Words and phrases I detest

January 22, 2021 • 2:30 pm

Yep, it’s time for another edition of the Curmudgeon Gazette: a list of words and phrases that rankle me. As usual, most of them come from HuffPost, and, as usual, people will tell me that some of these phrases are fine. “Language evolves,” say the Excusers. Great, but I still don’t like these phrases.

On this cold but sunny Chicago afternoon, I have three for you. (Click on screenshots to see article.)

1.) “I’m all about X.” This one really burns my onions (see the subtitle below). First of all, nobody is all about anything—every human is multifaceted and has multiple interests and concerns. The phrase is simply gross exaggeration, and could easily be replaced by phrases (as in the sub-headline below) like, “This month, we focus on. . . ” or some equivalent.

You will never hear this phrase pass my lips.


2.) “All the feels”. I’m pretty sure that I’ve used this one before, but I keep seeing it, and it never ceases to irritate me, as in the HuffPost article below:

The word is “FEELINGS”, chowderheads! And even that is hyperbole. No movie moments give you the totality of human emotions, which run the gamut from despair to horror to complacency, to anxiety, to elation—and many more.  Can’t these peabrains just say “13 Emotional Movie Moments”? My “feel” when I read headlines like this one is disgust.


3.) “The thing is. . . is that. . ” Now this one baffles me. Why can you just say “The thing is X” instead of “The thing is. . . is X”?  For example, “The thing is, is that he’s been a real jerk to me for a long time” can be replaced by “The thing is that he’s been a real jerk for me for a long time.” Better yet, deep-six “the thing is” part, which adds little, or replace it with “The important thing is.”

Here’s a discussion from the website Language Rules:

From that site:

It may be much more clear to see when sentences are rearranged. One of the above examples [JAC: the grammatically correct sentence”How correct this is is clear to see”] can be arranged as follows:

    • How correct this is is clear to see.
    • It is clear to see how correct this is.

In this instance, we can immediately tell that “how correct this is” in this case is a complete noun phrase able to stand on its own. When we try to reconstruct an example of an incorrect sentence using “The thing is is…” in exactly the same way, we get this:

    • The thing is is that this is incorrect.
    • It is that this is incorrect the thing is.

Most folks should be able to tell that the second sentence is totally jacked, which immediately tells us that the first sentence, merely a rearrangement of the words, must be incorrect as well, even though it sounds slightly better.

You know the drill: it’s time to be petulant and put your bête noire phrases below.

100 thoughts on “Words and phrases I detest

  1. ‘Going forward in the future’ is a popular one with politicians here. Seems a bit redundant to me!

  2. I really hate the phrase “…reason why…” when reason is a noun, as in “The reason why I did that…”. The why is unnecessary.

    1. “General consensus”-a consensus is a general agreement. Other redundancies: “armed gunman” and “unsolved mystery.”

  3. How about the locution, “a thing,” as in “This (whatever it is) is “a thing”? What is this “a thing”? Is it something that is somehow “relevant” to someone (some vacuous celebrity or “influencer”) or some group of human primates on whose every utterance one supposedly should hang?

    And, I’m afraid I’m getting quickly bent out of shape about the locution “getting vaccines into arms.” Whatever happened to “getting vaccinated”? And is the arm the only possible place? I want to see at least equally widespread in the media the locution, “getting vaccines into asses (or butts).”

  4. I disagree on number 3. You must also distinguish between spoken & written. I know you do, but…

    A recent usage on Radio 4 from Evan Davies on the PM programme, “we will listen across” – in other words, one of our team will monitor what is being said so we can play it back to you. Why across??? 😖

  5. The Language Rules claim is actually empirically false in all kinds of ways. Just two examples (* is something you wouldn’t want the syntax of the language to license):

    (1)a. John-i is someone who-i I can assure you __-i to be the best in this particular business.
    b. *I can assure you John to bet the best in this particular business.

    (2)a. Who-i did you say you voted for __-i
    b. You said you voted for WHO??

    The examples in (2) are both acceptable version of the wh question (though the prosody is quite a bit different). But look at (3).

    (3)a. Who-i the hell did you say you voted for __-i ?
    b. *You said you voted for WHO the hell ???

    There are literally scores of similar examples from the syntax of English and other languages. It’s a mistake to think that with two different orders of the same words, one of the constructions is a ‘rearrangement’ of the other. A seemingly fronted wh-phrase, such as the ones in (1) and (2), can’t be usefully analyzed as having originated in the ‘gap’ position indicated by the underline in my examples above. Syntax just doesn’t work like that *at all*.

      1. Not if the two ‘is’ forms are doing quite different work. Take a look at the discussion here, and in particular the Coppock-Staum references, especially the Berkeley Linguistics Society papers.


