Something Lighter for the Summer – The 35 Most Over-Used and Tedious Words and Phrases in the Parlance of Modern America

By June 20th, 2017

Blog 72

June 21, 2017

By Mack W. Borgen

Santa Barbara, California

Copyright (c) 2017. Mack W. Borgen. All rights reserved. University of California at Berkeley (Honors, Economics); Harvard Law School; Author, The Relevance of Reason – Business Politics (Volume 1) and —  Society and Cultue (Volume 2)As Advertised in The New York Review of Books and Recipient of Four National Book Awards.  A portion of the below essay will be included in my forthcoming book, May the Bridges I Burn, Light the Way – A Lifetime of Writings – 1977-2017.

Something a little lighter for the summer …  

A Humorous Listing

of

The 35 Most Over-Used and Tedious Words and Phrases

In the Parlance of Modern America

Introduction

It is summer. Finally. A time for a little well-deserved vacation and relaxation.

Politics and acrimony still clutter our televisions screens, but at least the 2016 Presidential election is finally behind us. Now, our tax returns have been filed. Our kids have survived another year of school. The sun is out. The flowers are blooming. The birds are chirping. Our days are longer, and even Netflix has at last released another season of shows. Things just don’t get much better.

Nearly everything seems a bit better; a bit lighter; a bit more relaxed.

And in keeping with this spirit of summer, the subject of this month’s blog/article is lighter; hopefully, a bit humorous in its own way. The heavier subjects won’t go away, and they will be waiting for us this fall. But, for now: Summer.

Background for This Collection of America’s Most Over-Used and Tedious Words

The background of this article is that, for the last several years, this author has been trying to develop a new, more engaging manner in which we, as a people and a country, can better learn and, depending upon one’s age, more accurately remember the history of Modern America. The underlying assumption of this effort is that for a variety of reasons, American history is poorly taught and rarely learned.

The methodology of this new manner of presentation of our recent history involves the assemblage, presentation, and brief narrative explanation of what are referred to as “memorable words.” These words included both the heavy and ponderous words of our country’s leaders and the light and, at times, even humorous words which, for their own many reasons, have become “memorable.” All of these assembled “Memorable Words” will soon be presented upon the publication in my three-volume book entitled Dead Serious and Lighthearted – The Memorable Words of Modern America (Volume I – 1957-1976), Volume II (1977-1993), and Volume III (1994-2015).

NOTE: If you want to pre-order direct-from-publisher sets of these books, merely email me at mwborgen@live.com with (i) your name and address; and (ii) the number of sets of hardback or paperbacks you wish. No payment is due until the publication and release of the books, and you will receive a pre-order discount of 25% off the Amazon.com price!

In the course of this author’s research, it became obvious that certain words and phrases are “memorable” for another reason – their constant over-use and tedious repetition.

These words are not included in my books because, as will be seen below, they are of little consequence. By themselves, they have little meaning. They have no lasting import. They don’t even decorate our language. To the contrary, they clutter our conversation. But they do so insistently. Their sole distinction is that they are everywhere spoken, repeated, and echoed until they become ingrained into our parlance. And for that reason alone, they deserve to be here recognized — briefly, but recognized nevertheless.

The Allure and Danger of Lists

“The dangers of definition, omission, and subjectivity

As we know, all lists have a certain allure. Like a guilty pleasure, most of us can’t resist knowing who or what is on this list or that list — the 100 Richest Americans, the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted, the Highest Paid Athletes, the Best Retirement Towns, the 25 Best Destination Resorts, the 37 Most Dog-Friendly States, the 5 Warning Signs of a Heart Attack, the 25 Best Airline Deals, and the 12 Best Coffee Houses in Arkansas. And on it goes.[1]

 But nearly all lists are subject to the same dangers – the dangers of definition, omission, and subjectivity.

 The dangers of definition relate to determining the most objective and meaningful criteria for inclusion on any list. In the context of tedious words, such determination is unavoidably subjective.

The dangers of omission are everywhere. Some words and phrases will be inadvertently omitted due to sheer oversight or the need for brevity. Conversely, some words are easily included, and the author has attempted to identify those words and phrases which we all, or at least many of us, may agree are unnecessarily over-used.

The dangers of subjectivity are closely related to the dangers of definition and omission. While it is the committed intent of this author to present these words and phrases in an accurate and balanced manner, realizing such intent is almost impossible. In the mere selection of these words and phrases, personal bias – the true demon of all writers — creeps in.

