Language abuse: "Damp Squid" and your most irritating words and phrases

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

At this moment in time, we’re going to interface with someone who will hopefully tell us why words adversely impact so many people. Are we annoying you yet? Jeremy Butterfield might know why. He’s the author of a new book called "A Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare," which features the most annoying words and phrases in the English language


Jeremy Butterfield


Jim Colgan

Comments [71]

Edmund Bush from Winchester

I am amazed that none of the contributors so far have noticed that spoken English is being taken over by the phrase 'you know'. Even BBC presenters are adopting it in ever increasing numbers.
I have started a 'you know' index based on the number of times the phrase is used in one minute of speaking time as part of a research to establish whether it is connected with a personality defect.
The highest index I have so far recorded is 5, and the scorer was Tony Blair. Can any of you beat that?

Jan. 19 2010 06:13 AM
J Moore

"Analyst" is the most irritating word I hear in media, because it is gross misrepresentation. They are NOT analysts. Analysts analyze. An analysis is not a conclusion but a logical deconstruction of the issue - all sides.

These so-called "analysts" may argue, accuse, abuse (logic), apologize (original definition - they will never say "I'm sorry"), ad hominize (hey, a new word to hate!), aggravate, advocate, agitate... and so on.

On Fox, the analysts are generally toe to toe, if not nose to nose, and so there is no pretense that a Fox "analyst" is anything but an advocate, left or right.

On NPR and affiliates however, we have stand-alone "analysts" like Dan Schorr (NPR), and Jack Beatty (On Point, WBUR), die-hard 5th columnists for life. "Analysts?" Not by the farthest stretch. Agit-prop specialists. Left, right or off the deep end, let's never call the what they are.

Dec. 08 2008 06:02 PM

My teeth hurt every time I hear "crate" for "create" and "pin" for "pen" and all the othconfused "ens" and "ins" that former Southerners cannot do without.

Dec. 05 2008 03:31 PM

I rather like some creative use of words - I like it when people break free of the mundane phrases and use the words in new, yet appropriate ways - even if it sounds a little odd I give them points for being aware of their vocabulary and taking the time to break away from the easy cliche. A good one I heard recently was 'the wine piqued my appetite'. So many people only ever use 'pique' in 'that piqued my interest' and then we're lucky if they use 'pique' instead of 'peak'. I really dislike 'wreaked havoc', though. When does anyone ever use either of those words without the other. Heck, even if it were turned around it'd at least make it more interesting and show an awareness of the words - 'havoc was wreaked upon the town'.

Dec. 03 2008 04:25 PM

Electronical. Just writing it makes me grit my teeth.

Dec. 02 2008 06:41 PM
Joan Burritt

I have not had a chance to catch up with this opportunity...The most annoying phrase I know is the person "went missing", when used in the context of reporting about a missing person. I also hate " at the end of the day", "that said," when used in the context of a speech.

Dec. 01 2008 09:38 AM

What may be fun is to record the number of times the students misuse the word "like" and grade on a cooresponding scale from just ignorant to full idoit.

Nov. 30 2008 11:30 PM

Rhetorical! Why not say "Unless I am dead by 12:00 midnight.."

Nov. 30 2008 11:19 PM

This show is pointless, inane and should be cancelled!

Nov. 30 2008 01:17 PM

I can't believe no one has mentioned "value add." Or "value added" or "to add value." Disgusting adspeak/corpspeak. Particularly when used with human beings as the subject: "What's his value add?" Yes, that is a verbatim quote from a conference call. I fear this one will have a resurgence in this recession, with all of the advertising now focused on re-stating a product's "basic value proposition."

Nov. 29 2008 09:31 AM
H.J. Scheiber, PhD

One word I think should be given a long rest that is heard almost daily on NPR (sometimes hourly) is "iconic." Everything these days is iconic - buildings, works of art, works of literature, ballets, performances, and so forth.

Additionally, a phrase that should be used correctly - or not used at all - is "beg(s)the question." The phrase is used daily on NPR and various (serious) TV and radio news and public affairs programs ... and is consistently used incorrectly and inappropriately. It does NOT mean to simply bring up or call forth or elicit a question, it is, rather, a name for a specific type of logical fallacy wherein the conclusion is embedded within one of the premises of the argument and so the conclusion is fallacious ... since one has assumed already what one claims to be proving.

Nov. 28 2008 10:26 PM
Alan Petrash

And "reiterate" should be never be used again.

Nov. 28 2008 10:05 AM
Alan Petrash

The thing that makes me cringe the most when I hear it is "reiterate". "Iterate" already means to "repeat". So "reiterate" would mean "re-repeat". Unless the person has literatly said somthing twice before, using "reiterate" would be incorrect. Would "re-re-repeate" be used to something said exactly three time before? Using multiple iterations of the same prefix to indicate multple reflexive occurances of meaning is unmanagable at best, and just wrong at worst. I think the the best way to solve this is to use "say" for the first occurance, and then use "repeat" ir "iterate" for all subsequent repetitions.

