It is what it is voted most gag-inducing phraseRandy [email protected] CommentsView Comments
A recent column by Steve Frank expressing his annoyance at young waitresses at restaurants who use the phrases no problem and awesome in excess generated dozens of comments from readers about words and phrases that made them cringe. So we set out to quantify, via polldaddy.com, which phrases are most universally disliked. We provided 17 options, but invited write-ins as well. The competition was fierce, but here are the top 10 winners (i.e., losers):
1. It is what it is
The origin of the phrase is unclear, as is exactly what it means in any given context. People seem to dislike it largely because it implies that the speaker could care less about the subject and would be helpless to do anything about it if he or she did care. While the phrase has come into annoyingly common usage in recent years, William Safire, the late New York Times columnist, plumbed the depths of its origins in a 2006 column, and found the first reference to it in a Nebraska newspaper column in 1949. He also cited a mention in 2002 by Al Gore: I strongly disagreed with the Supreme Court decision and the way in which they interpreted and applied the law. But I respect the rule of the law, so it is what it is.
Why has it become so popular when it clearly annoys so many people? It is what it is.
2. My bad
This phrase is essentially a statement of contrition, meaning My fault. William Shakespeare used this phrase in a sonnet about 500 years, but it didnt start becoming an annoying part of American parlance until the 1980s, when it was spread through sports and popular culture. Some language archeologists have attributed its popularization to the late Manute Bol, the 7-foot, 7-inch NBA center. When he would make an errant pass, he would say my bad instead of my fault.
But the Oxford English Dictionary provides two citations from 1986: the Back-in-your-face Guide to Pick-up Basketball, and UNC-Charlotte Campus Slang). Fortunately, the expression seems to have peaked and is beginning to grow out of favor.
Most people have used this expression at one time or other, unwittingly or not. But it is the repeated use of it, sprinkled throughout an entire conversation, that brings out peoples nervous tics. Some etymologists trace its popularization back to the parody of beatniks by the Maynard G. Krebs character in the Many Loves of Dobie Gillis TV sitcom, which aired from 1959 to 1963. Even more influential in its spread, however, was the Moon Unit Zappas 1982 single Valley Girl.
There were many earlier uses of the word like as a linguistic filler, in popular culture, including in the 1971film The Clockwork Orange, in which the narrator said, I like, didnt say anything. Reaching back even further, the word was used in Robert Louis Stevensons 1886 novel Kidnapped.
4. No problem
The phrase has become ubiquitous among millennials, and, as noted by columnist Frank, among restaurant wait staff, who use it in response to every request from a customer.
The annoyance at the phrase stems both from its repeated use and the sense that no problem implies that the request really is a problem, or is at least unwelcome. In the case of waitresses, why should it be a problem to bring the ketchup they forget to bring for your burger, the syrup for your pancakes or the place setting so you can start digging into your salad? Thats their job.
As one reader commented, Nothing should ever be a problem when someone is doing something for you. Nor should anyone ever have to worry about it.
Most people would be happier, if they simply said something along the lines of, Of course, Ill bring it right away, or Sure, Id be happy to.
5. Not for nothing
The irritation at this phrase stems in large part from its ambiguity. What the heck does it mean?
The dictionary meaning is For a very good reason. But that really doesnt get to the essence. Generally speaking, it appears to be a way of saying something negative about something without the speaker being held fully accountable for it. Or, more precisely, as urbandictionary.com puts, to soften the blow of something that would normally be offensive or come on too strong.
Although the phrase is commonly regarded as slang today, it is grammatically correct and can be found in the works of Jack London, C.S. Lewis and elsewhere. And it was a favorite phrase of writer Aaron Sorkin in the TV show The West Wing.
Easily one of the most overworked words in the language, particularly among millennials. It offends for two other reasons: It is imprecise. It demonstrates a lack of command of the richness of the English language. There are dozens of other words in the language that could more precisely describe the circumstance. And it tends to hyperbole. Among the synonyms for awesome are awe-inspiring, magnificent, stunning, stirring and breathtaking.
