Empty phrases

Last spring, I wrote a couple of blog posts on useless words. One was on phrases that mean nothing in which I referenced a list of 10 Annoying Phrases That Serve No Purpose. The other was on verbal pauses, you know, words like, “you know” and “like.” Based on comments I received, I learned that some people have emotional or habitual attachments to certain phrases or verbal patterns and don’t share my opinion that, while some expressions may be clever upon their arrival on the language scene, it eventually becomes time to move on from them.

At the risk stepping out on another flimsy limb, I’d like to add two more to the list.

The first happens to occupy second place on the list of 10 Annoying Phrases That Serve No Purpose: “at the end of the day.”

I first took notice of “at the end of the day” in 1991. I was working with a Harvard-educated consultant who used it in just the perfect context:  when all is said and done, when everything else has been taken into consideration. I noted how descriptive—and original—it sounded. I may have even picked it up and used it a few times. Not too long after that, I heard about an industry executive from the Gulf Coast region who, when testifying on Capitol Hill, used the phrase to sum up his testimony. He had the creativity to follow it up with something even more descriptive:  “At the end of the day, when the gumbo boils down . . .”

Almost 20 years later, I believe “at the end of the day” has become stale and overused. It has lost its punch. Unless, of course, it is followed by a clever colloquialism.

The second phrase, while innocuous enough, has come to be spoken without thought. Still, it precedes a great preponderance of sentences these days. “You know what?” Pay attention and you will really begin to notice. Again, there’s technically nothing wrong with it, but it is way overused. “You know what? I am going to have eggs over easy.”

These two sayings hit me in the face yesterday morning as I watched former JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater being interviewed on the major morning news programs—NBC’s Today, ABC’s Good Morning America and CBS’ The Early Show

As a refresher, Slater was the airline employee who had a colossal meltdown on a flight from Pittsburgh to New York, cursed out a plane full of passengers over the intercom and, when the plane landed at JFK, grabbed two beers, popped open the emergency exit door and slid down the escape ramp. He parted ways with JetBlue and pled guilty to two criminal charges.

In three network interviews, he told his side of the story, using “at the end of the day” and “you know what?” collectively at least 10 times. My favorite, though, was on GMA, when he was asked how his notoriety has affected him. He said, “At the end of the day, I still put my pants on one leg at a time.”

Don’t people usually take their pants off at the end of the day? Maybe he was referring to his PJs, in which he probably spends a lot of time these days.


Filed under All Things Wordish, Movies, Television and Radio, News, Travel

6 responses to “Empty phrases

  1. Emily

    You know what? It amazed me how he was handled with kid gloves. Particularly when he said, “I might have had a little nip before the flight.” He now says the passenger may have accidentally hit him.

    At the end of the day, he was a flight attendant, his main job is passenger safety, he was drinking on the job and by deploying the chute he endangered other people on the ground.

    Having said that (third annoying phrase lead in) I see the breakdown of civility and common courtesy on every flight these days and it certainly isn’t limited to the passengers. But if I had to tell the guy in 10 D to turn off his phone for the fourth time, I’d probably be drinking on the job too.

  2. William Greene

    Back in the day, Hey, I got it, if you know what I mean.

  3. In the business world everyone is anxious to “take things to the next level”. No one, it seems, is content to be on their current level. Guess we’ll all meet our competitors at that next level, wherever that may be!

  4. So would people be up for a discussion of office buzzwords? It’s something I’ve been contemplating. I’ll just say this – I am drawing the line at paradigms.

  5. Emily Basca

    would those be shifting paradigms or aligning? Both bug me!

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