Tag Archives: annoying phrases

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.

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What it is

Sometimes it’s better to say nothing.

Today’s entry started as an advocacy piece calling for a ban on “it is what it is” from modern language.  “It is what it is” was descriptively clever when it we heard it for the first time a few years ago, but essentially it means nothing and has no real value in conversation in 2010.  Let’s all move on.

For me, writing a blog post generally involves three steps–having an idea, writing about it and, before posting, doing a quick check to be sure it hasn’t already been done.  I had finished up a piece on phrases that mean nothing.   “We’re here now” and “I’m just saying” are two more examples.

It turns out my idea was far from original.  Moreover, I was troubled that I hadn’t recognized more phrases for their nothingness.  Guess what?  “It is what it is” is at the top of the list of 10 Annoying Phrases That Serve No Purpose on the Asylum for All Mankind website.

Upon scanning Asylum’s list, I was troubled to see that I have used most of these nothing phrases.  In fact, just last Tuesday, I wrote, “Don’t get me wrong.”  Asylum asks,  “Isn’t it implicit in most human communication that your intention is always to be correctly understood?”

It just shows how easy it is to slip into sloppy patterns, especially when one person sets a bad example.

Thank you, Asylum for all Mankind, for issuing this wake-up call.  Going forward (last one on the list) I will be more careful.

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