Word and phrases I despise

April 7, 2022 • 1:45 pm

I believe all of these words or phrases are new, but since I don’t keep track I can’t be positive. At any rate, here are the latest four entries in my list of words and phrases I cannot stand. I offer these, of course, expecting readers to respond with their own linguistic bêtes noires.  I will use examples from the HuffPost when I find them, as that’s the epicenter of despiséd words and phrases.

1.)Perfect storm“.  This comes from a “nor’easter” turned hurricane off New England in 1991; it killed 13 and caused millions of dollars in damage. The Perfect Storm resulted from a concatenation of unusual meteorological conditions, and now is used by chowderheads to mean “a bad situation caused by the co-occurrence of several contributing factors.” It’s perhaps better known as the title of a 2000 movie about the storm.

There are two problems here. The first is that the phrase is shopworn, a cliché that is no longer especially cute or especially evocative. Second, it’s often used just to mean “concatenation”, even of good things, as in this HuffPost article (click all screenshots to read):

When someone uses this phrase, I consider them grammatically lazy. Because it can mean either good or bad stuff, it’s lost its original meaning. And there are simpler and less cutesy phrases that can substitute, like “bad outcome of many causes”  As Orwell said, avoid shopworn phrases.

2.)Deep dive.” Doesn’t this sound erudite and official? Well, guess what, there’s nothing it says that the phrase “close look” or “closer look” doesn’t say as well. Those who use it”deep dive” are grammatical sheep, employing the phrase because everybody else is. Let’s take a “deep dive into empathy,” meaning “discussing empathy in detail”:

Don’t brand yourself a linguistic ovid by emitting this odious phrase.

3.) “Sammie” “or “sammy” for “sandwich”. This is one of those attempts to be cute that fails badly. In fact, used in the singular, you save no syllables by saying “sammie” for “sandwich.” Further, when I hear the word, I think of Jews, often nicknamed “Sammy” if their real name is Samuel. (I had an uncle Sammy.)

Here’s a comestible that’s been doubly debased by that name:

There are many people who don’t like their own names shortened this way. Matthew Cobb goes by “Matthew”, not “Matt” or “Matty”; Richard Dawkins is “Richard,” not “Dick.” We respect their choices. Please respect the tasty sandwich by not calling it a “sammie”! This is one of those words that I may even correct if I hear someone say it. For example, if someone says to me, “Would you like a sammie?”, I may reply politely, feigning ignorance, “Do you mean a sandwich?”

4.) “Firestorm”, meaning “big kerfuffle” or “brouhaha”.  And we’re very close to #1 again, because many of the benighted use “firestorm” in the same way they’d use “perfect storm”.

In fact, a firestorm is what happens when fire and wind meet in a particularly dangerous conflagration. If it’s just a ruckus or kerfuffle or controversy, call it that. Don’t be like this HuffPost slacker, reaching for the nearest metaphor to describe Hillary’s emails:

Again, I’m with Orwell, who opposed stale metaphors, and this one has all the appeal of a week-old slice of Wonder Bread left out on the counter. Best to make up your own metaphors, if possible, and if not, well then avoid trying to be au courant.

Your turn. And get off my lawn!

152 thoughts on “Word and phrases I despise

    1. Yes, when someone is talking about a quantum leap, I pedantically go, aah, you mean the smallest possible step?
      I know, childish.

    1. Same here. How did this adult baby talk become the sound of an entire generation? I have yet to read an in-depth analysis of the phenomenon. On Zoom calls, I’m embarrassed for young (and many middle-age) participants who speak with “the dreaded voice.” I can’t take them seriously.

      1. My theory is


        A way to distinguish old from young

        Evidence (maybe): the trans atlantic voice coaching heard in movies from the mid-20th c. sounds weird to us because we are relatively young.

        Why Do People in Old Movies Talk Weird? https://youtu.be/Gpv_IkO_ZBU

    2. ” . . . if delivered in vocal fry.”

