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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Baker's Dozen - 13 Meaningless Expressions

Expressions -- everyone uses them, often without forethought. Silly expressions are harmless, yet when used repeatedly, they can grate on the nerves of those around us. Many expressions are utterances that become overused, meaningless cliches. The expressions become language barriers in that they carry vague, generalized meanings. The overused reply, the dated word or phrase, the mimic of media-born words, and the English usage mistake are all examples of expressions people should avoid.

In the interest of elevating the spoken and written word, I have collected some of the common expressions that qualify as trite, superficial, meaningless language. Perhaps people can substitute more accurate, meaningful words when they are tempted to use these expressions over and over again. "The Wizard of Ads" Roy H. Williams, best-selling author and marketing consultant, said, "A meaningless statement remains meaningless no matter how often it's heard."

Some Expressions To Avoid

1. Obviously

Example usage:  "Mary doesn't care if Danny goes bar-hopping every night."  REPLY -- "Obviously."

If the intent here is to emphasize the statement, the speaker is being overly trite and sarcastic in his affirmation instead of politely responsive. This word has been used this way so much that it actually underscores the speaker's lack of concern. 

2. (I) love (it), love (it), love (it).  A Saturday Night Live catch phrase popularized by Molly Shannon

Example usage:  "I can't resist the urge to be a party animal. I love it, love it, love it!"

Too much media parrot, the speaker becomes a second-hand impersonator at best with this ridiculous repetition. At worst, any actual love expressed dies in hammering the emotion. This expression is usually accompanied by leg and hand gestures which make it particularly annoying.

3. My bad

Example usage:  "You just spilled your beer all over grandpa."  REPLY -- "My bad."

This expression, used for regret, is so offhand. The speaker tosses the apology into the wind as an obligatory absolution of wrongdoing. It is really a call for continuation of the interrupted proceedings. A cover-all for indiscretions, my bad usually accommodates those who make repeated mistakes. 

4. Whatever

Example usage:  "I shouldn't have to worry about our relationship."  REPLY -- "Whatever."

This word may be the ultimate expression of retort for those lost for a meaningful reply or for those feigning indifference. In other words, the speaker does harbor discontent, but instead of voicing his true opinion, he uses this weepy equivalent of accepted lethargy. Isn't this word synonymous with "Let's change the subject"? 

5. I mean.../you know...

Example usage:  "Can you believe she doesn't have a date?  I mean, the prom is only the biggest event of the year, you know"

The expressions beg the importance of personal emphasis but fall short because of their extreme over-use.
They do little, if anything, to strike sparks of importance with first and second person pronoun pricks of awareness. If anything, the phrases prod the respondent unnecessarily.

6. Improper use of your/you're, too/to/two, there/their/they're, it's/its, and lose/loose

Example proper usage:

"Jane is so envious of your talent"
"You're a very interesting person."
"Would you like some cream in your coffee, too?"
"The water is just too hot."
"Dad went to the store to buy groceries."
"Centerville lost in overtime by two points."
"There are many different customs there."
"Look over there. I see the harbor."
"The Sullivans have not been receiving their mail."
"They're never going to listen to me."
"It's about time!"
"The dog ate its food already."
"I hope the Bengals don't lose all their games."
"Some of the shingles on the roof were loose."

These problems stem from lack of knowledge of grade school English usage and the dreaded acceptance of improper forms in colloquial language. Suffice it to say, those who misuse these simple forms are deemed uneducated both by proficiency test scorers and by employers.

7. (I'm) Just sayin'

Example usage:  "Dave can be very angry at times. Just sayin', that is not good."

Offered as an over-worn simplification, this phrase admits ambiguity on the speaker's part. When used repeatedly, the words do nothing to clear potential obscurity. A speaker sounds guilty of oversimplification when he justifies an earlier comment with the phrase. 

8. Are you kidding me?

Example usage:  "Are you kidding me? She never takes care of those children."

Meant to be a real exclamation of doubt, this expression instead is used to inject a false sense of urgency into a subject. If the information was intended as a joke, the receiver need not question it. If the receiver understands the facts, he should avoid unnecessary emotion reaction. Another overused phrase involving truth is "in all kidding aside."

9. Really

Example usage:  "Pam is the most conceited person I know. REPLY -- "Really."

A single word that might sound meaningfully concise, through overuse has come to mean absolutely nothing.
It has no kin in reality.Who would dare disagree? The common, bandwagon reaction has become an automatic, unthinking really.

10. 'K  (abbreviation for OK -- another abbreviation for the comically misspelled" Oll Korrect)

Example usage:  "I'll meet you at the restaurant."  REPLY -- "K."

A very informal abbreviation for approval, 'K smells of trends and lazy replies. Cute symbols and cut phrases most often become dated and certainly overused by the masses. Inflated through Internet usage, the abbreviation thrives in informal settings and continues to irritate many. 

11. LOL and OMG  (Internet slang initialisms for "laughing out loud" and "oh, my God")

Example usage:  "Harold just walked into the room in his briefs."  REPLY -- LOL, OMG

These initialisms 'tweens and teens when they text message on popular social networking sites. Therein lies the problem: the abbreviations may suit young tastes; however, when adults use them, they sound pretentious and plain silly to others. The speaker, while trying to be stylish, loses the dignity and truthfulness of his expression. Even when spelling out the initialisms, the speaker commits the act of using meaningless cliches. Acronyms and initialisms have always had a purpose for necessary conciseness, but these abbreviations serve as nothing but thoughtless replies. Besides, people just tire from their enormous repetition.

12. I could care less.

Example usage:  "I could care less if my job is terminated."

Shouldn't this statement be I couldn’t care less?  After all, doesn't it mean “it is impossible for me to have less interest or concern in this matter"?  The words have developed as slangy expression with some social class stigma. The "high-class sounding" idiomatic expression often drips of empty sarcasm: the speaker may use this supposedly definite statement in times of doubt as a defense mechanism. It sounds stilted and rings untrue.

13. Your call is important to us.

Example usage:  TELEMARKETER RECORDING -- "Your call is important to us."

The translation here is simple. "If you buy our services, you are important to us." This sentence represents one of the most hated expressions to anyone who values privacy and sincerity. The very ring of the phone these days sends chills of telemarketing throughout the suspicious populace. Nothing a marketer could say would matter after this ridiculous statement. How reassuring to know that someone out there really cares.... 

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