Ms. Meyers is a former English major who likes to examine how language influences our thoughts, emotions, and mental well-being.
Popular But Grating Words and Phrases
When meeting people for the first time, we quickly get judged by how we look. Opinions, right or wrong, get formed in an instant about our intelligence, our motives, our social class, our confidence level, and our education.
A man wearing a suit and tie is immediately seen as intelligent, professional, and successful even though we know nothing about his history. A woman wearing a pencil skirt and high heels is seen as classy, smart, and sophisticated even though we know nothing other than her taste in fashion.
Not surprisingly, people also draw sweeping conclusions based on the initial words that come out of our mouths, sometimes judging us quite harshly.
So what might you be uttering that gets an instant unfavorable reaction? Here are 12 common words and phrases you probably use. They may seem innocuous to you but can be aggravating to your listeners.
12 Words and Phrases to Eliminate
3. I don't know
4. Let me educate you
5. That's so gay
7. At the end of the day
9. Amazing and awesome
10. I'm so broken
Read More From Pairedlife
11. Me and my friend
12. Be mindful
When listening to politicians, political pundits, and sports commentators, you can’t help but notice how frequently they start their sentences with look.
"Look...even at age 37, he's still the best quarterback in the league," a sportscaster proclaims. "Look...if the Republicans don't start appealing to white women in the suburbs, they'll lose the election," a news anchor asserts.
They typically use it as a way to bide some time while organizing their thoughts before continuing. Because look is a command, it also sounds authoritative. This is reassuring to listeners when coming from these experts.
Look becomes problematic, though, when everyday folks adopt it with their partners, co-workers, neighbors, and friends. Because they’re giving an order, they sound sharp and bossy. Therefore, their listeners can become irritated with them before hearing what they have to say.
Listen is another popular word that regular folks have appropriated from TV and radio personalities.
"Listen...if you're not investing in the stock market now, you're missing a golden opportunity," a financial analyst lectures. "Listen...the mayor is neglecting her duties by not addressing homelessness in the downtown," a new reporter scolds.
They utter it at the beginning of their sentences as a way to get the attention of their audience. Once again, though, it can sound abrasive when coming from regular folks, not media professionals.
When people are commanded to listen, they can feel subjugated. They think they’re being silenced and their words don’t matter. When someone starts off with an order to listen, they convey from the get-go that they want the communication to be a monologue instead of a dialogue.
3. I Don't Know
One of the most egregious errors that people make when communicating is concluding their statements with I don’t know.
A college student in her history class, for example, makes the case that Hillary Clinton would have made an excellent president by declaring: “She had lots of domestic policy experience as First Lady and as a U.S. Senator. She had foreign policy expertise as Secretary of State.” She finishes with but I don’t know and, thus, diminishes everything she said prior to that.
This is a lamentable habit that some people fall into without even being aware of doing it. Unfortunately, by tacking on I don’t know, they lose credibility. They sound unsure of themselves and uncertain of their convictions.
4. Let Me Educate You
This phrase gained popularity a few years ago but has definitely overstayed its welcome.
Folks originally used it as a way of saying they’d like to enlighten their listeners on a particular subject by providing them with more information. Over time, though, it morphed into a hostile suggestion that their listeners were ignorant and, therefore, needed to “get schooled.”
When people start a sentence with let me educate you, they insult their audience whether they intend to or not. Their listeners immediately get defensive. They feel their intelligence is under attack and, therefore, they tune out the speaker.
5. That's So Gay
This is an offensive comment that’s thrown around mindlessly, mostly by children and teens.
They use it to label anything they find lame, uncool, and stupid. If they watched a movie they didn’t enjoy, they’d complain that it was so gay. If they thought their buddy’s backpack was ugly, they’d describe it as gay. If their teacher assigned homework over the weekend, they’d criticize her actions as being totally gay.
That’s so gay popped up as a new insult in the 1980’s. Unsurprisingly, it occurred at a time when gays were becoming more visible, outspoken, and politically powerful.
Thus, that’s so gay can be seen as push back on a minority group that was making tremendous strides after years of discrimination. If parents hear their youngsters make this derogatory comment, it’s important they explain its history and why it’s hurtful.
