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Our language ‘is what it is’


Our language ‘is what it is’

Jane Stephens discusses some of her pet peeves when it comes to overused phrases and wishes people would just say what they mean.

“You just do you,” I said to My Beloved when we were trying to work out some difficult logistics in our clashing schedules – and I gasped at my own utterance.

My mouth felt unclean – in a way that a little mouthwash could not fix.

Annoying phrases are so pervasive that they seemingly find their way to the lips of those who swear off them.

They are creeping damp, a noxious fog, an invisible cloud.

I was dining out recently, and the waitress asked, “What are we having today? What did we decide?”. I resisted the urge to point out that she was not breaking bread with us, nor were we going to order for her.

She finished our exchange with “too easy” – another of those phrases that mean nothing at all but are ubiquitous.

A woman at a table nearby said “nom nom nom” out loud as her food arrived. I may have rolled my eyes, and I am quite sure that her juvenile noise doesn’t even border on being English.

Outside of the dining scene, when did it become acceptable for full-grown adults to use ‘cray-cray’ and when did ‘brah’ replace ‘mate’ or ‘buddy’? ‘Brah’ might be a term of endearment, but it also sounds very ‘meh’.

In business, there is a load of current phrases that have caught on but do not amount to a hill of beans. “At the end of the day” is a way of shutting down conversation, and “can we circle back to” is more popular than asking a speaker to return to the point. Facilitators talk about thinking “outside the box” but then say, awkwardly, “let’s unpack this”.

There are some solid passive-aggressive phrases on the rise, too, with “no offence but”, “with the greatest respect” and “to be honest” among them. You can bet that what follows is certain to cause offence, lack respect and be inappropriately honest.

So many phrases sound important but mean nothing at all. People say they are “touching base” and “reaching out” instead of calling or talking. There has been a lot of references to ‘learnings’ instead of lessons at schools and ‘gifting’ instead of giving over Christmas.

At the end of the day, everyone has their phrase bugbears. If the ones here are not in your list, it can be “my bad” as well as “all good”. I am “sorry, not sorry” – because “it is what it is”.


Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer, media commentator and writer.

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