        Their analysis has the advantage of linking the double ‘is’ construction with a number of other focus patterns in English.

      1. ‘Who’ is neutral for case in English. You can tell because it can link to two gap sites, one of which is nominative and the otheraccusative, whereas ‘whom’ can only link to accusative gap sites:

        (1) John is someone whom-i [even good friends of __ -i] believe __ -i
        should be closely watched.

        The object position following ‘of’ is accusative (only ‘him’ can follow ‘of’, not ‘he’). The reverse is true for the subject of the ‘should’ clause. And you also see this neutrality in the in-situ version of the question you gave as an example:

        (2) You voted for WHO(M)???

        Actually, in my own speech, the ‘who’ variant is slightly better, at least when the connotation is the speaker’s disapproving astonishment at the hearer’s choice, with seriously high pitch on the wh-word. The ‘whom’ variant seems a lot better when the question is being posed in a calm, deliberate way by an attorney leading a witness through some testimony in court, with no rising intonation. But the point is, ‘who’ is good in both subject and object positions.

  6. In terms of irritating phrases, I have conniptions every time I hear “in terms of”. It started as a legitimate expression in maths (express x in terms of y) but is now fluffing out every utterance by politicians, “experts” and, especially, teachers! I have heard it three times in one sentence.

  7. Just heard another one on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” “Delta.” As in the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet, As in, e.g., “delta T,” “difference in temperature.” In this case, if memory serves me, “the delta” describing what the U.S. has done as compared to what it could do in the numbers of people vaccinated in a given period of time, according to a sound bite by an immunological expert. It may be that most NPR listeners understand the use of the locution “the delta” in this context. I doubt it. It presumes a knowledge of science-speak among non-scientists. (On the other hand, the locution – if not its etymological provenance – may be quite well-known, for all I know. I am a fish out of the pop culture slang water. Like Mongo, Filippo just pawn in Great Game of Life.)

    (Have also heard just now on NPR that Hank Aaron has died. The announcer announced that “He was a Black man.” I contemplate the number of people who somehow apparently don’t know that. What else don’t they know – who Willie Mays is? I guess I’m an anachronism, a relic.)

    1. Giving his race is ludicrous, as the only people who know who Hank Aaron IS will know he is black. It might be relevant though, if you’re talking about the racist opprobrium he faces when chasing the home run record.

      1. I noted that part in the intro of the NPR coverage, too, but then they went on to talk about the death threats that he received when he was getting close to breaking Babe Ruth’s record, so from that standpoint I suppose the preface was somewhat justifiable. Still, you wonder among NPR listeners, who didn’t already know that. And before they got to the death threats they also mentioned that he briefly played in the Negro Leagues, which I hadn’t known, and other things that clearly indicated that he was Black, so the intro part became more superfluous.

    2. Yeah, I heard. Died in his sleep. Damn shame. I’m a late ‘70’s baby, so way too young to know him as anything but the great former ball player that he was, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t read up on the greats before my time. But your comment about it being pointed out that Aaron was a black man brings to mind something I absolutely despise: “speaking as a person of color…” or “…as a gay man…” or whatever. Is your skin color or your sexuality relevant in the conversation ? Usually, no. Is it the whole of your identity? Usually, sadly, yes. I can’t see us making any progress in getting past racism, sexism, homophobia or any other woke bugbear until we stop seeing and labeling ourselves and each other in such simplistic, narrow minded ways. Let’s try seeing each other as people instead. Or in Hank Aaron’s case, as one helluva ball player.

      1. “Is your skin color or your sexuality relevant in the conversation ? Usually, no. Is it the whole of your identity? Usually, sadly, yes.”

        And you’re speaking here from the point of view of a minority. Also realize that being “white” is also the whole of many people’s identity. Still sad, but even more so imo.

  8. ¤ “Our thoughts and prayers”, routinely pronounced by politicians as a substitute for doing anything, including in particular thinking.

    ¤ “Have a nice one.” A nice what, for g-d’s sake ?

    ¤ “Your call is important to us”, intoned by the maddening computer voice which is shortening your time on earth by hours of wasted telephone time.

    ¤ “At the end of the day…” At the end of the day I tend to nod off, as I do whenever I encounter this phrase.

    1. Have begun to hate this phrase, appended after some small act: “Man gives back wallet found on side walk, Faith in Humanity Restored.”

  9. What about “an emergency situation” rather than “an emergency”, and “outside of America” rather than “outside America”

    1. “Outside of” in that sense really irritates me, but I have a theory on how it came about. “Outside” as a noun, needs the preposition “of”, as in “the outside of the house was painted white”. People who don’t know the difference between the noun usage and the preposition usage then add the extra preposition “of” as in your example.