But even though lists, while fun, are a tricky business, let us proceed even though this list, like all lists, is always changing and can never really be completed.

Lastly, please know that the list is offered in good spirit and that this author welcomes your nomination of additional words and phrases. Just email me at mwborgen@live.com. On a personal note and for what it is worth, there is no sanctimony here. There are few words or phrases below on this list that this author has not himself used at one time or another. I’m as guilty as the next.

Over-Used and Tedious Words or Phrases Only

 – The Use of Gestures and Linguistic Errors Distinguished –

This article focuses only on words and phrases, but there are plenty of gestures which have long ago become similarly over-used and which deserve at least passing notice –

The “V “for Victory;

The forehead “L” for loser;

The fist pump;

The pistol point and thumb pull;

The ubiquitous middle finger,

The thumbs up

The nose hold.

The A-O.K.

The foot stomp;

The up-yours elbow pull

A million and one gang signs …

And ten million and one Italian gestures – which can collectively almost replace Italian as their language of communication [2]

But this article focuses only upon words and phrases— and more specifically, those words or phrases which, God-willing, will soon fade from our American conversation.[3] Certainly replacement words and phrases will surface and, in their own time, will become similarly hackneyed and over-used, but sometimes even a brief change, like all respites, is good

Just as this article does not include gestures, it also does not focus upon those over-used words or phrases whose infamy is rooted in their mere verbosity (e.g. “due to the fact that” or “on account of” as opposed to the simpler “because” or “so as to” instead of the simpler “to”) or linguistic incorrectness (e.g. “irregardless” for “regardless; or “thusly” for “thus,” or “firstly, secondly, thirdly” rather than the correct Queen’s English “first, second, third).

Lastly, this article does not include the growing number of code terms now commonplace in our evermore twitter-texting society. It is presumed that the dictionary will someday be produced but those code terms, but for now, my BFFs, this author has GTG, back to this, hopefully, LOL article. Enough said, OMG (Oh, my God).

So, bypassing gestures, verbosities, linguistic errors, and Twitter-code, this article focuses upon those words and phrases which may be grammatically correct but which have become – by their constant over-use – almost interesting in their level of generated annoyance to the listener as he or she absorbs the pounding of their tedious repetition. Like, at the end of the day, you’ll literally see what I mean. Really.

The Use of Topical Categories and Alphabetical Presentation

There are no Robert’s Rules of Order on how to and present these words and phrases. Thus, this author has taken the liberty of dividing them by into the following three general topical categories:

Business Parlance and Office Speak;

Conversational Parlance; and

Politics and Culture

Initially, the words and phrases listed below were ranked according to their degree of abuse and over-use; the degree to which they have become tedious components of our American conversation. However, even after multiple attempts, each of the words and phrases kept coming in first. Thus, it was decided that each, when considered, were deserving of equal, tired, and sighing contempt.

Therefore, the words and phrases are listed alphabetically by category. This author gladly defers to you, my readers. Each of you are encouraged to rank the words and phrases from the most to the least offensive and tiresome, but this author has determined that – enjoy this – “at the end of the day,” it is “literally” “beyond my pay grade” to “actually” even try. With each word or phrase, this author couldn’t resist some editorial comments.

I.

Business Parlance and Office Speak[4]

“At the end of the day”How about “at Noon or “At the end of tomorrow” or “at the end of the week” — what is really ever finished, completed, done, or fully comprehended “at the end of the day?”

“Beyond my pay grade” — At a minimum, this phrase should be used only by military personnel or civil servants who have amongst them forty separate pay grades (i.e. Civil Service (15 pay grades with 10 steps each); Uniformed Services – Enlisted Personnel (9 pay grades); Warrant Officers (5 pay grades), and Officers (15 pay grades). The rest of America, you know, us, has never been in a pay grade since we dropped out of Scouts.

“Branding” This general term encompasses the way one presents one’s self or one’s organization, company, or product to the world. The rough concept rests upon the dangerous assumption that success is achieved when the world views you or your company as you desire them to do so. Similarly, “rebranding” is when you or your company desires to change your self-image and does so by, in effect, re-presenting (or re-misrepresenting) yourself to the world.

“Learning Curve” (and its curve cousins – “experience curve” and “growth curve”). It’s nice to know there is such a thing as a “learning curve,” but it is a long curve. This author, possibly like you, has been on it since Kindergarten.

