Don’t Say It! Words We Love to Hate

By Elaine Viets

You know, some words and phrases are getting on my nerves. Most people would say it is what it is and at the end of the day, let it go. I know, right? But I’ve been doing some online research. There are certain sayings that tick people off. And readers are people, too. You don’t want to turn off your readers with annoying phrases. Just sayin’.
These outstandingly irritating phrases are garnered from various corners of the Web.
Think carefully before you use them in your writing. You may want to save them for your most hateful characters.

Just sayin’. The winner! Nearly everyone hates this redundant phrase. I mean, you’ve already said what you were going to say, right?

Literally. I confess I’ve used this one and thought it was pretty clever – the first time. Then I noticed that word in every novel I picked up – literally.

It is what it is. Arggh! This meaningless phrase is enough to send me screaming into the night. I admit I’m a little touchy these days, with the quarantine and all, but please don’t use it.

At this moment in time. What’s wrong with “now”? Can this pretentious phrase.

Everything happens for a reason. Usually said after some meaningless tragedy, and meant as consolation. If you don’t have that comforting belief system, this phrase triggers an urge to slap that person silly. Also avoid this phrase: Whenever God closes a door, he opens a window. I had a roommate like that. Very annoying.

Honestly. Often a trigger word indicating the person using it is lying. Use it carefully.

My bad. A cutesy way of glossing over a mistake. This phrase says, “I know I did something offensive and I don’t care.”

I want 110 percent. Right, boss. Except your math doesn’t add up.

No worries. Some people find this phrase a little passive-aggressive. In other words, when someone says, “No worries,” they’re really telling you that you should be worried.

At the end of day. As in, “At the end of the day, getting a new CEO won’t make any difference. This company is doomed.” This crutch will cripple any sentence.

With all due respect. The warm-up to an insult. “With all due respect, even in your prime you weren’t that good.”

That’s my list, and it’s pretty good, in IMHO (oops, there’s another one.) Now’s your chance. What tired words and phrases would you like to see retired?

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A Star Is Dead, my new Angela Richman death investigator mystery “will satisfy procedural and cozy fans who like a good puzzle,” says Booklist magazine.
Buy it here: https://tinyurl.com/yc6

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About Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets has written 30 mysteries in four series, including 15 Dead-End Job mysteries. BRAIN STORM, her first Angela Richman, Death Investigator mystery, is published as a trade paperback, e-book, and audio book. www.elaineviets.com

58 thoughts on “Don’t Say It! Words We Love to Hate

  1. I agree with your dislike of these phrases. But it doesn’t clearly follow that we shouldn’t have our characters using them. By having characters use phrases such as these, we’re characterizing them, telling the reader something about them. Who would believe a coach character who didn’t demand 110%?

    • Hi, Eric. Agreed. I said, “Think carefully before you use them in your writing. You may want to save them for your most hateful characters.”

      • But that’s just the question. Don’t ordinary, likeable people use phrases like this? And if so, shouldn’t our ordinary, likeable characters use them–at least once or twice to show something about them?

        • Ordinary, likeable people do use those phrases, but I’m very careful about avoiding them in the dialogue for my novel, just because the phrases or so annoying. Sometimes you have to use them, as when a boss tells the staff to give 110%. But that says a lot about him.

  2. Thank you for this post. With regard to ‘whenever God closes a door, he opens a window.’ A brilliant friend once pointed out ‘it’s hell in the hallway.’ Love that.

  3. “Everything happens for a reason/ It is all G-d’s plan/ and the like”
    Bullshit
    I will leave this to a much better writer than me to explain.
    Behind me, I heard the same man asking:
    “For God’s sake, where is God?”
    And from within me, I heard a voice answer:
    “Where He is? This is where–hanging here from this gallows…”

    That night, the soup tasted of corpses.”
    ― Elie Wiesel, Night

  4. There are some things I don’t need to hear ever again.

    REACH OUT – Sorry, it makes me want to reach out and break your neck. Please, consult with your engineer or someone.

    CIRCLE BACK – Just no.

    • Alan, circle back…that’s the one I was trying to remember for my comment further (or farther??) down. I heard that phrase ad nauseum when I was part of corporate medicine. Whenever one particular female manager used it, I immediately envisioned her sitting on a covered wagon, circa 1800 or so, holding a rifle.

      She always wondered, I’m sure, why I grinned like an idiot so often in her meetings.

      • Corporate speak is another language, and one we’re forced to learn. There’s a game called Corporate Bingo, where you place bets on how many times a supervisor will use certain clichés during a meeting. The winner gets free beer. It livens up dull meetings.