Nov. 28 2008 10:01 AM
Alan Petrash

I thought the saying was "The only things that are inevitable are death and taxes".

Nov. 28 2008 09:44 AM

A couple of days ago, in the "irritating words" segment, someone complained about "guess-timate", claiming that form doesn't add anything compared to "estimate". That person is mistaken; he is obviously not involved in work involving estimating. "Estimating" means that an algorithm is used, which can be explained, allowing others to replicate and/or critique the method; "guess-timating" means giving an estimate without using any specific algorithm. That is a very important distinction to those who know what they're talking about.

Sorry for the delay in sending this clarification; I hope it can be communicated to correct the wrong impression.

I guess that kind of error is the downside of having such an interactive program, without sufficient opportunity for fact-checking. This error is not so serious, but it makes one wonder about other audience input.

Nov. 27 2008 10:41 PM

When people use "good" as an adverb. ("How's Frank? "He's doing good.") Uhhh! Also, in many of my college classes, people often used the phrase, "I was struck by _______" or "Something that struck me was_____" when referring to something in the reading that they found remarkable.

Nov. 27 2008 07:37 PM
Niall O'Gara

Most irriating has to be "winningest" as in "most winnningest coach" or "most winningest horse". I don't hear it too often (thankfully!) but when I do it just sounds so wrong.

Nov. 27 2008 01:47 PM
Paul B

What phrases do you find irritating? What foods don't you like? Really, could this program get any more inane? With everything that's happening in the world, are these the most important topics we can find to comment on? What's next - what's your favorite color?

Nov. 27 2008 10:25 AM
David Hollis

"Not so much ..." as in "I just love winter. Snow? Not so much." Argh!

"Back in the day ..."

"No brainer ..."


But, most of all, just overall sloppiness with language; written or spoken.

Nov. 26 2008 11:32 AM
David Hollis

Bless you, Linda!

Nov. 26 2008 11:28 AM

If I may nitpick, one of my annoyances is when people announce their intention to be honest (should we assume you're lying the rest of the time)?

I think you mean to warn us as to the frankness of your comment, not its honesty.

Nov. 26 2008 06:12 AM

Actually, I like vetting. It comes from the colorful world of horse trading, when before you buy the nag you have your vet check her out.

Nov. 26 2008 06:07 AM
Hans Onsager

"Kid-a young goat". Biblical, a reprobate. Even grammatical commentators used the word this morning (Nov 25}. Grossly overused (like the word "like"). As human offspring, they are a child or children. Substitute these words appropriately and see what a difference it makes.

Nov. 25 2008 10:10 PM
Greg Buzzell

Her use of the word "irregardless" actually compelled me to decide not to call her. And I find it perplexing that the word "ignorant" would be basically defined as oblivious. The words' obvious root is "ignore", making an "ignorant" person more aptly defined as 'one who chooses to ignore what is known' for example.

Nov. 25 2008 08:30 PM
Nancy R. Mickelsen

A response to "thank you" that has become annoyingly pervasive especially among young people is "no problem." Whatever happened to the generous, old-fashioned "you are welcome?" I try not be a nag about changes in language usage which, after all, is what keeps a language lively. This one, however, is bothersome. Nancy R. Mickelsen

Nov. 25 2008 06:42 PM

I hate to be the pronunciation police around here, but "short-lived" with a long "i" is also correct. (American Heritage Dictionary: "The pronunciation [long i] is etymologically correct since the compound is derived from the noun 'life' rather than from the verb 'live.' But the pronunciation [short i] is by now so common that it cannot be considered an error.")

Nov. 25 2008 06:27 PM

Yes, indeed, the phrase is "wreak havoc" but "rek" is a perfectly acceptable pronunciation of the word "wreak" (check out

Nov. 25 2008 06:10 PM

I am not beaming when power point presentations are delivered from a "beamer", as this this high tech device is called in Germany today, but it makes me snigger.

Nov. 25 2008 05:16 PM

I would prefer to never hear again "at the end of the day. . " (Rumsfeld I believe)unless the discussion concerns time; but, I would like to propose a new cliche', "the trillion dollar question is. ."

Nov. 25 2008 04:55 PM

I hear a lot of people - young people in particular - saying "I feel like" as opposed to "I think" or "I believe." It's a weak way to state an opinion and it's frustrating to hear it so overused.

Nov. 25 2008 04:00 PM

Arlington, VA

Don't you just hate it when people get "flustrated" over something very
"short-lived." (with "i" pronounced as a long "i"--rather than a short vowel sound---even Dan Rather has said it, and other news anchors as well!).
Since Spanish is spoken more frequently here in the USA, some of these anchors need to get some lessons on how to pronounce the Spanish phonetical language.