“Lean In” — A late addition to the list, but it seems as though everyone is “leaning in” into something or everything since the release of Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book by the same name.

“Low-hanging fruit” — This may be one of the most flexible of all business parlance phrases. Whether the phrase is thrown carefully or dumped unceremoniously into any conversation, it can be used in the context of every argument and every list of issues, negotiating points, or merger pick-offs.

“My people will talk with your people” — Ah, the phrase of arrival. There are exceptions, but usually once one gets to the point whereby it is necessary for “your people” to talk to “their people,” it is usually time for you to step aside, retire, withdraw, go home, and get a new life.

“New Normal” — This phrase is at best challenging and at worst meaningless since few of us, at least outside our sheltered cocoons, ever really know what “normal” is. And anyone who has ever travelled from the Hamptons to the Bayous; from the city to the farm, from the shores of Waikiki to the streets of Chicago, knows that there is no real “normal.” For that matter, there never was an “old normal” either.

“Paradigm shift” – It’s o.k. Admit it. Every time this phrase is used, half of the listening audience sits in self-imposed terror as they secretly try to remember what “paradigm” means – and, for that matter, why there is a damn “g” in the spelling of the word.

“Reach out, drill down, and circle back” – The endless phrases of deferral used by those of us who know that we’re not yet ready to do something. In the old days, we just expressed a need to “sleep on it.” Today, however, things are more complicated. “Sleeping on it” is not nearly enough. Now we have to “reach out” and gather other people’s input. We have to “drill down” to gather more facts and data. We have to “circle back” to assure that our assumptions and even our goals are correct.

“Run it up the flagpole” — The saving phrase for anyone who doesn’t have the authority or the guts to make a decision. In the risk-averse environment of Modern America, it is deemed safer to “run it up the flagpole” so that we can get more “sign-ons” and “everyone’s approval” in our quest for that coveted “cover” that everyone is talking about.

“Sign on the dotted line” — The last words usually heard before everything changes. Sometimes it’s for the good; sometimes it’s for the bad, but (for reasons we don’t know) the line is almost never “dotted.”

“Streamline” and “Restructure” – Everyone who has been in business for more than a couple of lunch breaks knows that many businesses can rarely be “streamlined” into profitability. Likewise, many organizations need elimination far more than “restructure.” It is this author’s belief that there may be some truth to the hallway rumors that both terms, “streamline” and “restructure,” were invented by the makers of PowerPoint.

“Win-win” — This phrase can sometimes accurately summarize the probable results of a particular decision or agreement. More often, however, it is used as a negotiating tool in which one party tries to convince another party that all is good and that everyone will “win-win” as soon as they “sign on the dotted line.”

“Work smarter, not harder” — This is the motto of the Disney character Scrooge McDuck, but it is also the phrase used as a means of offering of wisdom and supposedly, energizing encouragement from upper management to middle management; and from middle management to the rest of us who actually do the work.

II.

Conversational Parlance.

“Actually” and “Literally” – According to urban legend, these terms were injected into the American conversation sometime in the mid-1970s in The Valley just north of Los Angeles. Like Africanized bees, slime, and spinners, the use of “actually” and “literally” has spread across the country. Both words are intended to supply emphasis as in “we actually had to wait” and “we had to wait literally two hours for a table.”  The problem is, however, that actually, the words, add, literally, nothing to a sentence — other than a brain-fart pause in one’s conversation. Nevertheless, it is now four decades since the introduction of the words into America’s valley-style jargon, and their use is not lessening.

“Awesome.” The multi-purpose, generic term for everything wonderful —- from ice cream to ideas, from new plans to new products, from yesterday’s game to tomorrow’s wardrobe. Based upon a speech-tracking poll conducted at some major U.S. malls in the summer of 2016, it has been suggested that the removal of the word would collapse 47.3% of U.S. conversations. Alternatively, a rigorously enforced $0.25 fine for each use of the word would eliminate the federal debt in approximately 2.3 days (give or take 10-11 “awesomes.”

“Back in the day” – A common reference to anything which occurred, depending upon one’s age, prior to Obama, 9/11, the Boom-Boom 80’s, Watergate, or, for the senior set, Woodstock or Ike.

“Dude”  A term of reference more than endearment (unless modified by “Good” as in “Good dude” or

“Bad” as in Bad Dude” or even “Righteous” as in “Righteous Dude”). For some, the term seems to be applicable to nearly any male walking on Earth.

