Grammar Worn-Out Words and Phrases: 2017 |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Worn-Out Words and Phrases: 2017

Words and phrases are powerful tools when used correctly in the right places in a thought or idea. They can also add conversational glue among those tuned in to the buzz of a current milieu.

Yet not all words and phrases are meant to last forever. Many serve a fleeting purpose before they lose their relevance or simply become frayed from use. They’re just too du jour to outlive their trend.

In these events, we have to consider their mission accomplished and let them fade with their retirement checks in hand. If we pardon them soon enough, we can even help them depart with dignity.

We’ve all seen fashionable words and phrases cooperate in joining and then leaving our language. We’ve also witnessed ailing ones that refuse to let go. Some date from as far back as the late 1990s and early 2000s; as dried-up and tired hangers-on, they bog down what should be nimble expression.

We watch for words and phrases that look to be overstaying their welcome. By calling them out and issuing pink slips, we aim to uphold the vigor of vibrant communication.

We’ve identified the following as either no longer fit for or quickly losing their figure in fresh, lean, and clean composition. Some may still insist on loitering despite our best efforts at exclusion, but together we can help turn most of them back just by reducing their use until we no longer need them at all.

absolutely high-impact paradigm shift
alrighty then holistic pretty (as modifier)
amazing honestly really (as modifier)
at the end of the day it’s not rocket science so this happened
awesome just sayin’ synergy
by the same token literally think outside the box
cutting-edge low-key touch base
drop(ped) the ball on the same page under one roof

Weeding these from your writing and speech will help to keep it original and meaningful. Perhaps you know of yet other words and phrases that are ready for a phase-out. If so, please share them with us. We’ll review them for potential inclusion with our list of worn-out words and phrases for 2017.

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.

60 responses to “Worn-Out Words and Phrases: 2017”

  1. maria says:

    I suggest adding “hate it when that happens.”

  2. Kelly Carter says:

    A phrase that is long worn out for me, but I still hear it used, is to reach out. Often, I would argue the better phrase is to talk to, contact, discuss with, meet with, etc. Why use the figurative expression to reach out unless you mean you’re going to physically touch them? [Editor’s note: our thanks to several readers who suggested reach or reaching out.]

  3. Mary Madden says:

    You’ve given us a real challenge, especially with speech. I hate hearing myself say far too frequently: absolutely, exactly, really, and others. But I find it difficult to train myself away from these old friends. For now I’ll take comfort in removing these tired old phrases from my writing. Two new phrases that I’ll be happy to see short-lived: “I mean” when they are the first words spoken; and “Let’s unpack that,” to suggest a deeper look into a topic. Thanks Grammar Book.

  4. Liz Jameson says:

    The overuse of “So” to begin a statement. Example: TV anchorperson asks an interviewee to comment on a subject, and the person begins his/her comments with “So, nuclear war is imminent.” Oftentimes, the person will say “so” many times in the response — not using it properly as to introduce a consequence. (Example: The raccoon bit Johnny Smith, so Johnny had to get rabies shots.)

  5. John Fleming says:

    What I hate, especially as a Freelance English Teacher, is ‘from the get-go’ America think. Where did this silly phrase come from ? It has crept into American and English TV programmes. I try to eradicate it and tell people to use the existing words – start, begin, starting and beginning etc. Even the English slang ‘from the off’ I feel is better.

  6. Andre says:

    I would suggest “perfect storm” is added to the list.

    Quoting Wikipedia:
    The term “perfect storm” is nearly synonymous with “worst-case scenario”, although the latter carries more of a hypothetical connotation.
    “Perfect storm” has also been used as a metaphor for a relationship such as in the popular hit songs “Dark Horse” by Katy Perry, “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift, “Perfect Storm” by Brad Paisley and “Should’ve Been Us” by Tori Kelly.
    From the beginning, the phrase was in heavy use during the financial crisis of 2007–2012, even to the point of pundits anticipating “another perfect storm”.
    The phrase was awarded the top prize by Lake Superior State University in their 2007 list of words that deserve to be banned for overuse.

  7. Jana Stephens says:

    Free and open to the public.
    A good time was had by all.
    Too much on his plate.

  8. Eileen S says:

    It would be appreciated if there were also suggestions of alternate words/phrases for a person to use instead of the worn-out words and phrases

  9. Holly Nyquist says:

    Regarding worn out words and phrases: I am so tired of hearing that some quality is in something’s DNA. Please leave the term to science and stop its overuse as a metaphor.

  10. Buckley says:

    Here’s my list: So, like, I mean, look, man up, sure, right, hey, optics, at the end of the day, awesome, game changer, it’s all good, hope that helps, it is what it is, my bad, that’s what I’m talkin’ about, shout-out, all in, I’m just sayin’, sounds like a plan, this/that bad boy, awww!, particular, basically, each and every, having said that, wait-what.