Nov. 25 2008 02:54 PM

I have to agree with Dawn on "growing a business" (or an economy). And for those who like, said like, I like TOTALLY agree with you. Overall, it drives me nuts when people try to use bigger words to make themselves sound smarter. They don't sound any smarter when they aren't using the word or phrase correctly! "In lieu of" is my favorite example. It doesn't mean "In light of", it means in place of!

Nov. 25 2008 02:11 PM

The worst things ever is when people say: "good for you"... when they have nothing to say What does "good for you" mean? just hot air...

Nov. 25 2008 12:12 PM

Circle back, Pivot (really any unnecessary corporate meeting speak)

Issue (used euphamistically for "problem")

Nov. 25 2008 11:51 AM
Lisbeth Coiman

I have a few I hate hearing:
Doing something 24/7 or 365, sound as if you are a drugstore.
Giving more than 100% to anything, means you are either a sucker or ignorant or both.
Using the word "literally" to mean trully.
The word "like" combined with a high pitched 8th grader voice: revolting.
Oklahoma has a few words that can make anyone crazy. They say "aitalian" for italian. The H in "vehicle" sounds like the h in "hotel". It hurts my ears. Another bad Oklahoman habit is to use "them" in place of "the" as in "them tables". The third person singular has disappeared completely, but it "don't" matter. We are here away from Chavez.

Nov. 25 2008 10:47 AM

"You are listening to the Takeaway." Like a fingernail on the blackboard.

Nov. 25 2008 10:42 AM
Mrs. Drumm

"It is what it is” has become a catchall phrase. I've heard it countless times as a sympathetic uttering that I find to be more irritatingly empty than comforting.

Nov. 25 2008 10:16 AM

Yes! I love the show, but I hate the use of the word "takeaway." Are you equating the information on your program with fast food?

Nov. 25 2008 10:14 AM

I hate when automatic call answering machines say "your call is very important to us, please hold" Obviously my call isn't the leas bit important to them, otherwise they would have a human being talking to me!

Nov. 25 2008 10:03 AM
Terrence O'Brien

I'm torn between "irregardless" and "sticktoitiveness." One isn't necessary and the other is a pseudo-word used by those who lack linguistic creativity.

Nov. 25 2008 09:59 AM

I hate to say it, but I really hate "The take away". Sorry!

Nov. 25 2008 09:58 AM
douglas Maass

Yesterday John used the phrase "wreck havoc." The actual phrase is "wreak havoc." The past tense of "shrink" is "shrank," as pointed out above.

A phrase I'd like to kick out of usage is "boots on the ground." And speaking of "milspeak," the military (and the media that follow it around) misuse and mispronounce the words "cache" and "cachet." Soldiers can find a "cache of weapons," but the word should be pronounced "cash." "Cachet," on the other hand, is pronounced "cashay" and means a "wax seal on an envelope flap or letter."

Nov. 25 2008 09:54 AM

This morning John said "the economy shrunk," when I think he meant the economy shrank.

I dislike the use of the word "impact" as a verb, when "affect" has always worked just fine.

Nov. 25 2008 09:46 AM
Mary Jane

LOL! Ha! I agree - so funny the way you said that.

Nov. 25 2008 09:34 AM

"Takeaway" Its starting to creep into our language. Just go to the NY Times website and listen to CNBC's John Harwood's three "Takeaways" regarding Obamma's economic team.

Nov. 25 2008 09:31 AM
Barry W. Macomber

I am sick of the word folks. Since George Bush used it to show us what a "regular guy" he is I hear it constantly on news shows. I cringe every time I hear it. The worst phrase is "an extremist group of folks"

Nov. 25 2008 09:26 AM

"It's the Takeaway."

Nov. 25 2008 09:12 AM
charlie kruger

Exactly! Isaac Asimov said "the only person who can properly say 'I feel badly' is an inept dirty old man."

Nov. 25 2008 09:05 AM

Overused, overly precious 18th century phrase, "In harm's way."

Nov. 25 2008 09:04 AM

Not to be mean or anything, but "Here's your takeaway"...since when did that become English?

Nov. 25 2008 09:00 AM
charlie kruger

the widespread misuse of "less" and "fewer" hits me like nails on a blackboard. a phrase like "less jobs" immediately turns my mental image of a Harvard-trained economist into a gap-toothed trailer park boy.

Nov. 25 2008 08:55 AM
Elspeth Macdonald

In the "overuse" department the most recent culprit is "absolutely."
Isn't there a cliche - "The only thing that is absolute is death and taxes"? Perhaps it is necessary to have something absolute during these times of economic crisis.

"Like" and "you know" have been overused for years -- they are verbal punctuation marks, or verbal "ums." NOt necessary.

