The Washed Up Divas of Today's Vocabulary


Once, they took center stage to "oohs" and "ahhs." They stood for something. They had it all. But now, they make their appearance in a tagline or op-ed piece? And, well, we blush... we cringe for them... we have to avert our eyes.

I'm talking about those words overused to the point that, as a writer, I just can't face 'em anymore. Perfectly serviceable at one time, they are now tired and haggard, with nothing new to offer. Yet still, across the globe, they desperately struggle for impact.

They're those phrases that, just when I think they've had their final day, they resurrect themselves. They're the Britney Spears or Madonna of today's vocabulary....

Let's trot 'em out now, shall we?

  • Outside-the-box. Everyone wants ideas that are "outside-the-box." This has gone on for about 20 years now. And you know what? I don't think there's anything left in the box anymore. The box has gotten rained on. The box is soggy and saggy. The box has structural problems. It's an old freakin' box. If this were one of our divas, it would be Nora Desmond or, say, Joan Collins. One who had her day, but there's no need to roll her out onto the stage at age 80 and have her play the vamp. It's time to move on.
  • Drinking the Kool-Aid. Okay, so, fine, it's shorthand for political party-oriented brainwashing. And it doesn't matter what political group you're with, the phrase has a unique power. It's one that, the very moment it comes from the lips, it goes to the speaker's own ears. Forming a soft cottony-like barrier preventing any further sound to get through. It's like Tom Cruise, talking about psychotherapy to Matt Lauer. The lips move, but he can't hear what you're saying. That's why I think the Kool-Aid diva needs to stop jumping on the couch and take its freaky giant pitcher on outta here.... Oh yeah.
  • Patented. If this word were just used in terms of, "Received a U.S. Patent" that would be fine. But like the sad case of Marilyn Monroe, advertisers have exploited "patented" beyond its original purpose. To snake oil salesmen, "patented" somehow now means "proven" or "approved by the government as legit." Where all it truly means is it's been certified that no one else has submitted this particular idea yet-- whether it would work, or blow Wile E. into coyote nuggets. So when you see "patented" on an infomercial, try to remember what it used to be like, when it was fresh, smart and dewy. Before it succumbed to the bright lights and drug culture.
  • Drive-by Media. I know this is a Rush Limbaugh-ism. Fine. It served its purpose. But I feel like a good chunk of folks need reminding that, "You are not Rush Limbaugh." If a TV personality coins a phrase-- any phrase, any TV personality-- this doesn't automatically make you cooler or substantiate your argument by proxy. It just makes you unable to come up with your own way of expressing yourself. Please stop. It's like a Fred Willard character, quipping 70s TV catch phrases in 2009 when there's too much silence in the room. It's like saying, "Whatchu talking about, Willis?" four times during a sales meeting that's going badly.
  • World-Class. Ah, so elite... so high-end... of such exquisite caliber that it is among just a few in the world. The problem is, in advertising this is now being applied to... oh... community colleges... health insurance plans.... dog food. I know the world seems to be getting smaller, but once "world-class" starts being applied to kibble, I think we need to reevaluate. This is the Reality TV show songstress-- any songstress-- who belts out one melodramatic ballad and for a whole 15-minutes, she's "the next Maria Callas."
  • World Famous. As an off-shoot of "world class," I'd like to get "world famous" to rethink it's current career direction. I've seen small fish sandwich shops in the Florida Keys proclaim their "world famousness" of their fish. Every time, I picture the owner, wracking his brain for the sign out front, saying:
"Let's use 'world famous.' Didn't we have a guy from Hawaii come here once?"

The waitress shifts her cigarette to the other side of her mouth. "Hawaii's still the U.S., Ted."

"Yeah, but it's really far away. Let's go with 'world famous.'"

World famous is like being a performer on a Carnival Cruise... Yes, you've seen the world, but does anyone really know you outside of the guy in Cabin 2?

Well, those are my suggestions for the falling stars of vocabulary today. Let's give 'em a big round of applause.. (Psst!-- you in the wings, can you get that big hook please?... Yeah, thanks. It looked like they were trying for an encore.)

So tell me, gang-- what words would you prefer never to lay eyes on again?

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44 comments:

Shawn said...

"You have the right to remain silent." That is really getting played out. Every weekend it seems like someone is saying that to me. It's OVER, guys. Find a new phrase.

Jenn Thorson said...

Shawn- Honestly, those cops need to get some new patter. The noive! :)

Kathy at The Junk Drawer said...

Ugh! The Kool-aid one! Thanks, Jim Jones. Thanks a lot!

I have hated "sounds like a plan" for years.

Jenn Thorson said...

Kathy- Yeah, the Kool-Aid one makes me increasingly irritated no matter who uses it. It's just this blanket dismissal of anything further the other person has to say. Feh.

I've noticed the "sounds like a plan" folks, while few and far between, usually use it A LOT.

freetheunicorns said...

I am tired of buzz words – which is another phrase you can add to that list. Needless to say, I am no longer drinking that Kool Aid.

