SURVEY SAYS: What's the Most Irritating Phrase?

November 12, 2008 ( - Recently Lexicographer Jeremy Butterfield has, in a new book titled "A Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare", compiled a list of what he says are the most irritating phrases in the English language (the book is about misused and overused words).

Of course, for my money the list – while it certainly has some viable candidates – suffers slightly from the inclusion of a few phrases that either aren’t in common usage on this side of “the pond” – or at least haven’t been uttered with any real frequency in my earshot.

Regardless, this week, I’d like to give you a chance to vote for THE most irritating phrase from that list – and the chance to offer some candidates of your own.

Click Here to respond to this week’s survey

Truth be told (and why would I lie?), Mr. Butterfield highlighted ten most irritating, while I tossed in a couple for good measure.   Interestingly enough, it was one of my "additions" that garnered the most votes ( 13.5% ) - " to be perfectly honest " (as one reader noted, "I always wonder...what is the differentiation between honest and perfectly honest?" ).   That was just ahead of the 12.9% that opted for " at the end of the day ."

The rest of the list ordered out as follows:

8.8% - 24/7

7.5% - Shouldn't of

6.9% - With all due respect

4.7% - It's not rocket science

4.1% - Fairly unique

2.8% - Absolutely

2.5% - At this moment in time

2.2% - I personally

0.9% - General consensus

0.0% - It's a nightmare

Now, as it turns out, a full third of this week's respondents had suggestions of their own - and, IMHO, most of these were better than what made Butterfield's list.

On this "other" list were the following:

  • Irregardless (which, as many pointed out, is not even a word)
  • It is what it is
  • I could care less (which, as several readers pointed out, should be couldn't care less)
  • You know
  • Basically
  • 110%
  • IMHO (since this is the title of my columns, I chose not to take this one personally)
  • My bad
  • Like
  • I'm just saying
  • The perfect storm
  • Synergy
  • Outside the box
  • I don't disagree
  • Having said that
  • Let's take this offline (particularly when no one is online)
  • Any phrase including paradigm
  • Be that as it may
  • Been there, done that
  • Can I ask you a question
  • Wall Street versus Main Street
  • In actuality
  • Just so you know
  • Let's touch base (the touching thing bothers me, noted a reader)
  • Net net
  • On the other hand
  • It's a no-brainer
  • Tee one up
  • The reality is…
  • Top of mind
  • Awesome
  • Circle back
  • You betcha

Now, I also gave folks the chance to pick a SECOND most irritating phrase, and while just 5.6% said they were "good with one", once again "other" drew the most votes - 23.4% .   Here again, "to be perfectly honest" topped the list ( 16.8% ), followed again by " at the end of the day ", and just ahead of " with all due respect ."   In other words, there was a broad-based consensus that those three phrases were, in fact, "most irritating."

As for the "other" second choices, here again there was an admirable consistency.   "Irregardless" topped this grouping as well, while "outside the box" wasn't too far behind, and was just ahead of "reach out to".

Other "other" second candidates were:

  • Awesome
  • By the way
  • Been there, done that
  • "have a blessed day"
  • "I mean" like, you know, if you didn't mean it at first...
  • "less" when "fewer" is correct
  • "Let's dialogue" .... aargh, why can't people just say "let's talk"!
  • "Supposably" (I don't know how to spell it since it is not actually a word).
  • "uh" (spoken by everyone, myself included, to fill those pauses. Ok, it's not a phrase, it's just one word, but I wish we could all break the habit and just have silence when we are grouping our thoughts.)
  • 6 or one-half dozen of the other
  • Deep dive meeting
  • Despite popular belief
  • Enclosed please find
  • Especially after the campaign, it's "what Americans want...or think...or believe".
  • For all intents and purposes...
  • free gift.   (A gift by nature is free.)
  • From an HR perspective, I abhor the phrase, 'getting a seat at the table."
  • General mis-use of words:   i.e.   using Mute instead of Moot.   Drives me nuts!
  • gone missing
  • Have a nice day!
  • Here's the thing...
  • How about "as per the attached" -- aaaarrrgghhh!
  • I least say it with proper grammer...!
  • I considered "no question about it" and "the fact of the matter is" but I think that I have to go with "I would agree with that" and its perverse cousin "I don't disagree with that."
  • I don't like it when people say they were "impacted" by something or someone.   I hope that never happens to me, because I understand it is quite painful.
  • I hate to tell you
  • If someone gives me something, we might say, "He gave it to me."   If someone gives the group something, we might say, "He gave it to Joe, Mary, and myself."   Wrong!
  • If you have any questions, please call MYSELF!
  • Instead of saying He said or She said, it's He goes or She goes   And then there's the inclusion of the word LIKE in every sentence
  • Actionable
  • Footprint
  • Value proposition
  • If you will
  • 30,000 foot level
  • Low hanging fruit
  • Mission critical
  • Incentivize
  • It is what it is
  • it's an opportunity
  • Know what I mean
  • Like, you know
  • Low hanging fruit
  • Main Street vs. Wall Street
  • Moving forward
  • On the same page ( "....most of the time we're not even in the same book," explained one).
  • Paradigm and synergy
  • People saying   "literally" when they mean "figuratively"
  • Random - Generations X and Y overuse this phrase like you wouldn't believe.
  • Robust
  • The perfect storm (seriously, it is used way too often and should be banished from the English language - both sides of the pond, noted one).
  • The thing of it is.......................
  • The truth of the matter is
  • These ones
  • Throw under the bus
  • To tell the truth
  • Using the word "and" instead of "to," such as "wait and see."
  • Whatever
  • What's Up.....
  • When someone uses the word "ax" instead of "ask".   e.g. I'll ax her if she wants to ride with us.   Why is that so widely done?   I'm in the South.   Is it the same in other regions?
  • Where it's at, where are we at, etc.
  • You know
  • You should...   (I firmly believe no sentence utter to me should ever begin with the words "You should".   That said, I rarely get my wish. LOLOL)
  • That being said
  • Not a problem
  • Here's the thing
  • To make a long story short
  • Very unique
  • I need to pick your brain

And then, of course, there were comments that stood above the rest:

"I beg to differ with you." No, I don't. I don't beg. I simply hold a different belief or opinion. Why do I have to beg? I think I'm allowed without asking permission.

"When I hear "With all due respect" and "To be perfectly honest", I know I'm about to get neither respect nor honesty."

"When I am having a very bad day and my wife asks how my day is going, the response is, "I haven't killed anyone yet." This will change the topic and I don't have to talk about work."

"I'm just happy I have avoided adding any of these to my regular vocabulary."

In response to the question, "do you have anything else to say", one reader said "To be perfectly honest, no. :)"

One reader really had some fun with the topic, noting "At the end of the day, I personally think, at this moment of time, and with all due respect to others, that it is absolutley necessary to banish "the perfect storm" from our lexicon. It's a nightmare, that someone shouldn't be fairly unique and thought 24/7 to find an alternative to "the perfect storm". To be perfectly honest, its not rocket science, to form a general concensus that "a perfect storm" should be, at the end of the day, banished from the English language to be replaced by "a nuclear winter". Thank you, my fellow English linguists."  And that reader, followed this by saying, "You're not going to revoke my subscription for this, are you?!?!?"

But this week's Editor's Choice goes to the reader who said, "I hope that some of my co-workers have the opportunity to read this."

Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey!  

Feel free to print out the results and post them prominently (may I suggest a yellow highlighter?).   You can also create a buzzword bingo game for your next boring meeting from the above! (see  - and the new Make your own Custom Buzzword Bingo option).