LanguagePoliceA recently published college poll, looking for the most annoying word or phrase in the English language, determined that “When it comes to phrases that annoy, it looks like it’s ‘whatever’ forever.”  In fact, “whatever” won for the fifth year in a row.  Personally, I’ve gotten over being offended by the term. It seems to be mostly a sign of defeat or frustration, used when the speaker has no adequate or meaningful response to your statement. But there are a few even more irksome words and phrases that do make me choke.  For instance…

1. Reached out, as in the television news anchor who concludes her report with “We reached out to Mr. Accused, but he didn’t return our calls.”

Wasn’t there a time when “reaching out” to someone indicated an offer of sympathy, or an attitude of helpfulness and good will on the part of the reacher?  “I’d like to reach out to Jerry and see if I can be of any help in this difficult time,” or “Charities are reaching out to those who lost their homes in the floods.”

But, lately, it’s more often used by a television reporter in the process of figuratively hanging some poor sucker.  You know, the poor guy being tried in the court of public opinion by the local television news.  It merely indicates that the speaker made a failed attempt to bait the subject of our derision, and the person in question didn’t fall for the trick.  He didn’t answer the door, pick up the phone, return the call, or respond to the reporter’s email.  Just Irritating.

2. With all due respect.   Have you noticed that whenever people open a sentence with “all due respect,” they are about to deliver a verbal slap in the face…  something especially hurtful and with no respect whatsoever?  The silent conversation in my mind always responds with… “No offense, but could you just shut up before you say something really insulting and I have to punch you in the nose?”  Enough said.

3. You wouldn’t understand.  Does the speaker have any idea how insulting this is?   I understand other things.  I’m pretty sure I could understand what you have to say…  if only you were capable of explaining the concept.   Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

Could it be that you don’t understand well enough to explain to a person of average intelligence?  When I read about difficult topics, I can usually grasp the concepts, even if it takes a second or third reading.  I feel like I have a reasonable grasp of what a “black hole” is, but it should go without saying that I’m not capable of giving a very complete explanation of the concept.  And it should also be clear that my inability to phrase a clear explanation of black holes does not reflect on your ability to understand the concept.  Saying “you wouldn’t understand” is nothing but a cop-out.

 4. Just Sayin’.  Usually follows an only mildly veiled insulting comment.  I always want to respond, “Well just stop ‘sayin,” as in “shut the hell up.”   Better you should think for a moment before just sayin’ any more.   Often the speaker is pretty obviously unclear about the topic of discussion and is just making noises that don’t sound like reasoned thought.  As often as not, it follows an attack, without evidence, on someone’s character or appearance.  “Rita’s hair looks like somebody hit her with a lawnmower.  Just sayin’.”

5. Hashtag.  I know, I know.   It’s only a single word, not a phrase.  In fact, I’m not even sure it’s considered a word.   And you don’t normally hear it spoken (so far, but it’s only a matter of time).  With twitter it serves a legitimate purpose, but “hashtag” has earned a solid spot on the up and coming list of language irritations, now being used by people who wouldn’t know an algorithm if it slapped them in their faces.  At least have the decency to restrict it’s use to twitter.

And this may be something of a personal weakness, not bothersome to others, but I hate being reminded of the fact that for people of my age, the pound sign, “#,”   is found on a telephone, not an algorithm.  All this because, at this point, it is being used as little more than a label to tell us what you have just been talking about.   “#wordsthatexasperate”

Trying to pare my original list of exasperating terms down to no more than five left a long list of really nifty sources of irritation.   We haven’t even touched on “epic,” “moving forward,” “kind of unique,” “impact,” or “selfie.”  Maybe next time.  Or maybe I’ll be in a better mood next week.

Bill Morgan








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