Skye said...

I'm sure there are a lot of people out there that are somewhat sick of me. I use '"DOH" *said in my best Homer Simpson voice while slapping forehead*' probably far too often for most people, but it suits me...lol. When dealing with my youngest if she annoys me and I want to pester her, I grab her throat (gently) and yell "BART". It let's her know that I'm annoyed while at the same time telling her that I'm not upset, so it's all good...lol.

As for other catch phrases that people use too often, sorry, can't think of any off hand ;)

Jenn Thorson said...

FreetheUnicorns- Yup, I'd noticed you didn't have the purple Kool-Aid mustache recently. :)

Skye- (in best Freud voice) "Zo... how longk has eet been zat you heff vanted to be Homer Zimpson? I hear zat ou have alzo been paintink yourzelf yellow and zayingk zat you vork at a Nuclear Plant..."

Sher said...

Not a coined phrase, but I do giggle at many dangling participles and vomit at "these ones", "me and...", "I seen...", and the use of "got" instead of "have". Such is the life of having a Master of English father - and a former prof at that!

Chris said...

Very funny and clever, then. Though I still like "drink the Kool-aid".

And Shawn, even in comments, you crack me up.

ReformingGeek said...

I totally agree with "outside the box" being overused and that the box is empty. Let's get back to basics people. First, look in the box. Your answer may be in there!

The phrase I really got tired of in the corporate world was "talk to that" as in "I'll let Bob talk to that in a few minutes" said during a presentation or meeting. Sheesh!

DouglasDyer said...

Thank you for saying what has needed to be said for a long time. I think I conjugated that correctly. One other phrase that I am sick to death of hearing is, "Stop touching me! You smell like pork and scotch!"

feefifoto said...

ICON. Iconiconicon. Stop with the icon already.

JD at I Do Things said...

"Step up to the plate."
"At the end of the day."
"Man up."

I'll be back with more . . .

Jenn Thorson said...

Sher- Yes, my family was big on using correct grammar on things, too. I've become a bit lax, actually. :)

Chris- Yeah, Shawn's caused many a laugh from me in my office with his comments-- and I'm the only one on this floor! If anyone were watching, they'd think I'd lost it.

Reforming Geek- Oh, I hadn't heard that one before-- yes, that would get on my nerves quickly. We do experience "we'll talk about this offline" quite a bit. That gets me, similarly.

Douglas Dyer- And that was so injust!... Because we know you smelled like hamburger and whiskey!

FeeFiFoto- As in "so-and-so is a movie icon"?

JD- Can I add that "put on your big girl panties" to that list? It seems to fit there nicely. Good ones, those.

The Mother said...

I detest "my bad."

People actually use this in adult, civilized, professional conversations!

What is the world coming to? Give me the King's English any day.

Da Old Man said...

World's greatest/best is so last week.
:)
Did you know there is a diner in Central NJ that proudly proclaims to have the world's best oatmeal? It's on all their advertisements, on the windows outside the diner in huge letters, anywhere such a thing may be printed.
Just out of curiosity, who would ever dispute such a claim? Who would care? Could there be a tiny bistro outside of Paris that has a cook working on some secret oatmeal recipes to compete in the World Oatmeal Championship?

Jenn Thorson said...

The Mother- I think you feel about "my bad" like I feel about "fail"-- as in, the sweeping generalization when one doesn't like something, it is dubbed, "FAIL!" To me, it's a bit like being asked to write an essay and your thoughtful analysis is: "I hated it."

Da Old Man- That's kind of a Jersey/New York thing, though, isn't it?-- intentionally coming up with some obscure otherwise non-gourmet foodstuff to specialize in... And then making it in some really unusual way and claiming "world's greatest" status.

Richard Perkins said...

Ahh, corporate speak, don't we hate it so?

"...leverage(used as a verb) our core competencies..."

It still raises goosebumps on my spine and I've been out of the corporate world for over a year.

Jenn Thorson said...

Richard- Yipes... I think I shivered a bit myself on that one... "Core competencies"...criminy!

Venom said...

Usually by the time I hear a 'saying' it's on it's way to being passe already - my poor beautiful Piglet just shakes her head and rolls her eyes @ me.

Please excuse me, you are likely to catch me being uncool (multiple times...)

BNS said...

I'm very, very tired of 'awesome' - so few things really deserve that adjective. Just sayin'. (<-- and there's another one!)

Bobbie

Jenn Thorson said...

Venom- But how can you be uncool with a screen name like "Venom"? T'ain't possible!

BNS- Oh, I've sort of envisioned the West coast as being a haven for "awesome" so I can see where it might have lost some of its luster.

I'm guilty of "just sayin'" :)

jay said...

Oh yea ... and my favourite one to hate? 'Lessons will be learned'

They never bleepin' well are, and yet every time there's a disaster, or a tragedy caused by incompetence, it gets trotted out again. You can almost sing along ...

itsmecissy said...

