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Everybody Has At Least One

From the title you might have expected that I was alluding to the comparison that people make between an anatomical feature and excuses. If that were the case, I’d have finished with, “and they all stink.” What I’m referring to is a little different, though my reason for writing about them is a personal frustration.

Virtually anyone you talk to has words or phrases that they use repeatedly. More than appropriately “seasoning” the conversation with their words and/or phrases of choice, they go way overboard to the point that it’s hard to talk to them. I’m not exempting myself from this group of people, though I have yet to identify what words and/or phrases I overuse.

Identifying these kinds of words and phrases is very important because even if you’re otherwise fun to talk to, using the same language over and over again is very tiring. At the very least it’s a waste of breath and other people’s time. Another reason you want to make a mental note of such words and phrases is that you don’t want to pick them up yourself. It’s sad but true: I honestly try to keep my conversations with some people to the bare minimum for these very reasons!

Here are some that I’ve noticed recently during conversations with friends, coworkers, and family.

“Again” and “Like I said”. There’s a salesman who I interact with on a fairly frequent basis and he can’t spit out a single thought without starting the phrase with, “Again, (short but dramatic pause) . . .” It really drives me crazy. On some level it’s actually quite funny because even the first time that a topic comes up in the course of a single phone call, he’ll introduce it with his favorite device. Sometimes I’ve come very close to half-jokingly telling him that the word “again” is off limits for the remainder of the call. Since that’s a little rude, I’ll never do it, but I’ve sure wanted to. Maybe to keep myself sane the next time we talk, I’ll jot down tick marks each time he uses it . . .

My recommendation: Try hard to never use it at the beginning of a sentence the way the salesman does. That way if it occasionally slips out, you will probably not have overused it.

“Is, is”. Some people are better than others at forming sentences from thoughts. Among the “others” there is a small group of people who insist on repeating the word “is” whether or not it’s really necessary. Here’s an example: “The problem is, is there are too many people in this room.” Occasionally we all paint ourselves into this type of a phrasing corner, but some people have a real talent for doing it over and over again.

My recommendation: Try hard not to phrase your thoughts in a way that requires you to say “is” two times right in a row. When it does happen, make a mental note of how you ended up in that predicament and later think through a better way to say it. The example sentence could just have easily read: “The problem is that there are too many people in this room.” Occasionally you might leave an extra long pause between the two “is’s” which somehow makes it sound marginally better.

“I was just going to say”. During college, there was a really nice guy who sat in the back row next to me. He was sharp, and his comments truly did add to the classroom discussion. Unfortunately, I cringed whenever he raised his hand because he unfailingly prefaced anything he said with, “I was just going to say.” When people want to spit it out quickly so they can get to the actual thought, they’ll often shorten all the words and run them together: “Iwuhjusgunsay”, “Isjusgunsay”, or even “jusgunsay”.

My recommendation: Even if you actually were “just going to say” something, don’t waste your breath (and everyone else’s time) articulating that. Just skip the useless introduction and share whatever it was that you were “just going to say.”

“Goes”, “go”, “went”, etc. Many adults hang onto the bad habits they acquired during their younger years. If you’re spending lots of time with teenagers and/or want to sound younger, by all means use “goes/go/went” instead of “says/say/said” — just don’t expect most of your coworkers to take you very seriously.

My recommendation: Just don’t use these words in this context.

Like”. Used as a verb there’s nothing wrong with the word of course, but it’s pretty obvious that anything a “valley girl” might say is something to be avoided. In certain contexts (such as comparisons) it’s perfectly fine, but picture the way it’s used by teenagers, and that’s how adults (at least those of us who want to be taken seriously) should not use it. “And so I’m like, ‘No way!’ And she’s like, ‘Yes way!’”

My recommendation: Even in situations where “like” might be appropriate I try hard to use a different word instead to avoid, by a nice wide berth, sounding like a teenager. (Did you like, like that?) Some phrases that might be used in place of “like” include: “Somewhere in the neighborhood of”, “Almost”, “Nearly”, “About”, etc.

“Literally”. Some people I’ve known attempt to add emphasis to some pretty insignificant ideas by tossing in the word “literally”. Occasionally they actually do mean “literally” but the thought doesn’t require it: “I must have waited literally three minutes for her to call me back when she said it would be right away.” Other times they use it when there’s no possible way for them to mean “literally”: “I must have literally told my kid 8,000,000 times not to climb on the table.”

My recommendation: Be sure to use it only sparingly and when you really mean it.

“So”. Someone I love (who shall remain nameless) has devised her own way of filling uncomfortable pauses while on the telephone: using the word “so”. She has also found that it’s a handy way of changing subjects, interjecting (or introducing) a thought, or indicating to the party on the other end of the phone that she is still listening. Since she never reads this blog it’s unlikely that she’ll ever know I was talking about her, but even if she does happen upon this post, she already knows it’s a word I wish she’d stop using so much.