  11. Shannon H. says:

    I completely agree with this list of overused words and phrases. It would be interesting to see a list of “up and coming” words and phrases to replace them. Then we, your readers, would be cutting edge in our communication!

  12. Ruthe Smith says:

    More worn-out words/phrases:
    “seriously” and “in all seriousness”
    “Look” or “Listen” – I don’t see these much in written form, but I do hear it a lot as the beginning of a rebuttal statement, as in, “Look, the data clearly show that … ” I think it shows the speaker’s frustration and comes off as aggressive.

  13. J. Dyer says:

    One of the worst offenders, often heard from online customer service employees: “reaching out”. As in “Thanks for reaching out to us” as the first line of a reply to any query or compliant.

  14. Don Ucci says:

    I disagree with dropping many of these from modern day language. New nuances in language come into being with new generations but that does not mean old sayings need to go. They are old sayings because ‘they are tried and true” (another one you could add to your list of outdated sayings – but don’t!). Maybe something like “hunky-dory” could leave but I still like even that one!

  15. JT Mannix says:

    You’ve left out the most recent and worn out phrase: ‘reaching out,’ as in ‘thanks for reaching out.’

  16. Cristina Altieri says:

    Maybe you could give us replacements in your next issue.
    Cristina Altieri

  17. nwbray says:

    I searched the blog and internet in regards to this, but I didn’t find anything that answered this question precisely.
    I couldn’t find the place on this site to post this question on the Grammar Blog, so I’m posting it here. I hope you don’t mind.

    What parts of speech would each word in these phrases be considered?….is it a gerund followed or modified by an adjective or adverb?

    Walking Happily
    Walking Victoriously
    Walking Successfully

  18. Samuel McGill says:

    Here are two particularly annoying ones that have been around for some time but seem to be on the rise: “over and over and over again” and “time after time after time”. It apparently is no longer enough to limit it to “over and over again” or “time after time”. Advanced addicts to these phrases will even add a fourth “and over” and “after time”. I believe it is the same mindset that gave us “I agree 150%” and “I gave it 200%”.

    On another note, at least “24-7” seems to have died down a good bit. That was getting to be very old, especially when some folks insisted on stretching it to “24-7-365”.

    Love your newsletter!

  19. Colin Swanwick says:

    Two more for your list:
    Impact/impacted, when used as a verb in the wrong context, and issue, when used incorrectly for a problem.

  20. Viet Tran says:

    Agree with you, absolutely … ooopppsss ., I mean completely !

  21. Jackie Layton says:

    How about, “so not?” That is so not the way to write.
    The phrase I’m really tired of is, “I know. Right?”
    I’m so glad you included, “at the end of the day.”
    Thanks for this list.

  22. Richard Delwiche says:

    These are indeed a good sampling of worn out phrases, but certainly not an exhaustive list. My problem is when I have written myself into a corner with no recourse but to use one of these trite expressions. A corresponding list of suggestions for alternative phrasing would be very helpful. More helpful still would be an online repository for an expanding list of this kind of cliché (as suggested by visitors to the site) along with better alternatives (which the community could also contribute to). I can think of no better home for such a resource than!

  23. Comfort Chibuike says:

    I think “whatever” falls into this category.


    I am so VERY glad you added “AMAZING!” So, redundant. My personal pet-peeve is “OFTENTIMES!” How about just the word ‘often’ without the “times?”

  25. Karen Dera says:

    I work in project management with engineers and natural resource managers, and they use the phrase “on the ground” more than I like. Would you recommend a different phrase? Here are some examples:

    The group traveled to three project sites in the Yakima River basin to learn about what is happening on the ground:

    Discussion points included the importance of tracking and documenting the many funding sources that contribute to on-the-ground projects.

    Other participants reviewed a list of on-the-ground projects that are either completed or pending.
    Thank you

    • It does sound like your coworkers are making “on the ground” serve many different functions. On the surface, it seems like they are trying to avoid the word construction. There are probably several alternative wordings, but here are a few:

      The group traveled to three project sites in the Yakima River basin to learn about what is happening during construction.
      The group traveled to three project sites in the Yakima River basin to learn about their progress.

      Discussion points included the importance of tracking and documenting the many funding sources that contribute to getting projects constructed.
      Discussion points included the importance of tracking and documenting the many funding sources that contribute to projects that are underway/under construction.

      Other participants reviewed a list of construction projects that are either completed or pending.
      Other participants reviewed a list of projects that are either completed or pending.

      In certain contexts, other alternative sentences could use the words on-site or at the site.

    • Judy Friebert says:

      Thank you so much for your “on the ground” entry. I believe its original use was “boots on the ground,” but now it is omnipresent and what I consider meaningless in everyday speech. You are the first one I know of besides me who finds it infuriating! I think people who say it like its textural quality, but enough!! I am still looking on this site for the “going forwards” and “moving forwards.” They have however been brought up in other sites. I can’t understand why people in the media mouth those phrases…aren’t they supposed to stimulate us with language, not put us to sleep?

