Checking In on Worn-Out Words and Phrases: First Quarter 2019



“Nature abhors a vacuum,” Aristotle once said, and the same holds true for language. If we detect an empty lexical space because we feel existing words no longer occupy it well, we will look to fill it, often with something that seems or sounds fresh within our current culture and era.

For a time, we might embrace those updates to communication: They can make us feel original, cool, connected to the zeitgeist. Often, current language style will reduce formality of writing and speech through abbreviation, fusion, or invention of words. We assign labels for many as well: catch phrase, buzz word, lingo, parlance.

As we’re all aware, however, whether in fashion, music, cars, or language, trends come and go. Those with enough substance and utility might hang on; the others will simply complete their life cycles and then perhaps straggle a bit before fading into obscurity.

With you, we form a community that is focused on an optimal use of English. We therefore find it fitting to monitor words and phrases that have grown old or stale or may do so soon.

For a review of the worn-out words and phrases we’ve compiled to date, you can visit any of our four preceding articles from 2017 and 2018:

Worn-Out Words and Phrases
Worn-Out Words and Phrases (Follow-up)
Worn-Out Words and Phrases: Resolving to Keep Writing Fresh in 2018
Still on the Stakeout for Worn-Out Words & Phrases

The following table includes our latest additions to words and phrases on our radar of overuse or untenability so far in 2019. In some cases, you might still consider some of them useful or relevant when writing or speaking. If however you’re particular about articulation that will endure rather than just conform to current style, you might consider alternatives that have maintained their lasting positions in English.

Worn-Out
Word/Phrase
Contemporary
Meaning
Alternatives in
Careful Writing
in the wheelhouse (prep. phrase) identifying something or someone as being in a position of strength or skill skill, strength, specialization (use nouns instead of the phrase)
in the books (prep. phrase) noted, completed noted, done, completed, finished
wrap one’s head around (verb phrase) contemplate, understand consider, reflect, contemplate, ponder, mull over, understand
thought leader (noun) subject expert whose ideas and opinions influence other people, especially in business leader, influencer, subject expert, specialist
ghost (verb) disappear or abandon, especially as it applies to leaving a relationship leave, disappear, abandon, flee
epic (adj.) impressive, very good memorable, impressive, exceptional, outstanding
so ye-ah/ya-uh (interj.) “well, okay,” “alrightee then” (strike as unnecessary)
I can’t even (interj.) I am losing patience, at a loss for words, annoyed about something (strike as unnecessary)
for real (interj.) serious, legitimate, really true, good, great(!)
It’s lit (idiomatic clause) something exciting is happening and you’ll want to be there (strike as unnecessary)
woke (adj.) aware of current affairs, enlightened aware, current, heard about it, enlightened
killing it (verb phrase) excelling at something achieving, excelling, doing great
suh, sup (interj.) what’s up? how are you, what are you doing
cray (adj.) crazy crazy, strange, silly, wacky
troll (verb) follow others online, especially on social media, to criticize them or otherwise smear their image or opinion (noun) one who does so (verb) hassle, heckle, hound, pester, disrupt (noun) heckler, hound, pest, antagonist
said no one ever (idiomatic clause [sarcasm]) negation of almost any statement— e.g., I love shoveling heavy snow…said no one ever. don’t, do not
as to whether (conj.) (unnecessarily wordy expression of whether) whether
necessitate (verb) bloated word for require call for, entail, require
on account of (prep. phrase) because of because of, due to, owing to
with all due respect (prep. phrase) polite set-up for I disagree (strike as unnecessary—what follows is often not an expression of respect)
It’s not brain surgery (idiomatic clause) the item at hand is not difficult it’s simple, easy, not challenging
get your ducks in a row (idiomatic clause) complete preparations, become efficient and well organized plan, prepare, organize, get organized
play hardball (verb phrase) be serious or aggressive in response resist, push back, not cooperate

As is always our stance, we acknowledge that many of these words and phrases may linger in our lexicons and even still feel fitting in certain contexts. At the same time, as enthusiasts of clarity and eloquence in proper English, we can all be alert to our frequency of use and the more enduring alternatives.

