Words and Phrases You Should Avoid

dictionaryIf you look around the Web you’ll find many sites that tell you how to write, what to write, when to write and what words to use. It’s much tougher to find sites that tell you which words and phrases to avoid. What follows is a list of my favorites, words to avoid that is.

Core of my being – If you run across this in written form just click the back button or close the book. If you actually hear the phrase spoken aloud you need to exit the coffee shop immediately and make sure the woman wearing the Sylvia Plath tee isn’t following you.

Think outside the box – If you can’t think of another phrase to use then you should be stuffed inside a box because you’re brain dead.

Quantum leap – Unless you’re a physicist you should avoid the word ‘quantum’ period.

Paradigm shift – Finding a new way to shaft the consumer is not a paradigm shift. That’s business as usual. If you actually encounter a paradigm shift, feel free to use the term.

Granular – If someone says a report needs to be more granular, don’t hesitate, kick them in the balls. Hard. Granular is a word used by corporate weenies because they think it makes them sound more intelligent.

Confidence is high – If you’ve ever used that in a sentence you were high.

Manage expectations – What that really means is “we don’t know if this will work so let’s make sure if we fail we can say that we expected it might fail”. Say what you mean. Let people manage their own expectations.

Credibility gap – Political speak for calling a group a bunch of goddamn liars. Why group? Because there’s no such thing as an individual act in politics. If you don’t trust someone, say so, lest your readers identify a ‘credibility gap’ between you and them.

Less than stellar – As in Keanu Reeves’ less than stellar performance in, well, everything he’s ever been in. Just say it sucked.

Critical mass – Again, unless you’re a physicist, stay away from their lingo. This one is most often used to mean ‘self-sustaining’ so why not just write ‘self-sustaining’.

Irregardless – WTF? I still don’t know what that non-word is intended to mean. Just don’t use it.

Bellwether – Used to refer to leaders or indicators. Doesn’t anyone know that a wether is a castrated sheep? I’m not following the guy with no balls, especially if he’s wearing a bell…


  1. I believe in the Core of my being that this is a Quantum leap in writing tips. My Confidence is high that this post positions you as the bellwether of the writing Paradigm Shift.

    In fact, it is so good, you will now need to manage expectations in regards to other less than stellar posts. While this post might have been a bit more granular, it Irregardlessly disrupts the credibility gap.

    Sorry,

    I just couldn’t resist :)

  2. DG

    I threw up while laughing. What does that mean? ; )

  3. That beer and blogging don’t mix?

  4. DG

    Kills the ‘Will Blog For Beer’ career move I intended to make…

  5. Next time you want me to join a conference call just ask Toni to drag me out of the box :)

  6. timethief

    *rotflmao* – great post!

  7. DG

    As early as the last conference call was for I can see why you might need to be dragged. ; )

    Timethief, I need those thirty seconds back, c’mon man, hand them over.

  8. roaringforties

    Lovely post;
    Anything that smacks of current science speak/ad speak and management speak. Most are made up to deny clarity except to a cognascenti.

    Bellwether, He is the one you catch for the others will follow.
    The bell and his condition are important to the one catching him. His leadership, being a sheep.
    The fashion houses and any red carpet event, provide a sweet example.

  9. DG

    Hello Roaring40s, it’s amazing the clarity that can achieved when idioms and catch phrases are edited out of most writings.

    Another phrase that journalists like to overuse is ‘watershed event’. I’ve seen that expression 6 times today.

  10. Awesome list DG. Very clever!

  11. You forgot my favourite phrase, guaranteed to be cringe-making: “leveraging the synergies”.

  12. I use critical mass not when trying to say “self-sustaining” but when trying to convey the fact that the thing has grown so large that it’s just about to implode on itself/explode over everyone else.

    “The entire project reached critical mass and the next day, the collateral damage achieved by HR was beyond clean-up costs.”

    Something along those lines.

    Yeah, people who use “thinking outside the box” should probably be kicked out to the curb.

  13. We must “level set” the expectations of this blog.

  14. MJ

    Haaha. Politically correct.

