in this way just makes the speaker sound unpolished, regardless of who he or she is.
In TOTAL agreement with Don’s comment about IRREGARDLESS.
“Very unique” is something that Martha Stewart said all the time. Made me crazy!! No such thing.
in my mind; what it is, is; to tell you the truth; let me be clear; irregardless; and so on and so forth; anyways; this was a no brainier.
… “and things of this nature.”
Hearing this overused, sloppy phrase is as pleasant as a trip to the dentist or fingernails scraping a chalk board!
Brad, thanks for another great post. I really enjoy your columns!
I envy the ability of some to create new metaphors on the spot and to grab le mot juste at will, but not to the same extent as others, I’m happy to realize. It must be quite a burden to be so enamored of the English grammar that one is left gagging, throwing up and reaching for the hairspray every time those of a lesser god speak.
My own list of dislikes might include “idiotic” to describe everything the speaker disagrees with. In this same category, greedy Republican, rotten capitalist, and uncaring conservative.
New expressions come from many different cultures and walks of life—not just the hoi polloi. By the time such words enter the general lexicon, they’re already passé somewhere. It seems a bit elitist to suggest that when you’re tired of a word, it’s officially a cliché.
What I’ve enjoyed most about this discussion is the vivid language in some of the comments. Kathleen’s “makes my hair stand on end” put me right in the moment, and Don’s “I want to take a hostage” made me laugh hard!
My own additions to the list of loathsome phrases:
“Reach out to…” – how about just “ask” or “tell” or similar? (Otherwise, I tend to reach for the bucket!)
“I think you’ll find…” – that’s what I call “a fake ‘I’ statement” because it starts personably and a bit doubtfully, and then just 6 letters later it turns around and smacks the listener in the mouth, correcting them in a very demeaning way! Dropping the “you’ll find” removes the offensive part and shows it for the humble opinion it really is.
Also, you might find the link below useful. It lists more than a dozen common words and phrases, with a neater way to say each one:
Comments and additions to that list are always welcome!
ahold is not a word, not even in the new dictionaries. One does not get ahold of anything. Correctly one should say…..”I managed to get hold of my friend” OR “So-and-so’s music really has a hold on me.
Formulation is another word that drives me crazy.
“only time will tell…”
“To be honest…” So, you thought about lying, but decided honesty would be more useful?
Quite frankly. I hear this phrase constantly. I think it’s a phrase used primarily in military circles. Can’t stand it.
Oh, where to begin with the miserable metaphors. “Slippery slope,” “reinvent the wheel,” “low-hanging fruit…” and on and on. I’m going to make up bingo cards with all of these tired phrases for use during our next board meeting.
One that really gets my craw is “fur baby” or “fur kid” when referring to a pet. I understand that people often think of their pets as children, but those words are so “cutesy” and sickening. When an adult uses these words, they are instantly conveyed inside my head in annoying baby talk, and that person’s intelligence is knocked down a couple of notches in my book.
It was excited to be mentioned in #11!
The most recent phrase to annoy me is “wrap my head around.”
Over the weekend, I was watching the news story about the fatal auto racing incident that occurred in New York. The victim’s family released a statement that said, something to the effect of give us time to grieve and wrap our head around this event.
I thought to myself, what words would be in my release? I probably would have used less is more and stopped at time to grieve. Then, I thought about how this expression, which gives me odd visual images, is overused.
A response to reader Craig…I’d agree that reach out is also overused. I hear it often.
It means impossible to believe.
It’s now used solely to describe the amazing or impressive, yet absolutely believable.
“Beyond” is my new least favorite word. I frequently see it used to describe feelings (beyond excited, beyond sad). Yuck!
Brad: Great list, thanks! My pet pieve is the improper use of the word, “at” at the end of a sentence. Many people, who should know better, even radio announcers and sometimes newscasters do this. Examples: “Wow! What a great poduct! Where did you find that at?” or “Thanks for filing this report; where exactly are you at?”
Look, too many pundits on tv are using the word “look” to start a sentence, whether they are saying something directly or quoting someone. Stop!
“It is what it is.” Well, it would not be what it’s not, would it?
I detest how so many younger people in the news pepper their speech with “right?” every sentence or so, as if to say ” do you know what I mean.” Maddening!
“Circle back”. Drives me mad.
Ha – just read the comments. “Circle back” seems to infuriate us Kathleens!
“In other words.” You are too stupid to understand what I just said, so let me try it in Swahili.
“That’s so epic!”, “And you’re telling me”, “fur baby”, and “The funny thing is…” all make me want to hurl. I once had a friend who said “And you’re telling me” after every sentence, and even though I loved her dearly, I occasionally made up excuses so I didn’t have to talk to her.
I hate the phrase ‘To make a long story short’. Just by saying that phrase, you’ve extended the story.
There seems to be an obsession with saying “as well” at the end of sentences. Drives me batty! This is best used to link two subjects together such as this as well as that — not tagged onto the end of a sentence.
”Fur Baby”, ”Crossing the rainbow bridge” and” Oh my GAWWWWD!!”
Love this topic! I’ll nominate a few for your consideration. “Irregardless….” Can’t believe how many people think that is a legitimate word. Drop the “ir” people! Also on my hit parade: “could care less,” denoting that one doesn’t care about the issue/person/event at all. Actually, using this phrase, they could care less, which means they do care about the issue/person/event. Okay, one more. “Like..,” Just as “you know” is a commonly-used verbal filler, “like” is incredibly annoying in people who overuse it, including my daughter. I find it more ‘likely’ to be used by those under 30, perhaps as an offshoot of the Valley Girl era. Put “Like, you know…” in Valley Girl dialect, and I’m running for the door! One last one: “let’s circle back..” I live in Oklahoma and am well-aware of the pioneer meaning of the phrase to circle the wagons. A scene from “Blazing Saddles” comes to mind.. 🙂 but please people, give it a rest! Love your posts!!!