Worn-Out Words and Phrases: 2017 (Follow-up)



We enjoy helping you reinforce the way you express yourself with precise grammar and composition. We appreciate just as much when you join meaningful discussions about written language.

Our recent GrammarBook article Worn-Out Words and Phrases inspired some great feedback about whether certain terms have outlived their welcome.

After reading and considering your thoughtful responses, we determined we could follow our previous article with further review of the subject in two parts: The first provides some starting alternatives to the hangers-on we’d deemed ready for retirement. The second expands the original list with astute additions from our readers.

Our aim with this topic is to keep writing fresh, distinctive, and pointed. We understand several of these words and phrases may remain popular in conversational use, where they often reinforce comfort between speakers. They also maintain the flow of speech, which doesn’t always allow the pause for deeper, selective thought that writing affords (although focused and disciplined writing can often lead to more articulate speaking).

I. Alternatives for the First List

Original Alternatives
absolutely (interj) yes; of course
alrighty then (idiom) okay
amazing (adj) stunning, wondrous
at the end of the day (prep. phrase) in the end, ultimately
awesome (adj) wonderful, impressive
by the same token (prep. phrase) similarly
cutting-edge (adj) leading, innovative
drop(ped) the ball (verb phrase) bungle, botch, fail to follow up
high-impact (adj) forceful, powerful, productive
holistic (adj) comprehensive, integrated
honestly (qualifying modifier) (strike as unnecessary)
it’s not rocket science (idiomatic clause) it’s simple, easy
just sayin’ (idiom) (strike as unnecessary)
literally (qualifying modifier) (strike as unnecessary, unless literally correct)
low-key (adj) mellow, subtle, relaxed
on the same page (prep. phrase) agree, concur (v)
paradigm shift (noun phrase) radical change, new belief
pretty (qualifying modifier) (strike as unnecessary)
really (qualifying modifier) (strike as unnecessary)
so this happened (idiom) (strike as unnecessary)
synergy (n) teamwork, harmony, unity
think outside the box (verb phrase) be creative, think differently
touch base (verb with particle) (re)connect
under one roof (prep. phrase) in one place

II. Additions to the List

Worn-Out Word/Phrase Alternatives
24/7 (adv) always; all of the time
basically (qualifying modifier) (strike as unnecessary)
from the get-go (prep. phrase) from the start, beginning
hate it when that happens (verb clause) that’s unfortunate (or strike it)
I mean (idiom to start a sentence) (strike as unnecessary)
impact(ed) (v) affect(ed), influence(d)
in the DNA (prep. phrase) integral to, part of
it’s all good (idiom) good, fine, okay
like (expletive, e.g., it’s, like, all there) (strike as unnecessary)
my bad (idiom) I was wrong, mistaken
perfect storm (noun phrase, idiom) crisis, ordeal, quagmire
proactive (adj) diligent, motivated, thinking ahead
reach out (verb with particle) contact, connect
right? (idiomatic interrogative) true, agreed
safe haven (tautological noun phrase) haven, refuge, sanctuary
seriously? (idiomatic interrogative) (strike as unnecessary)
so not (expletive, e.g., it’s so not true) not (strike so)
sounds good/like a plan (verb phrase) okay (interj), agreed (adj)
a lot/too much on plate
(noun phrase)
busy, occupied, swamped (adj)

We can all think of even more words and phrases that belong on this list—or are working their way toward it. Together, as guardians of good grammar and writing, we can lead in keeping a lush linguistic landscape free of what can sap it of its beauty and strength.

Posted on Thursday, July 20, 2017, at 12:15 pm

13 Comments on Worn-Out Words and Phrases: 2017 (Follow-up)

13 responses to “Worn-Out Words and Phrases: 2017 (Follow-up)”

  1. Colin Swanwick says:

    I have a problem with the misuse of the word issue. A problem was and is a problem, it has and never will be an issue. I have searched the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, two huge tomes of 3711 pages, and can find no definition of the word issue meaning “problem.” Colin.

    • We appreciate your concern. It could be that British English still maintains a separation between the meanings of the words issue and problem. And it could be that at one time issues were more likely to be matters for discussion and resolution rather than problems in American English as well. We agree that the highly careful and attentive writer would attend to the nuances of the two words.

      However, The American Heritage Dictionary includes the following definitions for the word issue:
      A point or matter of discussion, debate, or dispute: What legal and moral issues should we consider?
      A matter of public concern: debated economic issues.
      A misgiving, objection, or complaint: had issues with the plan to change the curriculum.
      A problem or difficulty.
      A personal problem: is convinced that her boss has issues.

  2. Frank says:

    Would you please clarify the meaning of “strike as unnecessary”?

  3. Mary R. says:

    I think you better take another look at your first sentence in the fourth paragraph; it is incomplete as it is:
    “Our aim with this topic is to keep writing fresh, distinctive, and pointed.”

    • It took us a little while to understand your comment. We are now guessing that you interpreted the words keep writing to mean “continue writing,” a verb phrase. However, we meant it in the sense of writing used as a gerund (noun):
      Our aim with this topic is to keep [your and our] writing fresh, distinctive, and pointed.

  4. Layne L. says:

    The first over-used phrase I thought of was: going forward.
    Our goals, going forward, are … Sometimes it’s even used as an umm or other space filler.
    We had that on our Buzz Word bingo list quite a while ago, as were some of the others you listed, for example, synergy and paradigm. We paid more attention to the buzz words than to the content of the meeting, but it usually didn’t matter!
    Thanks for the fun and informative newsletters.

    • Julie says:

      I agree. If anyone can do something going backwards, I would love to meet them since they could help me repair a few mistakes that would positively change my life going forward.

  5. David B. says:

    Worn out: On a (daily, weekly) basis [came from Watergate hearings I think]
    Replace with: Daily, weekly

  6. Kelly Carter says:

    In your “follow-up” newsletter, THANK-YOU, THANK-YOU, THANK-YOU for adding the worn-out phrase “reach out” to the list. Today, it seems to “reach out” to do almost everything. I’m so sick of hearing that phrase.

  7. Sandi Clark says:

    Drives me a bit nutty when I say, “Thank you” and the response is “No problem” or “Not to worry.” Our young people seem to love these two worn-out phrases. What has happened to “You’re welcome”?

  8. Boris L. says:

    I love reading your newsletter. I have recently been thinking about
    the overuse of the word “just,” particularly as an adverb and used for
    many meanings like “only,” “merely,” “recently,” “barely,” “simply.” I
    would like to hear your thoughts on this in relation to choosing a
    more appropriate, specific word than “just” saying “just.”

    I cannot think of another word used as much as this and for as many
    meanings! “Just” is contextual I don’t find the meaning gets confused
    much, but would you advise towards using it less because of its
    overuse and multiple meanings?

    • We agree that “just” is another word that’s getting a little worn out in what should be fresh writing. As with many other of the imposters it will likely never leave speech, but we can surely start a movement to begin curbing it in composition.

      We will keep your idea for inclusion the next time we revisit Worn-Out Words & Phrases (which we plan to do regularly).

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