  15. DG

    >>leveraging the synergies

    That’s just terrible. Can anyone write or say that with a straight face? Much worse than ‘leverage our assets’.

    >>critical mass – about to implode on itself

    At least that makes sense.

    >>’level set’ ?

    I’d rather we didn’t. ; )

    >>politically correct

    I suggest that we not only avoid using the phrase ‘politically correct’, but that we encourage people to ignore the entire concept.

  16. Kirby

    Great post that reminds me of Evan Morris’ Word Detective.

    I was expecting to see ‘pushing the envelope’ on the list.

    You could have called this blog “Speaking Freely – Writing Clearly”.

  17. DG

    >>pushing the envelope

    I hate that one too. Maybe I could do a series? ; )

    >>writing clearly

    I’m thinking about starting a blog that’s dedicated to nothing but words and writing. Think it would fly? (don’t kick me, I used that hackneyed phrase on purpose).

  18. Very sad cynicism, sorry you get so upset.

  19. DG

    >>cynicism

    Where do you see cynicism? We were discussing the elimination of phrases that detract from the clarity of written work.

  20. michaelhill

    I stumped my young aerospace engineer co-workers with a simple “box” question.
    Q. How many sides are there to a box?

    This brought about many replies, theories and quantum leaps into other planes that had nothing to do with the question. I told them all that they had spent 4 years going to school to be creative and to “think outside of the box”.
    They all wanted to know the answer so I explained that years ago, while taking a MENSA test, I got bored and stopped. This brought some funny looks and the question of “why?”
    I told them I had to get out of the box. There are two sides; inside and outside.
    That brought on a few “I was gonna say that” remarks.
    Yeah, right.
    I still won’t sit down to take one of those mind numbing tests.

  21. This post is very Dilbert. For those who enjoy this type of observation you must check out a book called “The Dilbert Principle”……it’s cover to cover with stuff like this from the point of view of a cubicle worker and hilarious. Yes it’s based on and written by those who do that cartoon.

  22. excuse me! but i thought Keanu Reeves was pretty damn good in the matrix aright! as for all the other stuff, you’re probably right. especially the ‘core of my being’ one, its just one of those extremely lame, pretentious phrases used by people who don’t know what it, or words like existential, really mean or what they themselves are trying to say.

  23. Coma Toes

    Quote: “Granular – If someone says a report needs to be more granular, don’t hesitate, kick them in the balls. Hard.”

    Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant!. Damn near choked on my drink.

    I’m off to see if I can make my boss say Granular ……… :-)

  24. This had me cracking up. Here’s another one I can’t stand:

    “I could care less.”

    It should be “I couldn’t care less,” as in “there is no level of caring below the one where I’m at right now.” If I could care less, that means there is a level of caring that I haven’t reached yet, and therefore I could obviously care less than I am.

    Think I’m gonna have to rant about that on my blog.

    Keanu Reeves has sucked ever since Bill & Ted. He should’ve just been type-cast then. I can think of 20 actors who would’ve made the Matrix better.

  25. Rebecca Aguilar

    I think the words you suggest we scrap are considerably better than words like “it sucked.”

    Because those two words are certainly a cliche!!! And, they’re certainly not creative, descriptive, or even well thought out.

  26. DG

    Rebecca, I didn’t mean that you should literally use the words, ‘it sucked’, although I prefer that to ‘less than stellar.

    Tell me his performance was pathetic, tell me it was mediocre, abysmal even, just don’t tell me it was less than stellar.

    >>descriptive
    People use too many adjectives. The fewer the better.

    As far as clarity goes though, ‘it sucked’ seems clear enough.

  27. Excellent!
    others I hate…”thirty thousand foot view”..”at the end of the day”

    I agree with coma toes, I’m going to see if i can get my boss to say granular.

  28. Kirby

    >I’m thinking about starting a blog that’s dedicated to nothing but words and writing. Think it would fly?

    It would certainly have legs.

  29. “I’m thinking about starting a blog that’s dedicated to nothing but words and writing. Think it would fly? (don’t kick me, I used that hackneyed phrase on purpose).”

    Yes, please!

  30. “Core of my being” and “critical mass”…

    I HATE those haha.