I know the segment is probably over, but thank you for the chance to vent. And I willcurb my use of "sort of..."

Thank you for your good program.

Nov. 25 2008 08:54 AM

Personally, I hate the expression "grow a business". One grows a plant or a garden or even a limb, but not a business or an account!

Nov. 25 2008 08:44 AM

Quite honestly? One of the most annoying words I've heard lately is "the takeaway." It's one of the silliest words to slither into the language, and that's coming from someone who lived through Valspeak.

Nov. 25 2008 08:41 AM

The common phrase that makes me grit my teeth is when someone says they "feel badly" about something. Unless you are a robot with a faulty emotional system, you do not feel badly. It's much more likely that you feel *bad* about something.

Nov. 25 2008 08:41 AM
Aaron Mitchell

How about "I could care less"? This means the opposite of what it is intended to, and it has always annoyed me.

When I was 6 years old I noticed the inconsistency and started saying "I couldn't care less," and adults would "correct" me to make it wrong!

Nov. 25 2008 08:38 AM

You know what I can't stand? "You know"!
I hate that people use this phrase constantly! If I know it why are you telling me!

Nov. 25 2008 08:34 AM

From rappers to my boss, please stop using the phrase, "taking it to the next level".

Nov. 25 2008 08:31 AM
Linda in Brooklyn

Perfect storm. Enough! We've had a perfect storm of "perfect storm!"

Nov. 25 2008 08:07 AM

"Vetting" Everyone I know is interested in the "vetting" process.

Nov. 25 2008 07:53 AM
meg zammit

Sick and tired is what I am of my students beginning every sentence with "like" and adding it after every word they speak. Like what's up with like that? Another peeve of mine is when people say wit you-rather than with you. More you say... how about when people in the know say pitcher when they should be saying picture. I'm an 8th grade English teacher...I could fill a book.

Nov. 25 2008 07:49 AM

This morning, just a couple of minutes after you signed off with Jeremy Butterfield, there was a report about hunger. The reporter said "The amount of people...". The misuse of the words "amount", where "number" is correct and "less" where "fewer" is correct is very annoying. I find it surprising that saying "the amount of people" or "the amount of turkeys" or anything that can be enumerated can even sound OK to the person saying it. That is my pet grammatical peeve.

Nov. 25 2008 07:40 AM
Rick Evans

Annoying phrases and words:
1. "you know" This phrase is used a lot by inarticulate print journalists.

2. "Everybody", "All of us", "no one", etc. News people frequently use these phrases when referring to majorities.

3. "So ..." used at the beginning of a sentence to alert an interviewee that you're about to ask them another question.

4. "So ..." used by scientists at the beginning of any answer to a question.

Nov. 25 2008 07:36 AM

"I seen." What has happened in our schools? Appears that "have" and/or "saw" have been cut from classroom instruction. Please bring them back!

Nov. 25 2008 07:09 AM
Giles Hazel

Not quite an abuse, but a pet peeve that I hear on this program every day. John introducing us to "Public Radio Innernational" I for one will vote to "bring back the T", unless of course it really is silent.

Nov. 25 2008 07:06 AM
Kristie Strasen

The two most annoying phrases for me are:

"Thank you for your patience" Whenever someone utters this phrase, it is in a situation where I have NOT offered my patience.

"Next guest please" In these situations, I am NOT a guest. I am a paying customer. A guest is someone who has been invited.

Nov. 25 2008 07:03 AM
Justin Garrett

UTILIZE. What does this word mean, USE? If so, let's sound a little less pretentiously technical and employ the shorter of the two words.

Runner-up: DIALOG (v).

Nov. 25 2008 06:49 AM

"Irregardless" is incorrect - it makes me cringe when someone says this word. "Regardless" is jusr fine.

The phrase, "Back in the day" - where did this come from? I know what it means but all of a sudden, everyone is saying it. Trying to sound folksy and hip at the same time. Annoying.

Nov. 25 2008 06:47 AM

Oh, god. "Going forward" meaning in the future. We have no choice about the future being in the future. Stop saying going forward. Say we plan to do this or that, for heaven's sake.

And "action" and "be tasked with" for doing or having to do. It's so precious it makes me want to hit someone.

Corporate speak of all types is annoying. The failure to speak in plain English seems designed either to puff up the status of the speaker or hide his intentions.

Nov. 25 2008 06:35 AM

"Most unique" If it's unique it's the acme, there is no other like it, therefor "most" is totally unecessary. The use of "very" as in "very excellent." Is there a "lesser excellent?"

Nov. 25 2008 06:27 AM

Well, it's not a common usage, but as long as you're including obnoxious advertising, my head explodes every time I hear the promo on WNYC that begins: "My name is Chin-Joo-Lee ..."

On the other hand, it helps the economy because I have to keep buying new radios....

Nov. 25 2008 06:07 AM

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