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“That’s So Ironic!” & Other Overused Phrases

I spend an incredible amount of time each day writing and editing. It is my profession as well as my hobby. Spending so much time elbow deep in grammar has inspired me to create a list of annoying words and phrases that are never (never) necessary in written or verbal communication. I have incredibly strong feelings about this, as you can tell, but here goes.

Whatever: I’m going to get on my soapbox for a minute, and I’m not coming down. Isn’t it automatically annoying when someone says, “Whatever?” Even if you ask, “Where do you want to grab dinner?” And your friend responds, “Oh, I don’t care, whatever.” Receiving a "whatever" in a text or email is doubly rude, and I’m not only one who thinks so. According to Business Insider, “whatever” has been ranked the most annoying word for the past nine years, so be a good friend and tone down the attitude.

With all due respect: People always say this right before they say something incredibly rude. “With all due respect, your pantsuit is utterly heinous.” Or, “With all due respect, you are the dumbest bloke I’ve ever met in my life.” See what I mean? Not to mention that this phrase is a hedge. If you’re going to insult someone, go ahead and insult them. No need to preface the verbal bashing.

Literally: The word “literally” used to mean “in a literal manner or sense: exactly.” Except, everyone and their mother (including the gorgeous yours truly) has taken to use “literally” in non-literal ways, to add emphasis or to express very strong feelings. For example, a friend of mine used to say, “Why is it that all men are literally just heaping trash fires?” Of course, men aren’t literal heaping trash fires, but they do often act like such, and therefore, the emphasis of “literally” is suitable, don’t you think? Writing the word "literally" for emphasis is worse than verbalizing it, primarily because it is almost always unnecessary. Unless you're attempting to be sarcastic, assume that whatever you write is being taken literally.

Totally: The definition of “totally” is “completely or absolutely.” As in, “Our apartment building was totally destroyed by the fire.” Bummer. Instead, we often hear “totally” used much like, “literally:” to emphasize a statement. This sounds a bit basic, for example, “He totally dumped me!” Or, “Yeah, totally dude.” Yikes. “Totally” is a filler word that might be fine in some social settings, but sounds incredibly dumb in the workplace, or so I’ve been told. Of course, everyone let’s a “totally” slide out every now and then, and that’s totally okay, just don’t let it totally take over your vernacular.

Obviously: You know what really grinds my gears? When someone prefaces a statement with “obviously.” If whatever you’re about to say is obvious, then you either don’t have to say it, or you’re a huge ass for thinking that whatever you’re about to say is obvious to you, and not to anyone else.

Everything happens for a reason: No, it doesn’t. As this post from Psychology Today so aptly explains, “‘Everything happens for a reason’ is simple thinking. It denies that things might happen for no reason, that they might be ‘random.’ When the really big things happen – disasters, genocides – it’s comforting to believe that the pain and heartache has a higher meaning. But when smaller, everyday things go wrong – when there are no jobs to be had, when lovers break up, when families fight – it’s much harder to believe the mantra because these are the things over which people expect to have control.”

Saying that “everything happens for a reason” to someone who has experienced hardship, pain, or loss, is more apt to agitate them than comfort them. The science says so.

You know what I mean? I blame Arie of The Bachelor for this one. Part of me wants to go back, re-watch his entire season, and meticulously count how many times this phrase was said. But, I’m not a glutton for punishment, and that is a new kind of Hell. “You know what I mean?” is filler, much like saying “like” or “umm” all the time. And, if someone is taking you literally, they might be annoyed by the way you incessantly check to make sure that you know what they mean. You know what I mean?

That’s so ironic: Irony is “the expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.” Irony is sarcasm, i.e.: in Pride and Prejudice, when Mr. Darcy says Elizabeth Bennett is not "handsome enough to tempt me," but falls in love with her anyway. This situation is ironic because Mr. Darcey’s actions are opposite his words. Another ironic situation is this: I have a crappy car, and my friend has a new Audi. There is a tiny speck of dirt on the Audi's bumper and my friend is upset that a speck of earth dare touch her car. I say, ironically, “My goodness! What a shame!” as my own, 1989 Buick sits covered in dust and pelican poop.

People seem largely confused about what irony is: it is not as Alanis Morisette would tell you, “rain on your wedding day,” or "meeting the man of your dreams, and then meeting his beautiful wife." The former is a coincidence, and the latter is simply unfortunate. Actually, this New York Times article suggests that even writing a song called “Ironic” that contains no irony is not, in itself, ironic, unless that was the song-writer’s intention all along.

Irony requires an opposing meaning between what’s said and what’s intended. Sounds simple, but it’s not. The Times style-book offers this useful bit of advice: “The loose use of irony and ironically, to mean an incongruous turn of events, is trite. Not every coincidence, curiosity, oddity and paradox is an irony, even loosely. And where irony does exist, sophisticated writing counts on the reader to recognize it.”

There you have it! Tell me something totally ironic in the comments, and I’ll send you my favorite cat meme.


Sarah Rose

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