A few that come immediately to mind are:

"da bomb"
"On trend"
"Spot on"
"Good to go"
"My bad"
"Sustainable"
"Sweet"
"That's money"

Jenn Thorson said...

Jay- Ah, yes-- the news is just filled with those kind of cliches, too!

Cissy- Excellent list! I think we could add "cool beans" to that one, too...

I never understand why that meant something was good. Cold beans means the microwave is busted! :)

Melanie said...

"Change out"
Whatever happend to just changing something. Why do we have to change it out?

Melanie said...

Sorry about the double post. Computer is a bit hostile tonight. I think it heard me talking about the cute little laptop I want.

Anna said...

Hi Jenn,
As a wordsmith myself I absolutely HATE the words "nice" and "try".

I heard someone once give a definition of nice as "nothing in me cares enough to have an opinion either way". I cringe everytime I hear it, particularly when it comes out of my own mouth!

And try... Well, try is just another word for failure. For "I will try to do it" read I either won't bother or it won't work, and if someone says "I'll try and make it to your place" it really means don't bother putting an extra plate out for me...I won't be a comin'.

Really enjoy your blogs. Cheers from Australia.

david mcmahon said...

G'day from Australia, Jenn

I like your attitude - and your prose!

I do a bit of writing myself - and try and sidestep cliches.

Jenn Thorson said...

Melanie- I got rid of the surplus comment, so we're cool. :) I'll have to pay attention to "change out"... that one hasn't snuck up on me yet.

Anna- Yes, "nice" has gone the way of "fun"-- "we had fun." Somehow it's lost all meaning by its overuse. And you're right "try" has a "feeble attempt" feel to it. Something half-hearted but open enough that you can make an excuse later for why you bailed.

David- G'day! Always glad to have another cliche side-stepper out there!

Skye said...

ROFL, good come back!

Jenn Thorson said...

Skye- I'll take any excuse to use a comedic Freud voice, really. :)

Nooter said...

mmmm... world-class dog food....

Mary@Holy Mackerel said...

I'm still stuck on "navel gazing". Hated it, hate it, will always hate it.

Jenn Thorson said...

Nooter- Oh, like you wouldn't eat non-world-class dog food... I know you enjoy a wide, em, palate of foodstuffs. (like: don't I remember you eating garbage once?)

Mary- Ooh. (frown) Er, yeah. That IS an unpleasant visual, isn't it? Well, if it's MY navel, anyway. :)

chyna said...

"Show me the money". Um okay but I usually don't carry that much on me.

-isms can quickly bother me. And while this isn't really a catch phrase (or maybe it is...) it annoys me to no end when celebrity couples are morphed into one name. Brangelina, Tom Kat or alley cat or whatever the clever media has come up with. Are people so lazy they can't say The Pitts' or Brad and Angelina. The mere mention of Tom and Katy sends me running for the mythical Kool-Ade. ;)

Babs-beetle said...

I can't think of a single one that hasn't been said already. Me thinks I need some sleep :O)

Babs-beetle said...

Oh, this may be a UK saying but an oldie is - "The long and the short of it is"

Jenn Thorson said...

Chyna- Oh yes, when did it suddenly happen that we went from couples like "Tracey and Hepburn" to "TraHep"? TomKat is entirely too cutesy for my tastes. I hope this trend will be over soon.

Babs- Ah, yes! We have that phrase here, too.

And have you ever noticed that people who use the phrase, "To make a long story short" never do? :)

chyna said...

Our receptionist (or is that administrative assistant) says long story short all the time. I shudder to think how much longer the story would have been if she hadn't shortened it.

Jenn Thorson said...

Chyna- Yes, just thinking about it is enough to give a headache. :) My dad is of the "long story short" bunch. And that man has been known to talk on the phone 40 minutes straight, with no need for asides from me! :)

NYCGirl said...

I have a similar series of posts on my blog-- and "fail" is one word I mentioned that I could live without. Glad to see it isn't just me who finds it irritating.

Vincent The Magnificent said...

someone's probably said these already but...

"I cant be bothered"
"so like...you know like" both of these seem unique to Ireland, and both annoy the hell outta me

"Awesome-ness" or anything that gets ness added to the end of it when it doesn't need it.
"Dude." -> I use that one too much

Jenn Thorson said...

NYCGirl- Ah, I'm glad to find another who doesn't care for "fail." I suspect it was probably funny at first, but I've heard it way too much over way too many trivial things to continue finding the fun.

Vincent- I think while "I can't be bothered" is probably more Ireland and maybe England than here in the US, I can tell you we here in the U.S. are not immune to "so like... you know like..." Oh no, speak to any teenage girl about her favorite band or cell phone, and you'll see. :)

And "awesome-ness." Yes, I admit to adding "nesses" occasionally for humor value in text, but when folks are good and serious about the relative "awesomeness" then it's time to beat them about the neck and shoulders with a Roget's thesaurus.

Okay, maybe that's harsh...

An abridged dictionary, then.