12 words and phrases you should never use

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Last year I published an article containing some of my least favorite words and phrases. Dozens of readers commented and added entries to the list, so I’ve compiled the words and phrases people said they detest the most, and added a few of my own:

1. “Happy Memorial Day”: In the United States, Memorial Day is the day we honor the men and women who died while serving in the military. It’s a somber day of remembrance and appreciation for many, but for others it’s little more than a reason to enjoy a long weekend. “Happy Memorial Day” is not only contradictory (it’s like saying “Happy Funeral!”), but disrespectful to anyone mourning a loss.

2. “Utilize”: This is one of those rarely necessary, pompous-sounding words. As reader John Barnett wrote, “I really hate ‘utilize’ … for some reason government and academic writers love [that word] in order to make something sound very official and important … So I ask: What’s wrong with ‘use?'”

3. “With all due respect”: A reader named scottinapac described this phrase perfectly: “A business professional’s way of teeing up before taking a whack.” When I worked for Ted Koppel at “Nightline,” we’d brace ourselves whenever he started a question to a guest this way. We knew whatever he said next would be devastating.

4. “Nazi”: This word should be used to describe the fascist ideology that led to the slaughter of 11 million innocent European Jews, communists, gays and others-including 1 million children. After Jerry Seinfeld labeled a grumpy chef “The Soup Nazi,” it seemed like people started using the word to describe almost anything. (For example, I see “Grammar Nazi” regularly). My concern is that using the term broadly diminishes its true meaning, and I can’t imagine how my family members who lost loved ones during, or survived, the Holocaust, would greet such a usage of the word.

5. “You know”: This verbal filler annoys Brian Chandler, president of Commonwealth Public Relations: “The phrase ‘you know’ is being used all over the place in interviews and by talk show hosts. It’s worse than saying ‘um.'” Suzanne Thornton agrees, writing, “I am appalled when a speaker begins or ends every sentence or comment with, ‘you know.'” Caroline Kennedy once used the phrase 138 times during one interview; it made her a target of mockery for the New York tabloids.

6. “At the end of the day”: Reader Barbara Quayle nominated this phrase. She said the term is vomit-inducing. Urban Dictionary is even blunter, describing it as a “rubbish phrase used by many annoying people.” This phrase is unnecessary. Most sentences can stand alone without it.

7. “Finally” and “most importantly”: Every time I hear these I wonder why the speaker chose to bury the lead. There may be times when it makes sense, but typically the speakers who use these words sequenced their presentations badly.

8. “Think outside the box”: Wikipedia says this phrase, thought to have derived “from management consultants in the 1970s and 1980s,” usually “refers to novel or creative thinking.” Do you see the problem? The phrase is so overused it’s not novel or creative. If a management consultant still uses it, it’s a sign his thinking may be stale.

9. “She gave 110 percent”: This phrase comes up often in the sports world, and is intended to convey that the athlete gave more than she was capable of. That’s impossible. If the athlete gave it her all, simply say that.

10. “Very unique”: As a reader named Lorrie says, “Unique means one of a kind, so can something be ‘very’ one of a kind? That one will drive you crazy listening to sports and news broadcasters.”

11. “Going forward”: Reader Wendy Vreeken writes, “I believe the phrase ‘going forward’ deserves special recognition. Gag worthy.” Kelly, another reader, agrees: “Going forward … drives me crazy because we all know we can’t return to the past.” Instead of telling an audience what you’ll do “going forward,” just tell them what you plan to do.

12. “Hate”: The biggest problem with this word is that it’s vague. There are many more descriptive shades of the same sentiment that add meaning and color, such as “loathe,” “despise” and “abhor.”

What words and phrases do you detest?

Brad Phillips is author of “The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.” He is also the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm, and blogs at Mr. Media Training, where a version of this story first appeared. 

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