      And even more so if slathered with breathless histrionics, especially in broadcast journalism. Eric Sevareid, wherefore art thou?

      1. I am annoyed when people use “wherefore” when they mean “where” (“wherefore” is a synonym for “why”).

    3. I have to say I find it really awful too. I guess I’m officially an old person because everyone who is young, especially young women, seem to do it and you hear it on a lot of TV shows now.

    4. My theory which is mine… MTWIM …

      Modern movies and music can record – and, importantly, play back – previously inaudible vocalizations.

      Think about any group – Radiohead, Billie Eilish, doesn’t matter – they can be heard to be “singing” so quietly – set amidst complex background music – that is, essentially, a fantasy – without substantial sound support, it would not happen. Consider, how could anyone hear a whispered voice while, say, a string quartet is playing?

      So the speakers now – especially the Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, and Radiohead (guilty) audience is repeating the vocal pattern they are trained on.

  1. “Perfect storm” was described here before, I recall, as a “concatenation” of events – I really liked that (obviously).

    How about I share that this time? Precise use of language I found enjoyable! I need some uplift lately….

        1. Bulwark-Lytton missed an opportunity when he failed to write, “It was a dark and perfectly stormy night.”

      1. Ah, I see …

        Perhaps, it is a laziness of writing, stuck for ideas for the daily rag, to usurp famous – but not too well-known – titles in one’s own writing – a way to catch the eye, a way to catch the audience…

        Maybe THAT’S why it shows up in this lame way!

    1. I think confluence of events rather than concatenation. The latter implies they happened one after the other whereas the former implies they happened at the same time which would be a more accurate description of what happened during the actual perfect storm.

      1. Well I guess this highlights a big problem with the expression – that the only reason we care about this “perfect storm” is the guys’ damn tiny boat was out right in the middle of it!

        How’d THAT happen? They wanted to catch fish, OK, but THEY did that – not the weather!

        Conditional probability comes to mind.

    2. Hang on – I quote :

      “The Perfect Storm resulted from a concatenation of unusual meteorological conditions, and now is used by chowderheads to mean “a bad situation caused by the co-occurrence of several contributing factors.” ”

      So there it is – I must have missed it here. Definitely remember it from a previous “words and phrases” session.

  2. I agree 100%, but for some reason when I see eggs Benedict variations described as “Bennies” I find it adorable. I don’t know why “Sammies” grates and “Bennies” doesn’t. Maybe I’m just partial to the name Benny. I had the same reaction when I read that Benjamin Franklin’s mother called him Benny. But then, I always loved that Sammy Davis Junior went by “Sammy” and he was adorable. I can’t explain it.

    1. I think “sammies” have been used in NZ for a long time because my 95 year old auntie uses it. I like the one Italians here say “sangwich”. I’ve said that so much I say it accidentally to people who have no idea and think I just have a speech impediment.

      1. It can’t be that long, because I don’t remember it when I was growing up there (pre-1970). But that’s 50 years ago; and words come and go in popularity. I think it might have slipped over from Australia, where – as I recall – a lot of words in common use ended up with that sort of ending, “brekky” for breakfast, and so on.

      2. Here in Australia they’re “sangas”, which is odd, because Aussies love to make diminutives with -ie (footie) or -o (doggo).

        1. …yep, love me a sausage sanga, straight off the barby! Ooh, and you can’t beat a good egg and bacon toasted sanga!…

          1. A sausage straight off the barbie? Maybe it is just me, but that somehow sounds awfully trans-activist.

    2. You probably know that in my youth (not yours), “bennies”referred to benzedrine pills, a brand of amphetamine. I believe the Beats were fond of bennies. Be careful what you order!

  3. I’m fine with “sarnie” for sandwich – probably because I grew up with that, but “sammie” grates.

    1. In South Africa they are, nearly exclusively- referred to as ‘sarmies’.
      I did’t even realise that that term was derived from ‘sandwiches’, how deaf can one be?
      Was Lord Sandwich referred to as Sammy? I somehow doubt it, maybe Monty? However, I doubt too you will get a sandwich if you ask for a monty.