Describing things as awesome, in the context in which it often is used, simply overstates things. Used to excess, it comes as across as insincere and pandering. Too often, things characterized as awesome are really not that awesome.
Commented one reader: Few things are actually awesome. Said another: Usually, people who use this word dont really mean awesome, they just want to move on to their own agenda.
7. No worries
This phrase, a close cousin of no problem, is widely used in Australia, and essentially means thats all right, sure thing and dont worry about that. It has been pushed along in the American lexicon by the movies, beginning with Crocodile Dundee in 1986 (No worries, mate) and the song Hakuna Matata in Disneys animated feature The Lion King in 1994. It got a further bump from the commentators in the Sydney Summer Olympics in 2001, who used the expression liberally.
Etymologists have traced the phrase back to the British, with usages appearing as early as 1785. While the Aussies lay claim to its popularization, word studies have found that it is most widely used in Singapore and Malaysia.
The ultimate dismissive word, meaning Whatever you say, I dont care what you say. or I have no interest in continuing to discuss the matter further. It is often like a slap in the face being on the receiving end of a whatever, which is frequently perceived as being offensive or rude. Frequently, it is used to cut off a conversation or an argument that isnt going your way. It also is listed by Business Insider as one of 12 passive-aggressive phrases you should never use.
One reader used these adjectives to describe his objections to the term: thoughtless, over-used, insensitive, and deflecting. Said another, It trivializes your point of view or doesnt leave room for you to even express it.
The phrase dates back in popular culture to at least the mid-1960s. In 1965, the character Endora in the Bewitched TV series used All right, whatever to daughter Samantha. That same year, in the sitcom My Mother the Car, whatever was a frequent reply used by the Captain Schreiber character.
In Marist College polls in 2009 and 2010, whatever was voted as the phrase that is most annoying in conversation.
9. Just saying
Urbandictionary.com defines it as a phrase that is used when someone is offended by something you said. This phrase then removes all the offensiveness of the previous statement, making it all good. It says the phrase makes it possible to deliver a rude comment or burn and have it bounce off simply as an opinion disguised as an objective opinion, and who can argue with you over an opinion that you dont apparently support.
Scott Simon, writing for PBS.com, perhaps captured its essence the best: Saying, Im just saying, puts a fire escape onto the end of a sentence. It lets you express a stern even rude opinion, but not really. Youre just saying. It invites the listener to discount what weve just heard, even as were reeling from it.
No one has definitively unearthed its its origins, but it dates at least as far back as the Seinfeld, sitcom, in which the phrase was frequently uttered by the shows namesake Jerry Seinfeld.
10. Cray cray
The only reason this expression finished so far down on the list is because many people likely arent familiar with it. When someone is referred to as cray cray, it means they exhibit extreme levels of crazy behavior.
While the term has been around since the turn of the 21st century, and received a boost from Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, who characterized the Supreme Court justices as anti-gay cray-cray because of their opposition to same-sex marriage. It was also used by USA Todays Eileen Rivers prior to one of the 2016 Republican presidential debates: Even Donald Trump supporters should have an easy enough time pointing out the GOP candidates potential for bringing the cray-cray to tonights debate. President Obama also helped bring it more deeply into the American lexicon, when he jokingly dismissed climate-change deniers as cray.
The term now appears in the Oxford Dictionary, but Rolling Stone magazine called the term dated. We can only hope it soon becomes extinct.
Randy Bergmann is editorial page editor of the Asbury Park Press.
Other annoying phrases
cited by our readers
Go for it
Starting a response with I mean ...
Do you know what I mean?
Oh my god, or OMG
Have a good one
you have to understand...
For all intents and purposes
Im a pretty good judge of character
When one door closes another opens
Im not gonna lie
How ya doin?
Other annoying words
cited by our readers
sweetView CommentsView Comments