The brief video below powerfully explains why it's offensive to describe something as "that's so gay."
Like, if you’re 15 or 16, you get a pass on saying like.
Teenagers utter it because it’s commonly used among their peers and, like, it’s no big deal. It’s just like something they do but, hopefully, will outgrow.
It’s like a different matter, though, when grownups are saying like. When they do so, they sound juvenile, unprofessional, and like super grating. Saying like is a bad habit that they need to put an end to, like, right now.
7. At the End of the Day
This phrase is another one that’s become ubiquitous in the media.
A sportscaster declares, “At the end of the day, he’s still the best pitcher in baseball.” A political pundit pontificates, “At the end of the day, we can’t complain about our nation’s leaders unless we vote.” A talk show host enthuses, “At the end of the day, these were the most fashion-forward gowns at the Oscars.”
At the end of the day, though, it all gets rather tiresome. With everyday folks now saying at the end of the day, it’s all too much. It’s time to come up with something fresh because at the end of the day has turned old and stale.
Few words are misused more often than literally.
Whether it’s professional TV and radio commentators or just regular folks, they show their ignorance when using it incorrectly.
A college student, for example, complained: “I had so much studying to do that my brain literally exploded.” A restaurant critic grumbled: “I literally threw up when I tasted that pie.” Unless the student’s brain was actually destroyed by a blast and the critic really vomited, they’re using literally wrong.
They actually spoke figuratively, not literally, to exaggerate their statements and make them sound more dramatic. A beggar with no money who asked for donations by saying, “I’m literally penniless” is using literally correctly.
9. Amazing and Awesome
When touring an elementary school, you’re likely to see a bulletin board of a graveyard that features overused adjectives such as good, nice, and pretty.
It’s a visual reminder to students that these words should be dead to them because they’ve become so trite. Instead of using them when writing and speaking, they should choose something more original.
Adults would be well-served by having their own graveyard of words. Two that should definitely be buried there are amazing and awesome. These adjectives have been used so indiscriminately they’re now almost meaningless.
They were once pulled out on rare occasions to label something that was truly spectacular. Now folks use them all the time to describe the mundane: “We had an amazing talk on our walk around the block…She did an awesome job of vacuuming the carpet…He did an amazing job of setting the table.”
10. I'm So Broken
I’m so broken was once a powerful way to express deep depression and, perhaps, even suicidal ideation.
Someone who described themselves as broken was seen as crying out for help. When spoken by a friend or family member, it was cause for great alarm and a reason to spring into action.
Today, though, young people have overused it and trivialized it. It’s now just another way to express their unhappiness. They say, for example, “I’m so broken over our breakup” and “I’m so broken about getting a C in calculus.”
If words have power (and they most certainly do), “I’m so broken” can make people who say it feel even worse. Dr. Brene Brown is the author of Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience.
In it, she examines how the words we speak impact our lives, our emotions, and our mental well-being. They're extremely powerful, she concludes, and should be used purposefully and not thrown around haphazardly as I'm so broken is today.
In the video below, Dr. Brene Brown discusses how the words we use shape our lives and impact our mental health.
11. Me and My Friend
You don’t need to be an English teacher to find it maddening when folks say me and my friend are going to the park, me and my wife are looking to buy a house, me and my daughter look a lot alike.
After all, we all learned in elementary school that my friend and I is correct. Therefore, anyone who says me and my friend just seems to be acting woefully ignorant or purposefully trying to sound dumb.
12. Be Mindful
For those who are aspiring to live a life of intention by engaging in a practice of gratitude, be mindful is a powerful mantra to use.
It gets them to appreciate the here-and-now and not get depressed about the past or anxious about the future. Unfortunately, be mindful has been co-opted by those who overuse it to the point of lunacy.
A principal, for example, wrote in the school’s weekly newsletter, Be mindful that Monday is a holiday. A woman told her neighbor, “Be mindful that tomorrow is trash pickup.” A father coached his son, “Be mindful about stealing third base.” Therefore, being mindful has lost its soulful significance and just sounds ridiculous.
© 2018 McKenna Meyers