  4. I have a more appropriate synonym for “perfect storm” that I picked up while I was in the US Army during the early 1970s.


  5. I was brought up in the Uk in the 1960s. We did have another word we used instead of sandwich, which was sarny (not sure of the spelling as was not a commonly written word). Most often used if the filling was bacon.

  6. “Deep Dive” was ubiquitous in the software industry, and probably still is. A “deep dive” is what happens next when you make a PowerPoint presentation to a vice president and it doesn’t go well. The action that comes out of the presentation is to go do a “deep dive” and come back with a better presentation next time.

    I’m mostly kidding about this, as I had a wonderful second career in the software industry, finding my colleagues to be smart, caring, sincere, and fun.

      1. “Deep dive” in the IT circles I frequent means much more than a “closer look.” It involves fuller understanding requiring significant investment of time and intellectual effort. Amazon has even enshrined Dive Deep into its 14 Leadership Principles.

        1. But the term has leached out into general management jargon where it is both overused and often used to describe what may in fact be quite perfunctory and superficial investigations into the matter of interest. As with so many of these phrases it was once an evocative way of expressing an idea but has become increasingly tired and meaningless through over-use.

  7. Further, when I hear the word, I think of Jews, often nicknamed “Sammy” …

    Like Samuel George Davis, Jr. (converted to Judaism in 1961, following the loss of his eye in a car crash on Route 66, and his being introduced to Judaism by Eddie Cantor while in the hospital recuperating)? 🙂

    When I hear “Sammy,” I tend to think of Sammy Glick, the antihero of Budd Schulberg’s novel What Makes Sammy Run?.

      1. It seems to be about having ‘pillars’ of NZ Maori values across which we ‘weave’ other values.
        Every time I hear an administrator say ‘interdigitate’, I can only think of the children’s rhyme and gestures: “Here is the Church. Here is the Steeple. Open the doors and see all the people.”

  8. The inappropriate use of sporting metaphors, although maybe this is mostly an issue in the UK. For a long time, English journalistic discussion of political issues was infected by cricketing images: “hitting the opposition for six”; “batting on a sticky wicket”; etc, which mean almost nothing to anyone outside England (and perhaps the other cricket-playing nations).

    This is, thankfully, dying out; but what we are getting instead is sporting terms applied to the wrong sport. The English cricket captain, Joe Root, has been heard to demand that his players “step up to the plate” – a baseball term, I understand (ahem). We often hear that unsuccessful participants in all sorts of activities are “behind the eight-ball” – a phrase that means literally nothing except, perhaps, to pool players (I assume).

    As the man said, “Enough of this sort of thing”!

    1. US equivalents: “slam dunk”, “Monday morning quarterback”, “kickoff”.

      I was going to add “moving the goalposts”, but I kind of like that one.

      1. I like the term ‘slam dunk’ as in:
        “Mr Barr was making an “offer to obtain appointive public office”- a felony- with his June 2018 memo in which he undertook to protect Mr Trump if he were appointed AG. And he was appointed AG and he did protect Mr Trump. Slam dunk case.”

  9. Before The Perfect Storm was a middling movie, it was an excellent creative-nonfiction book by new New Journalist Sebastian Junger.

    1. Trying again.
      I offer a more real-world synonym for “perfect storm” that I picked up while I was in the US Army in the early 1970s.


      1. Excellent. Could be useful to know in case concatenation or confluence aren’t at the tip of the tongue. 😁

  10. I was just listening to the radio and an interviewee used “deep dive” twice. And then I saw this post moments later… It’s an annoying phrase that is increasingly creeping into consultancy reports and academic papers that are sent to me to proofread. I do my best to suggest its eradication, but I’m swimming against the tide, sadly.

    Another annoying verbal tic that I’ve come across a few times lately is “too big of a”, as in “I’m not very hungry, don’t give me too big of a bowl”. It may be a “yoof” thing as kids seem to be the main culprits.

