They are common currency in our everyday speech, so much so that we often fail to notice them. I’m talking about the empty words and phrases that litter day-to-day speech. I hate them and kick myself whenever I find myself falling into the trap of using them. Everyone has their personal Top 5, here are mine:_
How are you today? Used by everyone in a customer service role as a totally superfluous add-on to a normal greeting. I’m often tempted to give them a comprehensive answer, as in “Well I didn’t sleep well last night, my back is playing me up and I’m dying for a coffee. How are you?” But I know I’d get the automatic response (which I’m expected to give) of “Fine , thank you.” It particularly irritates me when my doctor asks me this as we walk from the reception area into her office. Does she really expect me to start explaining the reason for my visit in front of her entire office? But if I answer “Fine, thank you,” will she accuse me of wasting her time?
To be honest. When someone starts a sentence with this, I’m so sorely tempted to interrupt and say “Aren’t you usually honest when you speak to me?” I know that this is a warning that what is about to be said is going to be blunt, so then why not say “To be blunt,”?
With the greatest respect. Similar to “To be honest,” except that in this case you know whatever is said next will not be respectful at all. People like to use this as a Get Out of Jail Free card, trying to abdicate responsibility for rude and abusive speech, but fooling nobody.
Enjoy. This one has spread through restaurant staff all over the world faster than H1N1 and is sheer laziness. Is it really so hard to complete the sentence “Enjoy your meal/food”? Every time I hear it, I clench my knife and fork and feel my throat tighten as I say “Thank you,” through gritted teeth. A sure fire recipe for indigestion.
Whatever. Last but not least. The Marist Institute for Public Opinion have just declared this the most annoying word or phrase in the English language. I don’t know that it’s Number 1 on my list, but certainly its dismissive “I don’t care” tone grates, particularly with parents when uttered by their offspring.
These words and phrases are a disservice to our rich language. They are even worse than “Umm” and “Ahh” because they imply meaning but fail to deliver. Resolve to remove them from your vocabulary. Language pedants, unite!