    -Matt
    http://www.mattgunn.ca

  31. Oh, but quantum leap is a lovely phrase. It sounds so intelligent and important, and I shall have to think outside the box to find a way to pepper every paragraph I write with “quantum leap” at least once. =)

    I enjoyed your post.

  32. DG

    >>have legs.

    Bloody hell, another one.

    Hello to all the new faces. If you think of any more phrases that should be buried, let me know.

  33. How about “action item” and “skill-set”?

    What about “inner child”?

  34. I am tired of “gravitas” and “the surge”.

  35. Isn’t it funny to think that “outside the box”, which was coined to denote original thinking, has become a cliche? I love the irony.

  36. Rebecca Aguilar

    DG,

    The fewer the adjectives, the more BORING the writing…

  37. DG

    Sorry Rebecca, just isn’t so. Pacing, dialog, foreshadowing, etc, can all contribute to creating suspense or excitement that isn’t necessarily helped along with the addition of lots of adjectives.

    I’m not real fond of blanket statements like “The fewer the adjectives, the more BORING the writing” either.

    Eliminating adjectives typically moves the story along.

  38. roaringforties

    What in hell is a 30,000ft view.

  39. Very nice writeup! :->

  40. DG

    The 30,000 foot view is a conceptual view, lacking ‘on-the-ground’ details, like the view you would get while flying in an airliner.

    What does it really mean?
    The freedom to plan without bothering about the little details, like reality. ;)

  41. Rebecca Aguilar

    DG,

    I don’t agree that pacing, dialogue, and foreshadowing just happen without adjectives. Eliminating “extraneous” adjectives might help, but cleaning house of adjectives altogether isn’t advisable either.

    And, you, mi amigo, make blanket statements more often than you think.

  42. DG

    I can’t read or hear ‘inner child’ now without thinking of the Eagle’s tune, ‘Get Over It’ which contains the line, ‘I’d like to find your inner child and beat its little ass’.

    Action items and skill-set, more corporate weenie vocabulary.

    Is it okay if I’m just superficially opposed to ‘gravitas’? Is there a rising tide of resentment against ‘the surge’? Stay tuned… ; )

  43. DG

    >>Eliminating “extraneous” adjectives might help, but cleaning house of adjectives altogether isn’t advisable either

    Exactly. I contend though that lazy writing can often be identified by the large number of adjectives present. Did you ever see the M*A*S*H episode in which Radar wants to be a writer?

    >>blanket statements

    I’m sure I do, some of them slip by my sometimes lax editorial control, and some of them are intentional. I still recommend firing lazy words.

  44. roaringforties

    Why, O why, is there a need to translate everything that leaves the mouth of a military spokesman/woman.

  45. DG

    The military is fond of misinformation. Clarity isn’t in their handbook. ; )

  46. lslelel

    “At the end of the day…”

  47. Talk about one post creating mayhem. You hit a sore spot in many of us. Well done (from someone who is rarely impressed by words). /Maria

  48. DG

    Hello Maria,

    To be fair, the reason cliches become cliche is because people like them. Used correctly they can add a little flavor. Used too often and the blandness returns.

  49. This is fantastic! thanks

  50. I kept laughing…at 10:00 in the morning…in office…I’m a designated manager… :D

  51. Karla Simmons

    Well said and thank you!

    I have another – what about:

    “If it’s in your wheel house…” what is a wheel house? And how does that reference a skill and/or expertise in one area or another??

    • Karla Simmons

      Wait, wait – I have others…

      Tertiary Market

      Blue Sky Thinking

      Wedge Issues

      Wrap My Brain or Arms around an idea (I’m guilty of this one…the visual is not appealing however).

  52. Excellent!
    Be more Creative! Great Post.

    Cheers!

  53. Melissa

    I didn’t know about such a list, but I guess you are right, although I haven’t used any of those words on my blog. Just the “think outside the box” but I’ll stop using it.

  54. hi!,I love your writing very a lot! percentage we communicate extra approximately your post on AOL?

    I require an expert in this area to resolve my
    problem. May be that’s you! Having a look ahead to see you.

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