Grammar Still on the Stakeout for Worn-Out Words and Phrases |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Still on the Stakeout for Worn-Out Words and Phrases

Last year we waded into the weeds of worn-out words and phrases: the verbal components that appear fresh and assimilate well in language until their nature is revealed.

At first they might look just like the grass that surrounds them, but in time they disrupt communication with buzz words and catch phrases that impose on the lush lawn of expression.

An evolutionary entity, communication will always require invention, addition, and subtraction. However, it also still needs periodic purging of the hangers-on that compromise precision and originality. We can all contribute to more weed-free discourse by knowing and excluding worn-out words and phrases.

This subject has proven to be so relevant that we addressed it three times in 2017:

Worn-Out Words and Phrases
Worn-Out Words and Phrases (Follow-up)
Worn-Out Words and Phrases: Resolving to Keep Writing Fresh in 2018

The list continues to grow as we remain on the lookout. We wish to thank the many readers who share their observations about language that has outlived or is outliving its welcome. The following are new entries gathered from reader correspondence so far in 2018.

Worn-Out Word/Phrase Problem Beyond Overuse Alternatives in Careful Writing
all in (adj. phrase) This phrase actually offers economy by shortening expressions such as “engaged” or “participating”; in this case, overuse is the main problem (use more sparingly)
at this point in time
(adv. phrase)
wordy now, currently, presently
each and every
(adj. phrase)
wordy; it double-dips into enumerating adjectives where one will suffice each, every, all
game changer
(noun phrase)
trendy catch phrase meaning a new element or factor that notably changes an existing situation or activity crossroad, twist, tiltpoint
give a shout/holler
(verb phrase)
wordy, overly casual alert, notify, contact
having said that
(participial phrase)
expendable filler (strike as unnecessary) or thus, therefore, accordingly
hope that helps
(verb phrase)
(overuse is the main problem) (use more sparingly)
I agree 100% [or greater amount] (verb clause) wordy; potential tautology, as 100% is implicit in full agreement I agree
It is what it is
(idiomatic clause)
wordy so be it
look (interj, e.g., Look, I already told you) expletive meaning see here (strike as unnecessary)
no problem/worries, not a problem
(noun phrase)
overly casual okay, sure, all right, you’re welcome
oftentimes (adv) unnecessary length often
over and over again
(adv. phrase)
wordy often, frequently, repeatedly, continually
pushing the envelope
(verb phrase)
elusive idiomatic imagery testing boundaries, taking chances, pioneering
that’s what I’m talkin’ about (idiomatic clause) wordy, overly casual okay, I agree, that’s right/correct
time after time
(adv. phrase)
wordy often, frequently, regularly, repeatedly, continually
whatever (expletive, e.g., You want me to work all weekend? Whatever!) trendy and overly casual buzz word generally used in a dismissive sense to mean yeah, right; your comment is puzzling (or without merit) (strike as unnecessary)
you know (interj, e.g., You know, we could do even better if we trained longer) irrelevant insertion for emphasis (strike as unnecessary)

In sharing these additional worn-out words and phrases, we once again acknowledge that many will remain common and perhaps even useful in speech. Spoken English accepts overuse, redundancy, and casualness to suit interpersonal connection and comfort. It also establishes trust through greater simplicity and familiarity.

By studying and referring to the worn-out words and phrases identified thus far, we commit ourselves further to efficient writing. And as surely as language will go on evolving, the number of entries will continue to grow. United with you as careful writers, we welcome your suggestions for potential additions to future lists.

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

20 responses to “Still on the Stakeout for Worn-Out Words and Phrases”

  1. Charles says:

    “Whatever” What you didn’t say is that use of the term is dismissive and demeaning. It usually means “your statement is totally without merit and unworthy of any consideration.” In your example about working on the weekend, “whatever” really means “screw you”. On a lighter note, we have a friend who, when telling a story, gets so excited and talks so fast that she “whatevers” herself!

  2. Brenda Russell says:

    I disagree with your suggested replacements for both “over and over again” and “time after time.” While “often, frequently” and “regularly” may approximate the “wordy” and “overly casual” phrases, more accurate alternatives are “repeatedly” and “continually,” which offer a closer implication of both contested phrases, without being wordy, overly casual, or pretentious. Accuracy counts, too.

  3. Sevag says:

    The habitual use of the word “just” drives me to distraction! It lacks any power. It’s insipid. In many contexts it sounds like the speaker is apologizing. Eliminate it.

  4. T.J. Neal says:

    Sorry, but I have to disagree with one on your list: “So be it” and “it is what it is” don’t quite mean the same thing, in my experience.

    “It is what it is” refers to accepting what you cannot change; “so be it”, on the other hand, is often understood as a command.

    A phrase that could be substituted for both of these, interestingly, is “let it be”. This phrase could mean so be it, as in make it so; or it could mean it is what it is, as in accept it because you can’t change it.

  5. Donna Repetski says:

    Thanks for this exercise, but I hope it doesn’t drain the English language of all vocabulary so that we are left with only one word—-“infrastructure”! That would be a cruel, unstructured world.

  6. Mike G. says:

    I hate “unpack,” as in “let’s unpack that idea (thought, statement, etc.).

  7. Layne Lee says:

    Reach out – to mean contact, talk to him, attempt to contact, etc, or however you want to say it, but “reach out” came on strong recently and it’s annoying. So I thought I’d reach out to you and let you know.

  8. Ann B McAllister says:

    Great post. Thinking outside the box.
    Sorry, couldn’t help myself. Thanks for continuing the these helpful posts. Still love The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation.

  9. Shannon Brown says:

    Couldn’t “on the other hand” be added to the list? Perhaps, “conversely” would be more economical word usage?

  10. PJ O'Malley says:

    Wordy; agree.
    In your search for a substitute to “at this point in time” you suggest “presently”.
    But presently doesn’t mean currently, it means soon, which is not this point in time but time in the future.

  11. Linda T. says:

    I have recently started being aggravated about a phrase that has become prevalent among YouTube instructional videos: “so yeah” (yeah being pronounced in two syllables). It’s just another one of those filler phrases like “you know.” Its user seem to think it makes them sound more hip, in my opinion. As for overused words, I pick “epic.”

    Thank you for your newsletter. I love it so much!

  12. Shiv A. says:

    Phrase I dislike is “back to back,” for consecutively. “Technically” back to back is looking in two opposite directions!

  13. Barbara B. says:

    Lots of my students write “first off” instead of “first.” They do not write “second off.”

    On the news I hear “Take a listen.” It seems “listen” would do. However, it may be a British idiom because they say “Take a lie-down” while we “Take a nap.” Both “Take a listen” and “Take a lie-down” make a verb into a noun.

  14. David S. says:

    You have missed the two most worn out and annoying of them all — “tone deaf” and “there’s no there, there.”

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