  26. Terry Byrnes says:

    Maybe it’s because I’m Australian. But almost without fail I preferred the “worn-out” phrase to the alternative. I thought the alternatives were a bit white-bread (which probably should be replaced with “bland”). I thought the worn-out words and phrases had more zing and painted a better picture than the alternatives. Not in all cases; “absolutely” is a shocker and “literally” to mean truly-ruly is simply not what the word means. But I like language having flare and be imaginative. Holistic, for example, means a lot more than integrated.

  27. Sherry S. says:

    Thank you ! When someone uses awesome in every other sentence it literally gives me hives. Can’t anyone have an original thought and think outside the box?

  28. Kyle G. says:

    The phrase “bad optics” is one that annoys me a bit.

  29. Hyrum says:

    I imagine a world of communication without these words and phrases and it seems better. However, I may find myself with nothing to say. Yes, I have to admit that I use a number of these worn-out words and phrases, daily. Reading this article gave me a sense of freedom and fresh air, I am ready to let them go.

    I want to let the team at know that I enjoy the newsletter; there are very few that I’ve subscribed to that I read as consistently. I appreciate the opportunity to increase my knowledge of grammar.

  30. Robin H. says:

    I’d be happy never to hear either “24/7” or “proactive” again.

  31. Saundra S. says:

    The expression, “right?” must go. :)

  32. Maria G. says:

    I am astonished! I actually use some of them.
    I mean, within the UN system, papers and current written communication use many of them.
    I would assume that you refer just to current or routine communication?

    • Ideally, the worn-out words and phrases we’re referring to will drain from all composition in time, but our main goal is to give the language appropriate polish in everyday communication, especially professional and interpersonal—which, when you think about it, is really where most violations occur.

  33. Gary S. says:

    Please include “safe haven” in the collection of worn-out phrases that need to be retired. I’ve never liked this phrase, especially since “haven” is a place of safety in the first place, and adding “safe” to it seems redundant. Many thanks for your consideration.

  34. Robert M. says:

    More: “caught up with,” “reach out,” and “and so much more” (certainly after listing the main ones).

  35. Andy G. says:

    I cringe at worn-out work words that are used to join irrelevant sentences or enable unimaginative hosts break silences during meetings: for example, “errrm! OK …moving forward” or “keep you in the loop, so moving forward…”
    I am also having trouble with the word “ubiquitous,” which is currently being overused by participants of TV news programs.

  36. Sharon Bridges says:

    When I became a “serious” writer, I asked an excellent and very well known author about my writing. He said, “The only difference between yours and mine is that I’ve probably read 100s of books!” Therefore, just increasing one’s vocabulary may solve the use of worn-out words and expressions. I really appreciate receiving the GrammarBook messages. Not only are they instructional, but very fun to read! Thank you.

  37. Joyce Wright says:

    Don’t forget “you know.” Once in a while – or once in a conversation – it isn’t annoying, but when it is said several times within five minutes, I lose interest in the subject or even forget what it was!

    I do love some of the worn-out words and phrases in your list because there are no better ways to express what I mean. Even some of Grandma’s expressions are too good to toss away. Here are a couple: “He ain’t worth a no-eyed button.” (Is there anything more worthless?) “Brrr – it’s cold as scissors outside!” (Just feel your scissors.) I confess that they aren’t in my everyday conversations, but occasionally I use them – just for fun. I treasure them and like to hang onto them ‘for the sake of posterity.” (I hope that one isn’t on the list.)

    • Thankfully, we rarely encounter you know in writing, but it remains common in speech. We’ll be sure to include it in a future list.
      Grandma’s expressions are wonderful idioms that are certainly not worn-out phrases.

  38. Laurie K. says:

    Can we also get rid of “like,” like forever!

  39. Vicky says:

    “At this point in time” should be dropped immediately.

    • Ravi Bedi says:

      I think we can cut “point in” from this expression to make things simpler. Or use “right now.”

  40. Nancy says:

    Help me understand why so many, including many who I would consider literate, insist on adding “got” to the phrases, “I have or I’ve”, “s/he has” , “they have or they’ve”, etc. ? Did I miss an English lesson? I consider it not only poor English but very annoying!

  41. Michael Rashkin says:

    I am tired of the use of “reaching out” and “baby bump.” I also don’t like the use of the word “partner” to refer to someone a person is living with.

  42. ray says:

    I skipped through the last few, sorry if redundant. A few:

    “Concerning” used in the sense of “troubling,” especially at the end of sentence: “My reaction is concerning what?”

    Overuse of “perfect!”

    Any use of “literally” when “figuratively” is meant.

    “Optics.” Appearance is adequate.

Leave a Comment or Question:

Please ensure that your question or comment relates to the topic of the blog post. Unrelated comments may be deleted. If necessary, use the "Search" box on the right side of the page to find a post closely related to your question or comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *