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Words That Should Be Given A Rest

March 17, 2011

So far, we’ve talked about words that are almost forgotten but shouldn’t be, words that sound like they mean something else , and now it’s time to talk about words that haven’t been forgotten, but should be.

You know what I’m talking about—words that are either so overused they’ve become meaningless, or are just plain irritating.

One of the big challenges in talking about words that should be used less frequently is to limit the discussion to words and not discuss the many phrases out there that are overused and therefore rapidly becoming meaningless.  Examples of overused, and under useful phrases are things like “at the end of the day,” or “having said that.”  Both are euphemisms for “I don’t care what you think, I’m doing it my way.”

But we’re going to keep it simple and just talk about words.  Here goes.

Basically—“Basic” means of, relating to, or forming the base or essence.  So, for example, it is not possible for a building to be basically finished if it is still under construction, because the essence of a finished building is that it is no longer under construction.  You see where I’m going with this?  A good rule of thumb is to never use “basically” if you can’t substitute “totally.”   While we’re on the subject, fundamentally is often overused in lieu of basically.  Fundamentally should never be used unless it is followed by the word “flawed.”

Basically under construction not basically finished

Branding—I was under the impression that this is something done to cows and cowards.  But no.  It’s something that companies pay big money to consultants to improve.  I decided that the word is overused when I read an article about how the New Zealand tourism industry was reacting to the Christchurch earthquake.  “Inbound Tour Operators Council president Brian Henderson says some images of Christchurch would have to be taken out of the branding.” 

Cerulean—Maybe it’s because of the recent Academy Awards and Grammys and BAFTAs, but I’ve come across this word much more than I should.  It means blue, specifically the blue of the sky.  So it’s been used lately to describe everyone’s eyes or gowns.  It also crops up a lot in travel brochures to describe the ocean.  I think it’s pretentious.  Just call blue blue.

Innovative—It’s not this word’s fault that it is overused.  Technically it means “new” so unless you are a hermit, you should encounter the innovative with some degree of regularity.  Its use, however, should be curtailed when it is used incorrectly, i.e., to describe old things that marketing people want us to think are new.  So while Lady Gaga might be the “new” Madonna, I’m not sure she is all that innovative.

Landscape—According to my dictionary, landscape means a picture representing a view of natural inland scenery, the art of depicting such scenery, the landforms in a region in the aggregate or the portion of territory that the eye can comprehend in a single view.  I don’t have a problem if it’s used to describe a way of printing documents—after all, sometimes you need to adapt old words to describe new things.  But unless you are using it to describe bushes and trees or paper orientation, I think it’s part of the overused words landscape.  Like when a McDonald’s representative was quoted as describing happy meal toys from the Star Wars landscape.  Unless they were talking about a landfill where they’d probably ended up.

Literally—I might say that I’m literally tired of hearing people overuse literally, but that would, literally, be an example of how the word is improperly used.  Because if I were “literally tired” of something it would mean that energy was being drawn from me by its very existence.  It is ironic that one of the meanings of literally is “free from exaggeration or embellishment,” because it has become a sort of means of verbal exaggeration.   I was looking for an example of dubious use of the word and came across this wonderful sentence from the New Zealand Herald (which has a few other grammatical howlers as well):  “The distinctive shape, light and shadow created by a well-chosen pendant can literally transform a room with the flick of a switch, from the bigger is better approach to clusters of naked bulbs.”  I literally can’t decipher the literal meaning of that sentence.

Passionate and Sustainable—These words have been discussed before so we won’t talk about them now.  But no list of overused words would be complete without them.

Pushback—This word really describes the process by which airplanes back away from the gate.  A big tractor pushes them back, ergo, pushback.  But for some reason it has become a politically correct euphemism for disagree.  So when you tell your boss you want a raise because you work so hard he or she might say, “I’m going to pushback a little.”  In other words, you don’t get a raise.  Aside from the fact that it’s stupid, the other reason I don’t like this word is because of the mental image it creates.  If you don’t agree with me, I’d rather you said, “you’re wrong, and I’ll tell you why your wrong,” instead of trying to get away from me.

Robust—Basically, and I’m using that word correctly, robust means strong, vigorous and healthy.  It can also mean firm in purpose or strongly formed or constructed.  Let’s face it, it’s a versatile word and that has led to its overuse.  A recent scan through the daily paper discovered the following things described as robust: many aspects of the economy, a sports teams defence, a company’s recruiting process, a software company’s new product development process, the way the police responded to a problem and what space shuttle re-entry tiles need to be.  As I say, a versatile word.

And last but not least:  Awesome.  Wouldn’t it be awesome if everything weren’t awesome?

I’m sure you have a few others you could add to the list, but basically, I think it would be literally awesome if we made the communication landscape more robust by pushing back when people with passion in their cerulean eyes try to convince us that they have an innovative branding idea. 

Don’t you?

39 Comments leave one →
  1. March 17, 2011 12:23 pm

    I think your blog is awesome, Tom…oops!

    Our mayor starts every other sentence with the words, “At the end of the day…” I hope he’s not in office much longer.


  2. March 17, 2011 2:44 pm

    Hi, new here. These are great examples.

    I can’t stand “having said that,” I see it all the time. It’s right up there with “like I said, blah blah” (you already said it!) I also wish bloggers would stop calling us “dear readers.” I am not your dear reader!

    But the most meaningless, overused, worthless word in America is “racist.” It’s an all-purpose cheap shot for anyone who doesn’t agree with you.

    Take care,

    • March 18, 2011 6:53 am

      Hi Debra! Totally agree about “Like I said,” which, technically, should be “as I said,” but both are equally unnecessary. And yes, racist is overused everywhere and an unfortunate way to close down meaningful discussion.

  3. March 17, 2011 4:22 pm

    The McDonald’s guy basically meant the happy meal toys from the Star Wars spacescape. The awesome … pardon me … the cool thing about -scape that makes it so useful and sustainable is that one can be innovative and prepend different locations, e.g., cityscape, mindscape, seascape, etc. The habitat of a flea that lives in the fur of a goat, for instance, is a goatscape. And the surface of a scapegoat is a scapegoatscape.

    • March 18, 2011 7:03 am

      Yes! And a prisoner planning alternate ways out would be studying the escapescape. But do you think the McDonald’s guy might have been thinking of Darth Vaderscape?

  4. March 18, 2011 3:04 am

    Here’s another one…Green. And I don’t mean the color. I mean the word used any time a business so much as adds another recycling bin in their cafeteria and expects the whole world to kiss their ass for being so damn conscious about the environment.

    • March 18, 2011 5:10 am

      LOL—green—that is so true. It’s everywhere. I’d be happy if people would just pick up their damn garbage.

      Green toilet paper even. Costs a couple bucks more and you don’t even know if it’s true. All these expensive green cleaning supplies. How about a can of Comet and a scrubby sponge?

      Oh and please let us not forget the dreaded “utilize.”

    • March 18, 2011 7:06 am

      My favorite one of those was an ad for ‘green disposable diapers.’ And don’t forget prepending “Eco” to just about everything.

  5. March 18, 2011 4:55 am

    Here’s a phrase that must be banned: “Going forward….”

  6. March 18, 2011 11:13 am

    I may not move in sophisticated enough circles to have noticed the overuse, or use at all, of Cerulean, but you are right on the money with the rest of them. Good stuff.

  7. March 19, 2011 8:45 am

    Brilliant Thomas, as always you have made me laugh out loud. I am guilty of overusing the ‘awesome’ word – so a slap on the wrist for me. But, having said that, going forward I will be sure at this point in time to literally banish the word and pushback against my laziness by endeavouring to be a little more innovative with my language! 🙂
    However, having said that!!!…. I am literally right with you on the robust and overuse of the words ‘eco’, ‘passionate’ (all the fault of the so called Personal Development Guru’s), ‘branding’ and ‘sustainable’.
    I can’t say much about the word cerulean…I like hadn’t noticed it’s use like! which brings me to my pet hate: the word ‘like’. Try listening to a group of teenagers in the UK having a ‘conversation’. Besides the fact that most of what they say makes no sense at all, the word ‘like’ is liberally used in every sentence. Like I am so like !!! off with like my teachers and like the stuff we like learn is so like useless…..or something ‘like’ that.
    Great post, and good for a giggle. 🙂

  8. March 19, 2011 1:15 pm

    Can we also abolish “multi-pronged” anything?

    It makes me want to sink something with multiple prongs in someone’s ass.

  9. Snoring Dog Studio permalink
    March 20, 2011 12:58 am

    As an artist, “cerulean” isn’t just blue. And it could well describe the color of water in certain tropical places. Right now, I wish I were lying on a beach next to cerulean waters.

    Here’s my detested phrase – it’s one that’s overused by TV and radio interviewers: “I guess what I’m asking is …” For crying out loud, either ask it or don’t but don’t say you’re guessing about it! Sheesh. And these folks are role models?!

    • March 20, 2011 3:00 pm

      Hi! Thanks for the input on cerulean–hope my picture captured it.

      I totally agree with “I guess . . .” it usually is a way of toning down the question or making the questionee feel stupid.

      • Snoring Dog Studio permalink
        March 20, 2011 3:22 pm

        Yes – it tones down the question and makes the interviewer seem so unsure and tentative! Or, it’s just a way for them to say more before relinquishing the microphone.

  10. len skuta permalink
    March 20, 2011 2:17 am

    What grabs me is when people are misusing words , they look so serious.

  11. Anahita permalink
    March 20, 2011 5:12 pm

    Like this was a totally awesome read! Loved the ending…it was swell mon ami 🙂

  12. March 20, 2011 5:40 pm

    Here’s another one I see indignant commenters of all ilks constantly disgorge: “Wake up America!!!!” (Always with plenty of extra exclamation points―their idea of a multi-pronged assault!)

    • March 20, 2011 5:49 pm

      I guess they’re basically trying to get us to sustain our passion about whatever landscape they are branding?

  13. March 20, 2011 11:55 pm

    Looks like everyone has beaten me to the punch in using all your worn out phrase in a comment. That being said, I thought your post was groovie.

  14. March 21, 2011 11:01 pm

    You’ll have to have God come down and tell me to stop using “awesome” all the time I’m afraid….and probably the moment I saw God I’d probably say “Awesome!”

  15. March 21, 2011 11:42 pm

    Could we please add ‘amazing’ and ‘no worries’ to the list? Is there anything that is not amazing anymore? And ‘no worries’ just sounds like a bad Crocodile Dundee imitation.

    • March 22, 2011 8:09 am

      I agree ‘no worries’ has outstayed its welcome. And I’d include “unbelievable” along with “amazing!”

  16. March 23, 2011 8:33 am

    Here’s one that I’ve given up on: the use of the word “issue” as a euphemism for “problem.” Up to about ten years ago it still had a faintly humorous aspect—like applying psychoanalytic language to something like a printer malfunction—but it’s become completely ubiquitous. I don’t know why it irritates me so much!

    • March 24, 2011 9:15 am

      Yes, and “situation” isn’t far behind as in “I have a low ink situation.”

  17. March 27, 2011 2:27 pm

    The widespread misuse of “literally” figuratively drives me up a wall.

  18. m.bullard permalink
    March 13, 2012 4:41 am

    overuse of the word issues, no one has a problem any more they have issues,I remember when a problem was a problem and an issue was a magazine or newspaper instalment

  19. March 14, 2012 9:27 am

    hahaha! I am so glad the latest comment to this post popped up in my emails today! was great to read it all over again….so basically what I am saying is that it’s a great post, and hasn’t lost its charm with the passing of time 🙂

  20. m.bullard permalink
    March 16, 2012 6:08 am

    quirkyculture i have ISSUES with you whats your problem

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