“Epic” — This word was once used reverentially in the context of world-changing evens such as heroic invasions, major battles, or world-altering discoveries. Pedantic linguists remind us that the word is also frequently used in conjunction with “proportions” as in “an event of epic proportions.”  Now, however, it has been watered down to apply to each weekend’s new movie release, Jane’s birthday party, and Bobby’s home run last week. Basically, “epic” is anything perceived to be even slightly over “awesome.”

“F*** bombs” of any sort and including “Get F****ed,” “I’m F****ed,” “You’re F****ed,” “F*** Off,”and “F***ing A.” Regrettably, the phrases are the go-to, catch-all words offered in response to any perceived act of aggression, misunderstanding, employment review, bounced check, foul-ball, car cut-off, price misunderstanding, and on and on. Americans, a deeply familial society, use the preface of “Mother-F****er” in order to raise the ante and emphasize a heightened sense of disappointment, anger, or outrage.

“In real time” – A phrase used to supplant “live” and used to contrast one’s viewing of an event or occurrence to that strangely, never-referred-term “un-real time.”

 “Just sayin …” – The multi-purpose, edge-taker-off applicable to the delivery of anything approaching criticism or cold truth. The phrase can be used in social situations and nearly all conversations approaching the subject of politics.

“Like …” with all of its iterations – “I was like (expression of alarm), and “he was like” (expression of disdain), and “now I’m like” (expression of dismissal usually delivered with a wave-off of the hand).”

“Literally” – See “Actually” and “Literally” above.

“No worry” – The go-to, ready phrase of comfort and assurance which is routinely offered to anyone suffering from mild anxiety to xanax-worthy panic.

“Oh, wow” – This phrase is starting to phase out of the American lexicon, but it deserves inclusion in this list because the phrase completely dominated the entire decade of the Sixties. Nothing, absolutely nothing, in the 1960s — from good to bad, from hot to cold, from up to down, from time to distance, from sounds to smells – was exempt from the universal response of “oh wow.” Some say that the last “oh wow” was heard as Nixon announced his resignation as the 37th President of the United States in August, 1974, but we have all heard the phrase mumbled at more than a few rock concerts since then, and there was certainly a resurgence of the expression with the election of Donald Trump in November, 2016. Note: whether or not  either “oh” or “wow” deserves to be called words  is far beyond the scope of this article.

 “Perfect storm” – Unlike most over-used phrases, the phrase “perfect storm” can, to a degree, be specifically traced to the nightmarish storm which resulted from the Category 5, Hurricane Grace which swept up America’s eastern seaboard in October, 1991. For those Americans who were not yet born, who were not living on the Eastern seaboard, or who were not tuned into the Weather Station, it is more likely that the phrase joined their vocabulary sometime after the release of Wolfgang Petersen’s 2002 film, The Perfect Storm starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg. Since that time, the phrase has come to be associated with every collision of bad or even consequential events – from business deal mis-timings to personal or family catastrophes.

“To tell the truth” – Similar to the emphatic use of the word “honestly,” “to tell the truth” is the curious preamble phrase used by people in response to a question or line of inquiry. The inherent curiosity of the phrase stems from the fact that the parties to the conversation had presumably been expecting “the truth” all along. When the phrase is used, it seems necessary for the listeners to ask how far back they should go in the conversation in order to determine when the speaker was not “telling the truth.”

 “Whatever” – The ultimate word of dismissal used by every teenager — ah, but not my own — to the suggestion, comment, command, or, god forbid, criticism made to the former “apple of their eye.”

“You know” or “You know what I’m sayin.” This suggestion of embracement and implied agreement or understanding  is far too commonly used. More problematic, however, is that the response of “no, I don’t know” is often needed, but rarely heard. This author would be more than willing to expand further about the use and mis-use of these phrases, but “you know what I’m sayin.’

III.

Politics, Culture, and the Media

 “Anything—Gate” — The short-cut, tag phrase suggesting wrongful or illegal behavior which is used with respect to every political scandal which survives three or four news cycles. The origin of the phrase comes from Nixon’s “third-rate burglary” which occurred at Watergate back in 1972, but since that time the tag line has been evenly distributed amongst many politicians. It has been used for Reagan’s Irangate; Clinton’s Whitewater-gate Troopergate, and Monicagate; Bush’s waterboarding-gate and Blackwater-gate; Obama’s Deepwatergate; and Hilary Clinton’s Benghazigate,[5] In rare instances, the tag line is also applied in the context of state-level matters (such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Bridgegate) and sports (such as the New Orleans Saints’ Bountygate and New England Patriot’s Deflategate).

