This week’s Friday Flashback, titled “Embracing the Inner Pedant”, was originally published in November 2008.

Researchers at Oxford University recently compiled a list of the top ten most irritating phrases in the English language. At the top of the list is, you guessed it, “at the end of the day”. I have to say the rest of the list doesn’t really provoke much teeth-grinding on my part, with the possible exception of “with all due respect” – which I hear far too often. This is somewhat surprising because I have a lot of pet peeves when it comes to the usage (and mangling) of English, and I would have thought that at least some of them would have made the cut.

I admit: I am one of those annoying people who nitpicks the placing of apostrophes and the incorrect use of “it’s”. But beyond that, it pains me when people can’t be bothered to actually learn their own mother tongue. English is not my first language, and yet I am constantly amazed to find that my familiarity with it exceeds that of many people (native speakers) I meet. My love for words is not merely pedantic; words are the way we, as humans, communicate with one another – shouldn’t we always strive to master that art? Yes, I’m sure that if, for some reason, the need arose we could probably pare down the English vocabulary to a fraction of what it is today (hopefully a fraction its speakers will then at least use to its fullest) and we would still be able to function as a society. [Apparently, this has already been done. Wikipedia informs me that ‘Special English’, a simplified version of English, currently used by the US broadcasting service Voice of America has a vocabulary of only 1,500 words.] Yet I can’t help but think that a huge part of human culture would be lost in the process. After all, words are created to describe something – some aspect of human reality – which could not otherwise be expressed (or expressed as eloquently or succinctly). If a word dies, and is never replaced, what happens to whatever aspect of our reality was tied to it? How does it survive in our imaginations, in our very understanding of the world?But enough with the paean to the English language. What comes next is my PSA about the stuff which, for the love of God, I beg you to stop saying, at least while I’m around.- Enough with “literally”! Using “literally” for emphasis is lazy and usually results in a comment that contradicts at least one law of physics.

– “Frankly” and “honestly”. As prefaces to whatever you’re about to say, these are superfluous, unless you’ve been lying to my face the whole time. And knowing it’s your “honest opinion” doesn’t make whatever you’re about to say any more interesting to me.

– If you want to appear nonchalant, don’t tell me you “could care less”.

– “Irregardless” is not a real word, and I don’t care who tells you it is.

– If you tell me that you “love so-and-so to death, but …”, I am going to bring my popcorn and settle in for what is sure to be a major bitch-fest. Skip the unnecessary and hyperbolic qualifier, and just get to the juicy bits already.

– Please think really carefully about that “myself” you want to tack on at the end of “Jane and ___”. Nine times out of ten, what’s missing from the sentence is “I”. The remainder of the time, it will be “me”. If you are confused about which of the two it is, removed “Jane and” from the sentence, and read the sentence to yourself. The answer will become apparent.

– If you tell me to “have a good one”, I might be tempted to ask what exactly you want me to have. But, hey, I’m glad that it’s good.

– If I don’t “know what you mean”, I will tell you, don’t worry. Please stop asking me.

– Believe me when I say that to “have your cake and eat it too” is entirely possible. What you probably mean is that you can’t “eat your cake and have it too”. You can eat what you have, but you can’t have what you’ve already eaten. And yes, I do know that the last quasi-public figure to nitpick this point was the Unabomber. I don’t care.

You may, perhaps, remark the absence of a certain, four letter word from the above list. That’s because, sometimes, even I can’t, like, help myself.

Editor’s Note (Sept 2012): Funnily enough, I’ve been getting steadily worse, lately, about over-using “literally”. My husband recently pointed out that I use it, like, literally all the time. Evidently, “like” has also remained popular in my daily vocabulary. One phrase I would definitely now add to the above list is “cold hard reality”. It’s my husband’s pet phrase, and it sounds like nails on a chalkboard every time I hear it.
What are your pet peeve words or most irritating phrases? And how do you stop yourself or others around you from endlessly repeating them?

8 Comments on Friday Flashback: A short lexicon of the most irritating phrases … ever

  1. This article made me laugh. Excellent commencement of a Friday.

    I found myself in several above mentioned phrases.

    While “honestly” and “frankly” start many of my sentences (I’ll try to be sensitive around you), I shudder every time I hear “I’m not going to lie…”. Instantaneously, I have an urge to follow that statement with my most condescending “Good boy! You are such a good boy…” (or girl).

    Ranking pretty high on my list of pet peeves is a phrase that you just used in your article “For the love of God”. To me it sounds like an invite to earn God’s love. What if I’m an atheist and don’t want to compete?

    However, “It is what it is” and “You got to do what you got to do!” are the ultimately most irritating phrases that anyone can use in their speech and tied for my #1 pet peeve. I “literally” go temporary crazy when I hear these two and I usually follow with a lengthy explanation that, depending on the personal believes and philosophy “**It**, to me, may not be what **It** is to you” or that in the free-thinking 21st century, as a liberated woman with a decent IQ “No, I don’t got to do what Whoever thinks I got to do”.
    I know that in these moments I sound like a big angry woman from an average American B production movie, but “I couldn’t care less”.

    “You know what I mean?”

    My pet phrase is “Hands down”.
    – Writing this little response was “hands down” the most fun, I’ve had since Sunday.

    “Have a good one!”

    • Hilarious! It’s strange that the things that enrage one person, don’t bother another. The phrases you mentioned are kind of annoying, but they don’t make me grit my teeth. But … duly noted 😉

  2. I will confess that I use the word “totally” way too much for someone who isn’t Keanu Reeves. It also bugs me when people use “somewhat” instead of “something” (ie, “watching Point Break is somewhat of a guilty pleasure.”)

    • Aw, I still have a soft spot for Keanu from back in the day – like, “twenty years ago” back in the day. Sigh. I’m old. Anyway, I always think of KR whenever I say (or think to myself) “Whoa!”

  3. lol I use a different one when I’m speaking “I’m going to be honest with you” or “I’m not gonna lie to you”, which makes me sound about as trustworthy as a used car salesman.

    Also “I can appreciate X, but” (e.g. your opinion, etc.) is the most vacuous statement that makes me feel the opposite of appreciated.

  4. “Impact” as a verb. It’s a noun, people! A NOUN!!! The weather does not “impact” how my picnic goes, it “has an impact on” how my picnic goes.

    • Ah, yes! That used to bug me a lot too. Repeated exposure to its (mis)use as a verb (in my line of work) has lessened its impact. LOL!