We all use them. Those phrases and sayings that either we don’t really mean, or that add very little to the overall message we are trying to convey. I wonder if the fact that people now expend a lot of mental effort trying to condense things into a minimal number of characters (from text messages to Twitter) affects our ability to be meaningful when we speak. I don’t want to start harping on about football all over again, but some of the phrases used by pundits and players are nothing short of ridiculous. Anyway, I just want to raise a few questions about whether we could perhaps try to stop using some silly expressions that are either careless, meaningless or just plain irritating.
Disclaimer: I know I say some stupid things myself. It annoys me. However hard I try to avoid saying it, “like” seems to be ingrained in my speech patterns and it’s proving difficult to get rid of. So if you do ever hear me say anything listed below and can’t detect any irony in my voice, a gentle reminder is fine and is more than enough to get me back on track.
There are a few reasonably traditional sayings that I regard as either stupid, or marginally insulting. When I lose something, asking, “Where do you last remember seeing it?” suggests that I haven’t even made an effort to think about the item’s possible whereabouts, never mind actually looked for it. I don’t remember where I last had it – that’s the problem. When I do find it (invariably not where I last remember seeing it, FYI), commenting that, “It’s always in the last place you look,” is, again, enlightening. Thanks so much for your input. Another example of stating the obvious: “Tomorrow is another day”. To coin a phrase (they can be helpful sometimes)… “No shit, Sherlock!”.
I realise this next one is used metaphorically as a moral or educational reminder not to jump to conclusions about people, but seriously… “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? I always judge books by their covers. In my view, any book fronted with a screenshot of its film adaptation is unacceptable bookshelf material. I realise this makes me an angry little bookworm, but I feel a bit like Waterstones (my happy place) loses a tiny bit of my respect when it stocks a copy of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ adorned with the face of Keira Knightley. In the metaphorical sense, there are obvious reasons not to make judgments about people, things or events based on your immediate visual impression. However, I would argue that the problem is more related to the incorrect or unjust stigmas sometimes attached to visible characteristics, rather than the physical presence of the characteristics. Read Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Blink’ and it might literally open your eyes.
Ahhh… “Literally”. I literally say “literally” all the time. It’s literally driving me crazy. These last two sentences are clearly factually incorrect, since I have written whole sentences including other vocabulary and I’m unlikely to be sectioned for very slight overuse of a single word. Since starting to blog, I’ve noticed this irritating trend in my writing and am now in the process of attempting to replace some of my “literallys” with “actually”. Literally means, ‘In a literal sense,’ but it has crept into modern usage to indicate exaggeration. Listen out for people saying “literally” when they don’t mean it. It can actually be quite amusing.
Then of course there’s the stuff we say that is just a bit of a casual white lie. A modern classic: “Just saying”. If you want to be extra annoying, “#justsaying”. No, you’re not. Even if it’s said in a genuinely ironic way, there’s a whole load of underlying meaning in an expression like this. Either way, you’re aware that there’s more behind whatever you’re saying than what you have explicitly stated. My advice: say what you really mean, don’t hide behind ‘hashtags’ and at least try to be a bit more sophisticated when using sarcasm.
Even when stating our thoughts, opinions or justifications more explicitly, there is often a suggestion of sensitivity to people’s feelings or social expectations evident in what we say. For example, people will often try to soften the blow of an insult, preceding it with something like, “No offence, but…”. Acknowledging you are about to offend somebody suggests you’re aware of what you are going to do, so “in the nicest possible way” perhaps it might be better to think twice about saying it at all?
I’m one of those people who isn’t blessed with a naturally smiley demeanour. Don’t worry, I’m not a total misery guts, I just don’t have a happy expression fixed on my face 24/7. There’s nothing like someone jumping in at this point with, “Cheer up, it might never happen!”. Well ha ha ha, I was absolutely fine until you commented on my facial expression with no idea how I may or may not be feeling. If anything, I was happy. What if ‘it’ has already happened? You’d feel bad for mentioning it then wouldn’t you? I would like to politely request that people stop assuming that an unsmiling face requires a facetious passing comment from anyone else, particularly a stranger. Many thanks.
I’m sure there may be mathematicians out there who can find a way to explain this, but a little siren goes off in my head whenever I hear someone say, “I’m going to give 110%”. How can you give more than your maximum effort at any one time? In fact, at what point did 100% effort become unacceptable? My long-ago GCSE Maths exams mean that I understand the concept of how a price or amount of growth or a thing’s relative size can be 110% (or even 200% if it has tried really hard). And I do appreciate it when people give all they can. But I will never promise more than I can give, so I will only ever pledge 100% effort.
The English language is beautiful and has a seemingly infinite number of expressions. Some of these are steeped in tradition or have gone through a colourful journey on their way to becoming deep-rooted parts of how we express ourselves. Part of the beauty of language is the way that it evolves and takes on new influences and nuances from different people and cultures. Unfortunately, its complex and fluid nature means that it can also be carelessly deployed by speakers and writers who don’t always make the best lexical choices. Words can be wasted and their meaning lost, or diluted. This entry has barely scratched the surface on this; I’ve only briefly discussed a few examples out of thousands. That said, some things are more annoying than others, so if writing this article means I have to hear a few less people pledging to give 200% or assuming I’m in a bad mood then it will have made a positive difference to my life!
I am going to have to stop writing about this or my head will literally explode.