Contest: Nominations for Most Annoying Phrase

I confess I’ve been watching way too much cable news. While I have sympathy for those commentators who have minutes to fill in front of the camera (I’d be completely tongue-tied) I cringe at the repetitive nonsense phrases.

Why does it grate to hear someone “walk it back?” Because it’s dishonest. It’s a euphemism for “change the story.” (A euphemism is a phrase that substitutes for one that would be considered too blunt, rude or otherwise offensive.)

Another insult to the intelligence is when we “take a deep dive.” On cable news it means, “Look out, we’re going to show some graphs! Or talk about some of the underlying facts and assumptions.” It’s an exaggeration. Like calling a partisan politician a “policy wonk” because he wrote a proposal. The cable news offers sound bytes that support the viewers’ beliefs. The audience does not sit still for sophisticated and thoughtful analysis. No deep dives.

How about the promise “to reach out?” When the newscaster says “We reached out to the directors of Homeland Security and I.C.E.,” the visual image is a very human gesture, holding out a hand (like “reaching across the aisle”). The listener knows what really happened. They sent an email or called and asked for a comment on camera. The wary official refused to take the bait.

Some phrases seem catchy but they’re soon overworked and tired. Once upon a time, the simile “to throw someone under the bus” was a vivid image of betrayal, but now? We’ve heard it before. Whatever is happening “ahead of” the election just means it’s before that event and the plan “going forward” is just “the future plan.” Most infamous of those wordy combinations is “At the end of the day,” replacing the elegant word, “ultimately.”

Consider the aside, “Just sayin’,” which seems to mean nothing at all. Nothing, unless, it’s intended as a pause in the barrage of conversation to emphasize a point. Second person is used for commands. “Make no mistake,” is a phrase that makes a complete sentence with “you” as the understood subject. It’s not a construction that’s used much in writing except in advertising. “Treat yourself to a Dove bar.” On cable news, it’s just a signal for emphasis, “Look, the news met with a mixed reaction from the markets…,” or “Listen, the Canadian President made no promises…” Those are aural ticks, similar to the ubiquitous “like” thrown into every sentence, like, one couldn’t possibly just, like, go ahead and say it.

An opinion poll found the 2016 winner of “most annoying” words was the same as for the prior seven years – Drum roll – “Whatever.” Next was “No offense, but.” (Obviously because that one’s hypocritical.) Apparently, people have given up complaining about the word “like.” It made the list in prior years but not this one.

The poll demonstrated a split in the age demographics. The phrase, “I can’t even” annoyed a third of the respondents under the age of thirty. Apparently that one originated online, in blogs, conveying a sense of being overcome by emotion, overwrought to the point of speechlessness. Young celebrities say it when accepting an award for best something or other and the younger folks are tired of it.

The Brits don’t like Americanisms such as “touch base, heads up, deplane and my bad.”

I love the idea of creating a character who says things that grate on the nerves. I’m collecting my grievances on a list. Anybody have a nomination for me? I’ll be so thrilled. I can’t even.