 

 “Drive-By Media” and “Mainstream Media” — While the origins of these dismissive phrase is hard to track, many credit (if that is the correct term to use) their use to the Rush Limbaugh Show which has been dominating the conservative talk shows for nearly 20 years now. “Drive-by media” is intended to imply that reporters talk more than they investigate. In other words, speed dominates over accuracy, and journalists of all varieties — reporters, commentators, talk show hosts – report what they can quickly see by merely “driving by” a story. “Mainstream media” is different. It does not connote the supposedly light quality of the news. Instead, it connotes that there is a “mainstream media” which is unified in its presumptions, biases, and political preferences, if not affiliations. In this sense, the “mainstream media” should be contrasted with the more objective, deep-investigative reporting of the non-mainstream media, who, you know, report the news in a “fair and balanced” manner.

 “Fake News” and “Alt Facts” and “Post-truth” — These phrases are arguably too new to be included in the list, however, it is the opinion of this author that they are here to stay. The terms “fake news” and “alt facts” can be viewed as mere extensions, logical or otherwise, of the long traditions of criticism implied by the phrases “drive-by media” and “mainstream media” discussed above. But in the opinion of this author, all of these phrases – “fake news,” “alt facts,” and “post-truth” are merely political code expressions of cynicism, and people’s too-ready dismissal of news which is counter to the desires or objectives of a given person or party.

“Middle America” – For at least three reasons, this phrase may be the most misleading of all of the over-used and tedious phrases of Modern America. The first reason is that, somewhat confusingly for some, Middle America is not a place. In other words, don’t think Nebraska; don’t think Kansas. The second reason is that there are serious questions as to whether Middle America ever really existed. At least historically Americans have not been known for their lock-step thinking. Instead, individualism and family, along with racial, ethnic, religious associations and income and wealth levels have been far more a component of one’s association with other’s than the blind  association of oneself with Middle America. The third reason is that even if a Middle America did at one time exist, it may not now. Much has changed. Loyalties and associations are increasingly negotiable. And definitions are, at best, elusive. Nevertheless, for reasons beyond the full understanding of this author, all politicians claim to represent Middle America wherever or whatever it is. It remains the tired phrase of every echo chamber and every political speech.

IV.

Honorable Mentions

For Most Over-Used and Tedious Words or Phrases

 

     Business Parlance and Office Speak         Conversational Parlance and Politics and Culture

All hands on deck                                                               Aha Moment                         I can’t even …

Back to the drawing board                                       Bang for your buck             It’s on my radar  

Data points                                                                       Boys will be boys                 Keep calm and …

Get the bal rolling                                                              Bucket List                         Let’s touch base

Guesstimate                                                                             Chin up                          Move the goal post

I don’t have the bandwidth                                       Could care less …                       My bad

Leverage                                                                              Cray cray …                         No brainer                

Elephant in the room                                                    It is what it is …                       On my plate

Optimize                                             Everything happens for a reason   Par for the course               

Value Added                                                    Hit the ground running         Thrown under the bus     

                                                               And the 2017 Special: You’re fired!!

 Closing

 There is no perfect way in which to end any essay – but let me try with this best-efforts, assemblage of words:

At the end of the day” and even though it was “beyond my pay grade,” this author  just “leaned in” to “work smarter, not harder “ in order to “actually,” “like” “literally” write this “awesome,”epic” essay in order “to tell the truth” about the over-used and tedious phrases of Modern America. “I’m just sayin’” that I have done so in a manner lying somewhere between “whatever” andoh wow.” “You know what I mean,” but, if I have failed, “no worry,” but maybe “your people can talk with my people” “in real time” or whenever.

And with that, please have a great, great summer …. …

– – –

Notes and Citations

[1]    Part of this section is paragraph is excerpted from Part I of Mack W. Borgen’s forthcoming Dead Serious and Lighthearted – The Memorable Words of Modern America (Vols I, II, and III). 

[2]    See, e.g. Munari, B., Speak Italian: The Fine Art of the Gesture (2005).

[3]    Swaim, B., “Managing the Decline of, Like, a Great Language,” The Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2015.

[4]   For a clever listing and charting of these and other examples of “nonsensical office speak,” see Green, E., “Me Talk Office One Day,” The Atlantic, May, 2014, p. 18.

[5]  See, Carter, G., Vanity Fair, August, 2010, p. 42.

 

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