Thank you,” I said to the delivery man. “No problem!” he replied, turning to leave. There’s never been a problem, what are you talking about? muttered my inner voice, and it surprised me how cross this ubiquitous, meaningless phrase had made me. Then one thought led to another and I decided to collect a few more verbal irritants, not just my own but also some from friends and acquaintances who care for words and their meanings and are annoyed by their abuse. They also added their reactions, strongly felt but never said aloud. So here comes a small sample, just for fun:
“To be quite honest…” coming halfway through a long narrative. So, until now you were fibbing, or at least half-fibbing? and why are you now admitting it? is what a friend doesn’t say, though the temptation is strong.
“Absolutely!” instead of a simple “yes”, heard daily and repeatedly in radio interviews and at bus stops. Another dead tired and overused word is “Incredibly”, as in someone being incredibly brave or honest or gifted.- if you can’t believe it, then how do you know whether that person is really courageous, honest or gifted, or just putting on an act? Verbal inflation weakens statements, at least for some of us fusspot listeners.
Then there is the “You know…” disease, especially affecting interviewees on the radio, some of whom, especially football managers, can use those two words three times in one sentence. No, you silly so-and-so, he doesn’t know, that’s why he’s interviewing you! – but the litany goes on, as the verbal equivalent of a friendly pat on the arm, involving the other person in the narrative, and making a clear statement unnecessary. .
“See what I mean?” makes a neighbour’s blood pressure rise dangerously; he is short-tempered at the best of times and tends to go puce in the face. “See what you mean? Of course I do, you oaf, a child of three would get it, do you think I am stupid?” was his usual inner reply. I think he needs a crash course in keeping cool. Casting my net wider, I am disturbed to learn that “literally” no longer means just that but, namely the literal truth, but something vague, hence I can claim that when I saw him, my heart literally stopped, yet if it had done that, I wouldn’t be able to tell you about it. Please, what’s the new word for literal literally? Finally, a written irritant, appearing far too often in business letters trying to drum up trade. “As our most valued customer, we would like to offer you…” it starts, suggesting a severe identity problem. Are “they” their most valued customer, and if so, why do they offer something to themselves? More relevantly, why do they write to me about it?
O.K., that’s enough for today. Clearly, I do have a problem.