    1. Except for those who have already got vaccinated!

      Did you hear that the Tulalip reservation received many vaccines, but they lost power in last week’s wind storm and gave them out to “first come first serve” lest the vaccines go to waste? Lucky for those who received the tip.

      1. I can’t lie – the last few times I’ve been in a store with a pharmacy, I’ve caught myself lingering just a moment as I walk by, wondering if they’re going to shout out available doses for the nearest folks. Wishful thinking. I used the state phase finder tool, and it determined that I’m not yet in the phase.

  10. In my completely layperson opinion, “The thing is, is…” serves the same grammatical purpose as “however”, “but”, or “yet.” I.e. it signals the speaker wants to emphasize the some point of contrast between what they said before and what they are about to say next.

    I believe PCC has said previously that he also thinks “however” is overused.

    A thought and a question on that. The thought: it’s IMO very boring to use the exact same construction over and over again. So I personally like having several different ways of creating that emphasis, even if some may be overly complex or overused.

    The question (to PCC, mostly): we should probably have some grammatical construction that lets us do this,if for no other reason than poeple want to communicate that contrast sometimes, and that is what language is for – to communicate our thoughts. So…..if you don’t like some or all of the grammatical options above, what would you propose as the ‘better’ way to do it?

    1. Really, “try and” is fine–just colloquial (and idiomatic) speech. What’s more, as H.W. Fowler explained long ago, there is a subtle difference between “try to” and “try and”: “the latter has a shade of meaning that justifies its existence; in exhortations it implies encouragement–the effort will succeed; in promises it implies assurance–the effort shall succeed. It is an idiom that should be not discountenanced.”

      And this: “About the only thing that can be held against any of these combinations [try and, come and, be sure and] is that they seem not to be typical of high-toned writing, but clearly they are not out of place in informal and general prose. The judgment of ‘try and’ in Fowler 1926 remains eminently sensible today.“

      –Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage

  11. Since we now have legal online betting in Colorado, we are inundated with ads for “putting some skin in the game.” But more annoying than that is “make it rain”.

    1. I despise using “contact” as a verb. I have a degree in linguistics, which gives me a prescriptive view of language, and many academic credits in grammar studies, which gives me a proscriptive bent. I am often torn between the two, but I do have my preferences. When I taught writing classes, my first reading assignent was Orwell’s essay Politics And The English Language, and told my students that the rules given in that text were also the rules I would use to evaluate their work.

    2. Yep, reach out has lately really started to irritate me. To me it has a connotation of taking pity on the person being contacted.

  12. My brother and I lived in the same building 44 years ago, for a year. The superintendent of the building frequently began her sentences with this: “Is what it is, is, ……..” We loved it and took it up. We’ve been using it with each other ever since. Every so often I adapt it to “Was what it was, was, ….” It makes me happy.

  13. I’ve never thought of the observation that language evolves as an Excuse for oddities. But as an Explanation.

  14. “Yours’s Guys’s…”

    Used amazingly often by people addressing a group.

    “This table is Yours’s Guys’s…”
    “My feelings are just as important as yours’s guys’s..”
    “The leftovers are yours’s guys’s to do whatever you want.”

    It’s just a hideous brain-fart of a phrase.

    1. No – “This table is yours, guys” or are you saying they really do say “yoursiz guysiz”??? That would be nutsiz!

  15. Oh the “Words I hate” sections are one of my favorite parts of WEIT ! And I usually will be yelling next to you “Get offa my lawn, kids!” I do dread you complaining about a phrase or word I’VE used in my own column but that hasn’t happened yet.

    And “all about”,”It’s all about” or my personal fave: “I’m all about” (because of the narcissism) are my red light specials – my gear grinding pet peeves also.

    Of course the HuffPo is the perfect source of these stupidities and so bad on my cortisol levels I won’t even open Adriana’s Huff-rag. I leave that chore to better men than I, Gunga Din! *Cultural Appropriation alert* But Huff Po is a rich source of idiotic phraseology.


  16. “Off of” instead of “off” – a bizarre US pleonasm.
    “Decimate” instead of “devastate”. Overwhelming destruction is not reduction by one tenth.
    “Around [a topic]” instead of more accurate alternative expressions signifying a connection with a topic. eg “The conversation around Evolution is like, whatever.”

    1. If you are a Roman, fair enough complaining about decimate, but OED says also “destroy tenth or large proportion of.”

  17. I don’t know why it is bothering me so much, but Spill the Tea (for dishing dirt on someone) and just Tea (for embarrassing info in general) is like fingernails on a blackboard to me.

    1. Never heard that! Where are you? May be a local thing or from a particular person? I think often news/ tv people spread these phrases & they come out everywhere, then often disappear again. The word Wally is an example from the 80s

  18. A couple I have been saving up:

    Sports interviewers interviewing sports people asking about emotions. To the winner of the race: “tell us what emotions you are going through” instead of “how do you feel?”

