This column first ran on Aug. 5, 2014. It has been updated.
According to a poll conducted by Marist College in New York, “whatever” has been the most annoying word in America for eight years running! A college spokesperson described the word as “dismissive and rude.” I think its use is symptomatic of the sarcasm that is creeping into our language from TV sitcoms.
I have my own list of annoying words and phrases. “How’s that working for you?” makes me cringe. It’s the trifecta: sarcastic, condescending and mean-spirited.
“Do ya’ think?” “Duh?” and “Obviously” are all ways of telling someone they’re slow on the uptake.
The first time I heard, “It is what it is,” I marveled at its meaninglessness.
“There’s no question about it,” is a sports talk staple. Hosts are constantly making pronouncements that can’t be disputed. “No question about it, Ron Santo was the best third basemen in Chicago history.” Oh yeah, what about my boyhood hero, Pete Ward, who played third for the White Sox?
Sports jargon also includes tiresome words like “physical” which means the player commits acts of violence that would otherwise earn him an orange jumpsuit. “Deliberate” means the guy on the mound is so slow, the grounds crew has to mow the infield between innings.
How about these sentence-starters: “Be that as it may,” “Having said that,” and my favorite, “All things being equal.” The next time all things are equal, please send me an e-mail. “To be honest,” is another one. If I try to slip this one past my wife, she’ll ask, “Oh, what are you doing the rest of the time?”
She also uses a few phrases that annoy me like, “I’m going to hop in the shower.” My witty retort is, “Why don’t you just stand still and let the water hit you?”
However, she has the perfect phrase to answer any child’s urgent request: “We’ll see.” It really means “no,” but at least she lets the kid down easy. Another way to soften “no” is to start your sentence with, “At this moment in time.” That means whatever you were hoping to do ain’t gonna happen.
People love to use “ironic” when they probably mean coincidental. Someone even sang about how ironic it was that it rained on their wedding day.
For some reason the word “intentional” drives me crazy. “We’re very intentional about teaching each student at their own level.” Well, I guess it’s better than teaching them by accident. Speaking of “crazy,” that word is getting a workout thanks to the unprecedented times we’re living through. Its cousin is “cray-cray.”
“Have a good one,” is a bit too vague for me. What if my next stop is the dentist’s office to have two molars yanked? I also want to give a warning to anyone who asks me, “How are you?” I take that question seriously and will answer at great length.
My French students used to mock Americans for constantly saying “amazing.” Some people are annoyed by “hangry” but I can’t think of a word that is more descriptive of how I feel when I miss breakfast.
There are also some placeholder phrases we use, you know, so we don’t get interrupted while we’re trying to construct our next sentence. I’ve actually, you know, heard college-educated athletes intersperse these during interviews. While we’re on the subject, “actually” is ready for retirement.
I’m just sayin’ with all due respect that at the end of the day we have to stop starting sentences with “that being said.”
Full-disclosure: I’ve used many of these empty or insulting phrases in conversation. I’ve also been guilty of using sarcasm.