Bad Words

The researchers behind the Oxford English Dictionary have created a database that monitors how the English language is changing. Made up of everything from literary novels to newspapers to the ephemera of chatrooms, the Oxford English Corpus now contains over 2 billion words. Naturally, the Oxford researchers are using their vast verbal power for good, most crucially, for identifying the most annoying phrases in the English language.

By the way of an article in the London Telegraph, Jeremy Butterfield, a freelance lexicographer (!) and author of A Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare, reveals that the ten most irritating phrases 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.

Here at Book World, we have our own collection of irritations, which we are quick to cut from erring reviewers' prose: "that said," "indeed," "in truth," "limn" (in any of its forms), "stunning," "walking the walk" or "talking the talk," "pro-active" (is anybody anti-active?), so-and-so author is "at her best when ..... "

In general conversation, Book World editors also object to: "have a good one," "hasta la vista, baby," "no problem," "an eye for an eye," "my bad" and "it is what it is."

Any others that set your teeth on edge?

-- Rachel Hartigan Shea

By Rachel Hartigan Shea |  November 11, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Rachel Hartigan Shea
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I have grown weary of expressions that have invaded mainstream usage from the business sector. I am thrilled that "get with the program" and "on the same page" have seen their day. I only wish that "incentivize" and "win-win" will join them anon. Weather-related metaphors are on the rise, like "tsunami" and "perfect storm," and may soon reach the threshold of annoyance. I'd love not to hear anyone say "I myself" again. I am trying to divest my own vocabulary of "but," that defensive, evasive conjunction.

Posted by: cebeling | November 11, 2008 9:05 AM

Add to those good lists: "To be honest with you" (as opposed to what you usually are?), "the bottom line is," and "We'll get it done" (akin to the "Let's do this" that William Safire wrote about in Sunday's NYT).

Posted by: JenniferRuark | November 11, 2008 11:25 AM


Posted by: heartprivacy | November 11, 2008 11:40 AM

So Rachel, I have to learn from Short Stack that you hate "[writer] is at her best when..."? No doubt, you could have just turned around and told me that.
- Ron Charles

Posted by: ronchar | November 11, 2008 11:56 AM

Coincidentally, here's a list from Eric Banks, blogging over at The Chronicle Review:

Posted by: JenniferRuark | November 11, 2008 12:42 PM

Yes: absolutely. That single inane word makes me yell back at the radio. I'd add some nouns that have become verbs: when I was growing up 'party' was something you attended, not something you did. When 'party' then is used as a transitive verb, the cycle of transformation is complete, and awful.

Posted by: conradad | November 11, 2008 4:58 PM

Annoying phrases noted by folks on The Baltimore Sun's Read Street blog:
From business -- It is what it is, low-hanging fruit, and what happens in...stays in...
From sports -- He gave 110 percent, one game at a time, and physicality.
Syllable-creep -- Incentivize, actionable, tasked, and gifted.
But the funniest suggestions were phrases that are mangled or misused -- It just doesn’t pass mustard, massive Christian burial, and for all intensive purposes.

Posted by: daverosenthal | November 12, 2008 1:52 PM

Totally agree on the "one game at a time."
"It's not brain surgery" is up there too.

Posted by: choirgirl04 | November 13, 2008 11:02 AM

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