    Using the verb “to drop” as a synonym for “to release” or “to publish”. As in “the BBC dropped the first episode of the new Doctor Who”. In the UK, in that context “dropped” means “canceled” and it gets me every time: “what? They’ve canceled Star Wars/Doctor Who/whatever?!”

  19. To make “the thing is” worse, someone I used to work with often started her sentences with “Here’s the thing is…”

  20. I suppose this has been mentioned many times before, but people who punctuate every sentence with “…do you know what I mean?” send me thru the roof. Lately I overhear it a lot when the mason I work with gets a phone call from his dysfunctional alcoholic friend (in contrast, my mason doesn’t drink at all). But it’s not exclusive to that end of society – when I was a grad student a new post-doc arrived with some fanfair – she had co-authored a chapter in Methods in Enzymology, so we had great expectations.

    She, too, punctuated her sentences with that. But wait, there’s more! She had somewhat of a stutter/stammer. It came out, …d’do you know what I mean? And then a finale! A nervous titter! …d’do you know what I mean? teeehheee.

    We also used a lot of adapters to connect various sizes of tubing together which she insisted on calling adopters.

    It was a great relief to be in Sweden on my post-doc, where initially I had no idea what anyone was saying. But later I came to learn (and this was only something heard outside the lab) that the Swedish equivalent of DYKWIM is a simple vad? (what?) Equivalent to the Canadian, “Eh?”

  21. I abhor the use of ‘journey’ to describe a new experience, as used by every tv talent show contestant about their runs on the shows.
    Also, people ‘discovering’ things that have already been discovered. Every time I hear ‘We discovered the most amazing restaurant/town/food item etc.’ No, you didn’t discover it, you visited it or tasted it.

  22. My pet peeve is with the phrase, it’s not if, but when. You will frequently find the use of this phrase in military or paramilitary organizations, although the phrase shows up in other occupations as well. I’ve heard it used by individuals when referring to the possibility of a negative event, which might occur in the future, but is extremely unlikely, that will require a response from a specialized group like a hostage negotiation unit.

    Often, the individual uses such a phrase with a type of boastful authority to draw attention to their specialized skill set or relationship to an organization. Perhaps, I’m being too picky. I know that bad things do happen in society that specialized groups are sometimes called upon to resolve, but the use of the phrase, in the context I’ve depicted, sounds so damn arrogant!

    1. Similarly I cannot stand it when the news people say that they are going to “unpack” the story for the listeners. Just report!!! 🙂

  23. I, like many above, always look forward to these posts. I have two offerings:

    One I recently picked up from a colleague, and I catch myself saying it – “Question.” before asking the question. I know it’s redundant, but it does prepare the other party somewhat? I’m torn.

    The other is “Good enough for what it’s for”. I despise this one.

  24. There are many good ones already mentioned here, so I’ll simply add the use of ‘gentleman’ when referring to a guy who is clearly a reprobate or something along that nature.

  25. It seems like many writers are trying to import the most slovenly parts of spoken language into written English. I’ve spent the last month reading 17th century English prose, and it makes a lot of the 21st century prose I encounter seem flaccid and witless in comparison. It doesn’t help that modern American culture is no longer an aspirational culture, where people are encouraged to improve themselves and measure up to the best of the past. Now we tell everyone that they’re wonderful as they are, in all they do (unless of course they violate a woke tenet; then we burn them in effigy). Style has come to be regarded as larding prose with expressions from spoken language or text/instant messaging, no matter how inexact, inelegant or stupid they are. That’s easily done. Whereas writing prose with conversational rhythms is more difficult than it looks and achieved by hard work.

  26. There will always be people who consider the conditions and habits of the past superior to those of the present. I am confident that the scholar-monks who wrote the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle would look at Middle or Modern English and have a low opinion of the state of the language. After all, we’ve eliminated grammatical gender for nouns¹ and the dual number, combined the dative and accusative into a single objective case, and replaced the inflection structure with a more rigid word order. They might also mourn the loss of the letters Þ, ð and æ. We need the equivalent of a foreign language class to read Beowuld or the works of Chaucer, and even something from the early Modern English era like Shakespeare’s plays, need a glossary. That’s no excuse, of course, for sloppy language, but ignoring linguistic change is an exercise in futility. The kinds of things we are complaining about here are mostly temporary colloquial conventions that will pass, it’s a good bet that our children and grandchildren will miss the good old days when the colloquialisms of the present were elegant speech.

    ¹Of course we still have gender in our pronouns.

    1. Gender in our pronouns? Is that why Americans are comfortable with “It is the duty of We the People…” and, as of yesterday (government ad for Australia Day), Australians are comfortable with “It’s the story of we…”?

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