What Not To Say In 2012



Whatever.  Absolutely!  You know….like…just sayin’.

These top the list of the most annoying words that litter our conversations, according to a Marist Poll published last month.  Students at Michigan’s Lake Superior State University also published their annual New Year’s Eve List of the most overused words.

Several such lists are published every year, yet we continue to hear – as well as use — these utterances daily.  The latest polls and surveys, however, should serve as a reminder that we need to concentrate on purging these shopworn words from our vocabularies.   And, most of us are guilty of using them to some degree.

How did such expressions manage to creep into our language?  Some attribute the infiltration to a sociolect used in Southern California that “went viral” (before the Internet, mind you) in the 1980s with the release of Moon Zappa’s single, “Valley Girl”; the sitcom, “Square Pegs”; and the movie, “Valley Girl.”  Thus, these words and expressions are referred to, collectively, as “Valley Speak,” or “Valspeak.”

A characteristic of Valspeak is “Uptalk” the name given to the rising intonation at the end of a statement, which makes an assertion sound like a question, such as, “my name is Jeanne?” or “the auditorium is upstairs?”

Another component of this talk trend is vocal fry, which is not only unpleasant to listeners’ ears but can cause damage to your vocal cords. And, speaking in a creaky voice might give others the impression you lack interest or energy, which is not a good image to portray in school, career or social life.

Hence, if you want to sound smarter and more sophisticated, drop the Valspeak, Uptalk and Vocal Fry.

And, here’s another excellent reason to drop them: among those who find such speech highly objectionable include decision-makers at corporations, colleges and other institutions who are in a position to impact your future.

Striking such hackneyed expressions from your language, like all poor habits, will not be easy.  Like your other New Year’s Resolutions, improving your vocabulary should be approached in a methodical way with an achievable goal in mind.  For example, take one word at a time, such as the top word on the Marist Poll, “whatever,” and determine not to use that word as slang – even in conversation with your family and friends.  Later you can resume using it as it was intended, as in the following examples:

  • I’ll be happy to go along with whatever the executive board decides.
  • Please put your name on whatever you keep in the refrigerator.
  • Whatever you do, be sure to turn off your cell phone in the lecture hall.
  • Carolyn has a reputation for fairness; therefore, the faculty is likely to agree with whatever she suggests.

Once you’ve eliminated “whatever,” using the same method – or whatever method you choose — go on to next word you want to delete, such as “like,” and banish it from your vocabulary along with such fillers as “er” and “um.”  However, if you’re preparing for an interview, to make a presentation or attend an academic or professional event you’ll want to fast-forward your efforts to eliminate these terms from your vocabulary.

Other stale (your teachers might say, “trite”) words and phrases include:

  • am I making sense
  • at the end of the day
  • actually
  • amazing
  • awesome
  • basically
  • chill
  • cool
  • for sure (furshure)
  • know what I’m sayin’
  • seriously

Which words and expressions put you off?  My personal peeve is the phrase, “what’s up” — or even worse, “wassup” — especially as a response when I ask if I may have a word with someone.  “What’s up,” is usually accompanied by a frown or a wandering eye to convey that one is in a hurry, disinterested or uncomfortable.  Recently, I asked a sales associate in a department store for assistance.  His response was, “what’s up?”  Like, he so totally didn’t make the sale!

Oops.  As I said, it’s not going to be easy.

Until next time,


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