      • I immediately envisioned her sitting on a covered wagon, “circa 1800 or so, holding a rifle.”

        My chuckle for the day.

  5. I can’t recall a single instance where I’ve seen any of these used in a book. In real life conversation either verbally or social media? Yes. But not in a book. Perhaps it’s because the bulk of my reading is historical.

  6. Personal peeves: Exact same. Continue on. Whatever (instead of an actual response).

    • My Latin teacher would have jumped all over “exact same” and “continue on.” He was always pointing out redundancies. “Earliest beginning to final completion” was another one.

  7. I am growing extremely tired of the phrase “new normal…” – if it’s new, can it BE normal – yet anyway?

    And while I’m picking on pandemic terminology – the overuse of “these uncertain / difficult / trying / worrisome times” during these uncertain, difficult, trying and worrisome times does little to reassure that we are, in fact, all in this together, especially when we have remain apart…

    And seriously, the use of seriously as a question… Seriously? And REALLY? Really? Right? Right…

    Stop me before I rant again… 😜

    • I am sick of “new normal” too! And “unprecedented time” really irks me.

      As for “just sayin'” and “whatever” It fits one of my characters. She’s tough, street smart, and never misses a chance to be sarcastic, but she’s not hated. Readers love her spunk. If I stopped using it, her characterization wouldn’t ring true. Just sayin’. 😉

    • And how about BREAKING NEWS? Over and over again. And sometimes, it’s recycled news with different protest signs. Really?

    • Did you know that sites like YouTube demonitize content and avoids ads with words like “Covid” and “pandemic?” It’s their brilliant way to stop misinformation. So, I can see why “new normal” is being used so commonly.

      (“Asphalt” starts with “ass” so their content bots often block a video with that word because it’s “adult content.”)

      And, yes I listen to way too much YouTube content.

  8. A great list, Elaine. It’s interesting how people respond differently to such phrases. I suspect tone and manner in which one these is said makes a difference as to intent. I’m guilty of using “no worries”–my intent is to make the recipient relax and not worry about whatever it was they are apologizing for.

    That said, I think any phrase can become shopworn or devoid of meaning if it’s overused. My personal pet peeve is “our hearts go out,” which I feel is a substitute for a more specific condolence.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post!

  9. Great list, Elaine. I’ve been in a permanent cringe ever since my bad became popular. I hate it! And for the reason you stated…it’s completely insincere. What’s wrong with the tried and true, “I’m so sorry I…”? If someone says that to me, my likely response will be, “Exactly what is your bad?”

    A couple of my pet peeves during my 15 years in healthcare, was corporatespeak. In leadership meetings, our director was fond of saying things like, having said that, meaning he was now going to state the exact opposite of what he’d just declared. Or, why don’t we reach out to. What’s wrong with, “Why don’t we get in touch with…”? Or, let’s walk it back What does that even mean?

    It’s nice not to have to put up with the sometimes insincerity of the business world. Now…those politicians…they have an insincere language all their own. 🙂

  10. I’ve come to despise the phrase “not a problem” ever since I worked in an office where the admin responded to every request with that answer. Apparently, it was not a problem for her since she ignored the request as soon as she walked away.

  11. Most of those expressions have more social, contextual, and emotional value than just the words, and they often say a great deal about the writer/speaker so I disagree with calling them useless or redundant.

    Even “literally” which I hate to the depths of my being has value if the content is true but unbelievable, and the speaker/writer knows this. Example: I literally saw an American fox kill a cat although experts say this never happens.

    Your reaction to them also says a great deal about you. (Do you really want people to think you are intolerant of others’ religious and world views when you make fun of expressions about God and his windows and plans beyond our understanding? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Next time, watch your own words.)

    And in keeping with an article a few days ago here, I learned a new phrase yesterday. “Have a white vest.” It is from a German idiom “eine weisse Weste haben” which means having a clean conscience.

    • I have a white vest on the issue of intolerance, Marilynn. I envy people who have those beliefs. I said, “If you don’t have that comforting belief system . . .”

  12. ‘Literally’ is my pet peeve. Nowadays the word isn’t used properly. Literally will never mean figuratively. I hate it when people say, “I literally just died.” They don’t even understand how illogical that phrase is.

  13. Irregardless and juxtaposed a la vis-a-vis – Gawd – gag me with a spoon. I hate corporate speak and I could go on and on about how brainless bureaucrats butcher their speak.

    • Sad but true, Garry. When I worked for a corporation, I learned that language and had to use it. By the way, Webster says “irregardless” is a word. Not in my book!

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