    1. The government just introduced a ‘raft’ of ideas for energy, BBC Radio 4 news said… Arrrgh! Why not a flotilla? A fleet? A catamaran?!

        1. I don’t know if that just came off the top of your head or if you had to do some mental effort to come up with it …but that insight into a raft of ideas is truly inspired brilliance.

      1. Another annoying habit of our government is the frequent claim to be 2following the science” e.g. in relation to Covid-19 policy. This means cherry-picking (if that’s not too shop worn a phrase!) the bits of scientific information they find most congenial to what they want to do anyway and ignoring everything else. It is also a handy way of setting up the scientific advisors to take the blame when things don’t work out as they hoped.

    2. “I do my best to suggest its eradication, but I’m swimming against the tide, sadly.”

      Please keep fighting the good fight!

  11. For whatever reason, I call a sandwich a “sangy”…I have no idea where it came from or when it started. And I also loathe the abbreviation “sammie”.

    A word that just recently made my despise list is cerebral. I first realized I disliked the word when a commentator was describing an NFL quarterback as “cerebral”. Then I made a mental note (a cerebral note?) to mention it next time WEIT had a “words/phrases I despise” post.

      1. the antonym might be “limbic” … is it obvious I’m enjoying Pinker’s Rationality?… p. 92 — and paired with “cerebral cortex”!

        This book is a delight!

    1. “Hunter-gatherers — our ancestors and contemporaries — are not nervous rabbits but cerebral problem solvers.”

      -Steven Pinker, from “Rationality”, p. xiv, Viking, 2021

      … I just love that sentence!

  12. My current linguistic pet peeve is not a word or words. It’s putting periods where commas should go, making a series of sentence fragments, with no verb, into “sentences”.

    Makes me want to scream.


  13. As usual, I disagree with a few here:

    “Deep dive” carries the connotation of immersion. The student in a deep dive should expect to be totally immersed in the subject while attending the lecture, class, etc.

    As you suggest, “perfect storm” does carry with it the idea that it is the conjunction of events that add to the fury of said storm.

    “Sammy” is just dumb. It adds nothing. Although it contains fewer characters, it has the same number of syllables as the word it replaces. Useless.

    “Firestorm” is fine when applied to an actual firestorm but I don’t understand its use in other contexts. If it just means “really bad” then it belongs in the dustbin.

    1. Trying still again.

      Here is a more real-world and applicable replacement for “perfect storm” that I pick up in the US Army in the early 1970s

      clusterfuck (n.)
      “bungled or confused undertaking,” 1969, U.S. military slang, from cluster + fuck, probably in the “bungle” sense

        1. Here’s the ‘proper’ definition

          clusterfuck (n.)
          “bungled or confused undertaking,” 1969, U.S. military slang, from cluster + fuck, probably in the “bungle” sense

  14. I totally agree on ‘deep dive’ and ‘sammy’ (it almost hurts to type those!), and also on a few others mentioned in the comments (e.g., ‘going forward’).

    Normally, I can come up with a long list of cliched words and phrases at the drop of the proverbial chapeau, but the only thing I can think of at the moment is this: is the use of the execrable phrase ‘The thing is, is that…” dying off, or have I been desensitized to it?

  15. I have trouble when an administer wants to “drill down” through a subject at hand. Usually the drilling is pointed in a controlled direction.

  16. The first time I heard “Deep Dive” was in Afghanistan. I was a Navy “augmentee” working for an Army General. We gave the General frequent regular briefings, but every few months we were responsible for a “Deep Dive”; an onerous, hours long dissection of everything we were responsible for down to the minutest detail. It was a tremendous pain in the ass taking days and weeks to prepare for and we always came away with more to do & find out. To this day that expression sends chills up my spine. I could happily never hear it again.

  17. So… (Invariable Radio 4 expert’s first response).
    Asking for a friend.
    OK, groomer.
    Interminable acronyms (LGBTQ etc.)
    ‘We’, usually meaning ‘I’ or ‘some’ in a mea culpa.
    Any emoji.