Weeding worn-out words and phrases is a communal exercise, so we welcome your continuing feedback concerning both what we should watch out for and how we can all say it better according to the rich vocabulary available to us. Together, we can keep our writing articulate, strong, and timeless.

Posted on Tuesday, February 5, 2019, at 11:00 pm

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10 Comments on Checking In on Worn-Out Words and Phrases: First Quarter 2019

10 responses to “Checking In on Worn-Out Words and Phrases: First Quarter 2019”

  1. Laura L French says:

    As I read through the list, some items make me cringe and think “oh, please, yes, banish this from the language.” (“Cray,” for example. And yes, “cray-cray” is exactly twice as awful.) But then I think, “Oh, please don’t take away ‘said no one ever.'” I think it’s being used less these days, and therefore has a novel charm.

    Can we really banish the verb “troll” if we can’t end the practice it describes?

    The phrase I would like to see stricken from the social media universe: “Let that sink in.” If I actually followed all of those commands, I would be thoroughly soaked by now.

    And thank you for not messing with the useful punchline, “Hold my beer.”

  2. Steve Rosenberg says:

    Play hardball: Chris Matthews of MSNBC may take issue with that one.
    It’s not brain surgery: I guess its parallel, “It’s not rocket science,” would follow suit. I like to combine the two for comic effect as “It’s not rocket surgery.”

  3. Ken Gelnick says:

    I disagree with dropping the last four, especially “with all due respect.” “With all due respect” is a useful signal indicating your lack of respect for the position being commented on.

    • As a caution, we’d like to point out that, in publishing these tables of worn-out words and phrases, we’re not recommending dropping these terms per se. Please note that we mention above this latest table “In some cases, you might still consider some of them useful or relevant when writing or speaking,” and following the table “… we acknowledge that many of these words and phrases may linger in our lexicons and even still feel fitting in certain contexts.” The bottom line is to simply be conscious of overuse. (You appear to be in agreement with our interpretation of “with all due respect.”)

      Thank you for writing.

  4. Shiv says:

    Thanks for the update.
    It seems most of the expressions come from the youngsters who have their own way of communication.
    “Being hip” must be outdated too.

  5. Sharon Bridges says:

    I, for one, truly appreciate all the help available through GrammarBook.com. It’s so easy to become sloppy in our writing rather than recognizing what an art it is, as well as a pleasure, to articulate our thoughts.

  6. raphael supoon says:

    When communicating, it is better to use simple words rather than big words in order to achieve the communication. In “Word Forum” website, with a curiosity to receive response on my concept, whether ” the agreement referred to in Clause 7″ could be replaced with “the agreement mentioned in Clause 7” was uploaded. As expected, there were comments that both are almost the same but there would be different effect on the text especially legal documents, and as for natives, “referred to in” could be understood. I thanked to all of them, but in my mind “simple could be better for easy understanding whether communication is made between natives or others” remains. As I am the one who loves Jane Straus for her Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation that I bought from Amazon, I would appreciate much if you could give me your comment on behalf of Jane Straus.

    • We agree with you that as a general principle, using smaller and fewer words benefits communication among native and non-native English speakers alike. Some studies have even suggested that, contrary to what many might assume, using shorter words and sentences can indicate heightened intelligence.

      We also appreciate that the Blue Book has been useful for you!

  7. Jerry Kuntz says:

    Unrelated to any existing post: which is the favored idiom: “exact a confession” or “extract a confession”? I see examples of both–in fact more of the latter, but “exact” sounds better to my ears.

    • As a verb, extract means “to remove or take out, especially by effort or force.” That would lead us to extract a confession to mean “to obtain a confession through much effort from someone who does not want to give it.” Because these are the logical meanings of these individual words, extract a confession is not an idiom. The phrase exact a confession does not make sense to us, nor have we heard it used as an idiom.

      Another term we sometimes hear is exact revenge. This phrase uses the verb sense of exact: “to call for forcibly and obtain” (again, not an idiom).

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