Another annoying way that some people use the word “so” is to add emphasis: “Thank you SOOOOOOOOOOO much!”, “I love you SOOOOOOOOOOOO much!”, and “I am SOOOOOOOOOOO sorry!”

My recommendation: Find other ways of filling pauses, changing subjects, interjecting (or introducing) thoughts, and showing your attention. Instead of using “so” to add emphasis, use “very”, “really”, “extremely”, etc. See if you can avoid using the word “so” unless you intend to use it in combination with “that”: “I am so tired that I need to go straight to bed.”

“This”. In many cases, it is perfectly appropriate to use the word “this”. Unfortunately, it’s overused by teenagers and brainless celebrities the (English-speaking) world over, usually when relating a story. “There was this guy, and he was driving this red car when this van came out of nowhere and caused this huge accident!”

My recommendation: See if you can avoid using the word “this” unless you are physically near the physical object. When referring to non-tangibles, try not to use “this” unless you’re only discussing a single idea/etc. and everyone knows precisely what you’re referring to.

“Totally” and “Completely”. Only a few years ago “totally” wasn’t so terribly overused that we could get away without sounding like a valley girl when saying it. Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case.

My recommendation: Avoid using “totally” and “completely” unless no other words will work.

“Way”. Similar to the other words that should be avoided because of their association with teenagers, “way” will leave others wondering why they almost took you seriously: “The movie was WAY good!”, “I am WAY tired!”, and “I am WAY impressed!”

My recommendation: Don’t use it in situations like those mentioned above. You can get away with it when expressing some thoughts such as, “There’s no way I can . . .” and “The way I see it . . .” When it comes to ideas such as “That’s way more than I expected to pay,” try “significantly”, “substantially”, “a lot”, or “quite a bit.”

Question(s) of the day:

What words or phrases really annoy you? What words do you overuse? From whom did you pick those bad habits up?

18 comments to Everybody Has At Least One

  • Tom

    One pet peeve is adding “or something” at the end of a sentence. Unfortunately I don’t like the mistake and I add it to often.

    “Why don’t you just buy more [item], or something?”

    I wouldn’t need a suggestion, if you were only going to suggest that I could get ‘something’.

  • NLG

    I guess it comes right down to familiarity with the english language. It’s a learning process that some people choose to ignore, and others to tackle head-on.

    I find the biggest problem is that people (my wife for example) do not always say what they mean. Words are thrown in that cancel out the validity of the sentence. For example, using words like always or never. I am confident that I can say these words can only be accurately used in a very few situations.

    For example, energy can never be created or destroyed :)

  • I don’t think I have any particular phrases that annoy me as such but I do have some phrases that I should probably cut down on. I often catch myself starting sentences with “Like I said”, “Well”, and “So”. I think I will try to make an effort to cut down on these phrases, thanks for the post.

  • Hi, Andy — I am slightly annoyed by the use of “go” to mean “said.” However, as I’ve been around so many people that use the word “like” as filler that *I’ve* started to like-en up my language. It’s like soooo aggravating. It’s made me more sympathetic to other’s use of “go.”

    I am trying to rid myself of using “actually” too much.

    It’s difficult not to pick up other’s speech patterns and from what I’ve read, it’s very natural – everyone picks up habits within a group and the more habits we pick up, the more comfortable we feel.

    I started to pick up a Southern accent when I was staying with friend’s family in North Carolina. His family had such a heavy accent that when I started doing it, I was worried they might think I was mocking them. I really think it was due to my liking them so much and what (or whom) you like, you want to emulate.

    Some phrases that I’ve heard overused are:

    “in other words”
    “on the other hand” (when “on one hand” was never mentioned)

    I know someone who uses “You know” as filler. He’s famous for it, poor guy. English is not his first language and sometimes he’ll string 3 or 4 you-knows together as filler.

    In order to rid myself of all my likes, I actually wrote a blog about it – it’s titled, “I Went With Him.” I wouldn’t post a link to my own blog in general, but I think it’s in keeping with the topic!


    Oh, I dunno if you know (proper usage) that Ed from Evolving Times has Tagged you? He tagged me at the same time!

    Too bad there’s no form of Overused Word Or Phrase Exorcism. Get thee gone…”go”!

    Fun post!

  • Hey, what’s wrong with teenagers and valley girls?

    I found myself laughing while reading your insightful post. Then I realized that I’ll be monitoring my own verbal style much more from this point on. Geez.

    I guess that I’ll have to find a phrase to replace my usual “So, anywho…” line. I’ve loved that line since the first time I heard my 9th grade guidance counselor use it on me when talking about my future.


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