    I could go on, but I bet some others have responded with all of these at some time.

      1. Yeah…when people say they don’t like emojis, they never say why, exactly. What’s the offense? Is it just a gut thing? I don’t understand the umbrage. 🤔

        1. It’s lazy, that’s why.

          They’re also used as a get out of jail free card. You can write a really scummy thing and put a smiley face on the end to pretend you were joking.

          Also, a lot of the pictures are a bit cringey, although I do like the scream one 😱

  18. To again reflect on “the right side of history.” What does that mean? That one is on the winning side? History is going to be whatever it is going to be. Why not simply say “doing the right thing”?

    1. History has a tendency to settle on a verdict over time. People who talk about “the right side of history” are suggesting they know what that will be. Those who backed Putin during the last few decades will probably end up on the wrong side of history. Same with Trump.

    1. Yes. “It was a sad story for Ted. He lived his second best life”. Really? He had a selection of lives and he picked that one? Was the best life in the wash?

  19. The phrase I really hate is “lived experience” – what other type of experience is there?

      1. To me that’s not experience – experience is something you … experience 😉

        “Do you have any experience in firefighting?”
        “Yes, I watched The Towering Inferno”

        1. “Lived experience” is the opposite of “vicarious experience”. It also differentiates from future experience as in, “I took the job because I need experience in this field.” It may be a tad overused these days but it has its uses, IMHO.

    1. Lived experience
      Living experience
      Experience yet to be lived

      Each with its own representative ghost, to visit the Scrooges in the night and while they binge-watch Netflix-and-chill

      There’s two more for free!

      1. Yes “lived experience” bothers me too. What else could it be “observed experience”, “haunted experience”, “deathly experience”?

    2. “Lived experience” is just a shibboleth that indicates belonging to the tribe that uses it. Tax lawyers and truck drivers don’t use it. The lived experience of only certain people counts. “I can’t read or do math but my lived experience with poverty and racism entitles me to a spot in the college of my choice.” It can ever accommodate moving goalposts: “I grew up in a good family and did well in school. But merely (although I would never actually say, ‘merely’) because I am Black, I still have the lived experience that entitles me to preferential admission to a competitive post-graduate program.

      (The university, of course, doesn’t really care a hoot about your lived experience. They just want the cosmetic diversity they get from playing along with it, pretending that it is equivalent to academic preparation.)

        1. My comments in CAPITAL LETTERS
          “Lived experience” is just a shibboleth that indicates belonging to the tribe that uses it.
          (The university, of course, doesn’t really care a hoot about your lived experience. They just want the cosmetic diversity they get from playing along with it, pretending that it is equivalent to academic preparation.)

  20. I have recently come to despise “curated” as a substitute for “chosen”. There is one news aggregator with posts that consist largely of tweets gathered from a bunch of twits. The site advertises itself as “News curated for your busy life”.

    Another is “close proximity”. The latter word means “closeness”, so how can it be far away? I might let “closer proximity” get by, since closeness can be a matter of degree, but the other is one of Orwell’s outright barbarisms.

    I continue to hate “reason why” unless reason is a verb.

    As for the four items spotlighted in this post, I don’t use them, but they don’t particularly upset me. I do have a friend that thinks that “sammies” is “adorbs”. We do not dine together often.

    1. I like your version: “tweets gathered from a bunch of twits” way better and I’d be more inclined to read that version.

  21. Has anyone noticed that certain perfectly good words have disappeared from the public lexicon? Events no longer ‘occur’, but ‘unfold’, and ‘many’ and ‘numerous’ have been replaced by ‘multiple’.

    1. Yes, such is the case for ‘delve’ which is better than ‘take a deep dive’.

      I shudder when ‘ask’ is used as a noun. Have people forgotten about ‘request’?

      1. >Have people forgotten about ‘request’?

        Which was another noun that got verbed. Or maybe it was a verb that got nouned.

