Other Matters: Language

From the second section of Strunk and White’s English usage bible The Elements Of Style:


Omit needless words.

Harold Ross, the founding editor of The New Yorker, wrote in a memo to his staff, “The next writer around here who uses ‘upcoming’ will be outgoing.”

That’s a good word to put at the top of a list of needless, overused and annoying words and phrases. Here is the first dozen.



absent  (as a preposition)


area (as an adjective)


as it were


at this point in time


case in point


if you will


like (as an interjection)




the likes of


that said




Edwin Newman of NBC News recalled the time a man he was interviewing told him, “Well, y’know, y’never know, y’know.”


The Rifftides staff solicits your suggestions for additions to the list.

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  1. DBrooks says

    I detest any sentence (and those uttering same) that starts with, “Let me share with you…”
    My family still laughs about a boxer we heard interviewed many years ago who said the immortal, “You know, I don’t know, you know.”

  2. says

    A newspaper editor once told me to never use the phrase “after all” again. “Op-Ed writers have ruined ‘after all,'” he said. “Death to ‘after all.'”

  3. Barry McCanna says

    As we’re in jazz mode, may I nominate paradigm, which I’ve encountered twice in the space of two pages of a jazz biography, prefixed first by “interpretive” then suffixed by “shift”. In my opinion:
    To abuse the word paradigm
    Should be treated as a crime
    To abuse the same word twice
    Doesn’t fall that far from vice.
    But there’s more! The same author writes “Danceability has a long history of underemphasis in studies of western music.”
    And I’ve only just started reading it (Once I’d put it down I could not pick it up again).

  4. says

    “I mean…” used to mean something like “let me clarify that”, but more and more I hear people START a response with it, and drop it in at random.

  5. Kenny Harris says

    Here are a couple of my pet ‘hates’.
    No brainer
    At the end of the day

  6. PeteS says

    actually – Actually becomes annoying.
    experience (as a verb) – “Experience a Florida vacation.”

  7. says

    So is there any rational reason to dislike or avoid these words & phrases, or is it just “because I said so”?

  8. Bill Crow says

    is that, used parenthetically after “is”
    the bottom line
    at the end of the day
    from the get go (or git go)

  9. Terry M. Martin. says

    At this moment in time.
    “You know what I mean.” (With a glottal stop between the “what” and “I;” this coming from the UK, sounds like ‘Wha’a mean.’
    And definately “24/7.” I like to say “24/5”,because I don’t work weekends.

  10. Richard M. Sudhalter says

    here’s a couple more–
    fabulous (unless used regarding a fable)
    I feel your pain

  11. Charlton Price says

    “Funky” is much over-used. It meant originally, I’ve just learned, foul body-related odors.
    Incredible/incredibly — all purpose superlatives.
    Lie vs. lay: the former when there is a direct object.

  12. Diane Hehir says

    For your repertoire of annoying phrases used by reporters, consider, in reference to Martin Luther King, his purported “santa clausification.”
    I believe Cornell West is responsible for utilizing the name, as a verb, constructed as a noun again, to denounce how white people need to make MLK friendly and loving, and not, as the FBI called him, “The most dangerous
    man in America.”

  13. Brian Pearce says

    I detest overly long words which become the darlings of marketing speech for the extra syllables they have over plain English. Examples:
    1. “additional” for “more” or “extra”
    2. “opportunity” for “chance”, “shot,” “time”.
    3. “simply” for “just”.
    4. “experience” for “see”, “hear”, “feel”, “try”.
    5. “absolutely” for “yes”.
    6. “actually”, “literally, “exactly” and others for (heaven forbid!) a sentence with no adverb.
    It’s not that there’s anything wrong with these words, but that some broadcast school lecturer or other cretin sent out a memo declaring the new word to be superior and the media, marketers and others in the public speech business followed without a scintilla of independent judgment. To see how far they are taking us from plain English, look up the listed words in the King James Bible, and see how many you find–most of them appear not at all, and the rest only in a different form (e.g., “experience” as a noun, or “as well” as a conjunction, but not as an affected, sentence-ending replacement for “too”).