Thursday, January 1, 2009

Like, I mean, read this

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In all honesty (like it would benefit me somehow to be lying to you this early in my column), it drives me crazy when people start and end their sentences with meaningless and unnecessary words. Basically, you know, the truth of it is that this is often a way to stall for time while one desperately gropes for a relevant thought, if you will. Like, I mean, why bother to open your mouth at this moment in time if you have nothing to say in terms of the conversation at hand? With all due respect, at the end of the day, it’s not rocket science to practice a little conciseness with the spoken word, so…

Whatever happened to the tried and true umm, uh and that sound people make by pulling their tongues away from their pallets right behind their front teeth (take a look at any Bill Belichick interview if you need a demonstration)? Don’t worry, they’re as popular as ever. These utterances and sound effects are actually how people pronounce commas, periods, ellipses, semi-colons and em-dashes. You always thought these symbols were silent, didn’t you?

My preparation for this column included Googling the phrase “annoying phrases.” As usual, the ever efficient search engine returned 1,830,000 results in an astounding 0.14 seconds. I didn’t have time to review the last 100,000 hits, but I did find out that Oxford researchers published their Top Ten Most Annoying Phrases of 2008. They’re published in the book Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare, but to save you the £15 and the agony of reading the Queen’s English, here they are:

1 - At the end of the day
2 - Fairly unique
3 - I personally
4 - At this moment in time
5 - With all due respect
6 - Absolutely
7 - It's a nightmare
8 - Shouldn't of
9 - 24/7
10 - It's not rocket science

I love fairly unique. Absolutely! Other variations include very unique, somewhat unique and really unique. Look, unique is unique. There’s no gray. It’s either unique or it’s not. There are no degrees of unique. Although, with the huge number of stories on this topic I found on the Internet, I’d have to say that this column is relatively unique.

I mean, now I have to introduce something in order to make this piece a lot more unique. So I looked up Lake Superior State University’s List of Banished Words, published in 2003, just to see how well we’ve responded to this fine educational institution’s edicts some five years later. See the entire list at (They must have plenty of free time up there in Sault Ste. Marie.)

In the category of Politics and the Media, LSSU banished homeland security and weapons of mass destruction. I clearly remember how silly I thought homeland security was for the name of a government department. It sounded like something that a room full of pardners with two first names (such as William Robert, aka Billy Bob) would invent down on a ranch. Oh… Now I get it. And so much for banishing weapons of mass destruction. Not only did it catch on, but we now abbreviate it WMD and everyone knows what we’re talking about.

The frost-bitten scholars also listed, in the category of Business, the word extreme. Once again, not only did this word hang around, it was abbreviated X and attached to every activity that needed some additional pizzazz or element of danger. The X Games, the Xbox, the Macintosh computer operating system OS X—simply a coincidence that its predecessor was OS 9? There’s even a band named Extreme, led by Nuno. I thought Bono was a strange name.

If you’re getting the idea that Lake Superior State University is spitting in the wind (an inadvisable thing to do in the Michigan winter), I just might second that. Perhaps five years is too short a time for these clever, ear-catching words and phrases to run their course. I mean, we’re not throwing groovy and neato into every other sentence these days. Even the more recent rad and gnarly have all but evaporated from our lexicon, but we are having to deal with snarky and mouse potato.

We’ll always be looking for acceptance within our peer groups by adopting the latest in hipspeak. My bad for trying to invent a new word, but I’ve been attempting to get one to catch on for years—a phrase, actually—so I’ll give it one more college try. The phrase is butt yeah. It’s used when you’re delivering an enthusiastic affirmation. For example, “Do you want these two tickets for the Celtics game?” “Butt yeah!”

If butt yeah gets the traction it deserves, I’ll release this follow up phrase shortly thereafter: Butt no! “Hey, do you kids want to go to the ballet?” “Butt no!” And if that sweeps the nation and the English-speaking world, I’ll unleash the ultimate butt maybe.


  1. Agreed. "[Modifier] unique" is one of my particular pet peeves.

    I'm also beginning to be annoyed by "I'm sorry, but..." as an introduction to one's point of view.

    I'm sorry, but with all due respect, at the end of the day, I personally don't think "butt yeah" has legs.

  2. sandy shoes, you definitely get it. Very funny. You should write a guest post sometime.



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