        Delve is a good word though. I would like to see it used more often. Until it gets over-used.
        (Yes, the first and last were both sentence fragments. Deliberately so.)

  22. “Fulsome” is my number one hated word and it is all over academia but I’ve started to see it elsewhere as people endeavour to have a “fulsome conversation”. My eye twitches when I read or hear it.

    1. Fulsome
      adjective Excessively flattering or insincerely earnest. synonym: unctuous.
      adjective Disgusting or offensive.
      adjective Usage Problem Copious or abundant.

      “Source” : https://www.wordnik.com/words/fulsome
      from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.
      (See link for more)

      BTW, “unctuous” is what I call a Hitchens word – he used it once to great effect. Hell, Hitchens could probably use “fulsome” to great effect.

      1. And there seems to be a more popular meaning/misuse where it means “full”. I hate it. I hate it so much!

  23. Boil the ocean is one I hate. “Don’t boil the ocean”. Who even wants to boil the ocean? Who do you think I am, Gargamel? I’m not a super villain, I’m just thinking about bigger possibilities.

  24. I hate those ones also – one of (many) reasons I don’t read that rag the Huff Post. I took Journalism 101 at uni and the number one rule was: NO CLICHES. Which, now 30 years later when I actually write for publication, I adhere to and laugh at (or get annoyed at) those who don’t.

    1. The first time I ever heard the term “veggies” was from a bearded socks-and-sandals guy from the 70s who was extolling the vegan menu he had prepared for (inflicted on) us on a long-weekend college backpacking trip. The mere mention of the word to this day makes me look around for a free-range organic rock to throw.

      To Paul: I am honouring the “mention-not-use” exemption.

  25. Yes! “Deep Dive”! As soon as I saw a ‘words and phrases I hate’ post in my inbox I came here to say “deep dive”, so glad to see it at number 2! Unless you are going scuba diving deeper than 30 metres, you are not doing a deep dive. Watching more than one you tube video on any given topic is also not a “deep dive”.

  26. One more: ‘The (insert identity) Community’. As if characters who share some trait have a hive-mind, and possibly are ghettoized into the same neighbourhood. I expect all going-grey-ginger-nuts will agree.

  27. My memories of mid-level management training are full of annoying, high falootin’ substitutes for simpler words. I still cringe whenever I hear “leverage” in place of “use” or “optic” instead of “opinion.”

    1. Sorry but those words mean different things. For “leverage”, I read “take advantage of”. “Optic” is concerned with how others regard something, whereas “opinion” is concerned with the something itself.

    1. “dropped” sounds to me analogous to hep cat beat style words, like “run down the sh!t”, “crash”, “kitty-cat”, “pad”… I think DA dropoed a “daddy-O” on this thread…

      the use of a “mike” with “dropped” brings the relation to music, esp. beat/jazz into focus…

      Oh no what have I done – not the mic vs. mike battle! AAAAAAAH!

      1. In Old English, the word for mouse is “mūs”, and is pronounced like Modern English “moose”; its plural is “mys”, and is pronounced “meese”. The Old English word for house is “hūs”, pronounced to rhyme with “moose”, but its plural is also “hūs”. The reason? In Old English, as in Modern German and most other Indo-European languages, nouns have grammatical gender; hūs is neuter, mūs is feminine, and they formed their plurals differently. During the transition through Middle English to Modern English, the ‘ū’ in both singular words mutated into ‘ou’, but the former neuter noun acquired the Modern plural ending ‘-s’ while the former feminine noun preserved the vowel shift in its plural form. Orthographically, “mūs” and “hūs” also acquired a silent ‘e’ for reasons unknown to me.

        So when Mr. Jinks, while chasing Pixie and Dixie (often with a wet broom), loudly proclaimed, “I hate meeces to pieces!”, he was actually using a reduplicated plural of the Old English word for “mouse”.

  28. “”Forward planning” is one I truly hate, ‘cos reverse planning is scribing history, and a lack of planning is, well, just that, going forward without a plan.

Leave a Reply