Verbal tics, cliches and catchphrases – to be brutally honest they’re basically not alrighty

Office Space

Office Space: It would be just great to watch it again. Nice matching tie and braces, annoying boss man

By Simon Henry @simlington

If you don’t want to be despised by your colleagues in the office, it’s probably best not to say ‘Yeah?’ really aggressively at the end of each sentence.

You’ll find they say ‘No’ to you quite a lot.

Saying ‘to be honest’ to your partner may arouse the suspicion that you’re not 100% trustworthy.

Saying ‘Exactamundo’ whenever you agree with your boss will not help your chances of promotion. Not exactly the best way to advance your career.

Verbal tics are everywhere and most of us use them. Lots. More than we realise.

So here’s a list of those you may want to avoid if you want a more successful career and a more stable personal life.

My definition of a verbal tic is: ‘A word or phrase repeated unconsciously to the potential annoyance of the listener.’

See how many you recognise or – worse – use yourself. Then read on for tips on how to reduce your Verbal Tic Count – and enjoy a better life.

I’ve ignored TLAs (three letter acronyms) like LOL, WTF and TBH as well as most catchphrases from TV and film. I plan to dig these rich seams in a later post.

And I’m not talking about people who suffer from disorders like Tourette’s. I’m talking about those of us lucky enough to be able to control what we say – but just don’t bother.

The list of shame is this way

Actually – Means nothing, actually.

Alrighty – Okay for Flanders or Ace Ventura. Not okay for real people. Ever.

Am I right or am I wrong? and Am I right or am I right? – After several minutes expounding a point, the speaker uses either of these tics, not as a question, but as a statement that they are indeed right.

And so on and so forth – You could just say ‘et cetera’ and save four words.

And what have you – This begs the question: ‘What have I?’. Again ‘et cetera’ saves time.

And what not – Ditto.

As far as I know – Surely implied in whatever you say without you spelling it out?

As I said before – Tip: You probably don’t want to remind your listener that you repeat yourself.

As you said or Like you said – Sycophantic and grating when used more than once in a conversation.

At the end of the day – Classic cliché. ‘At the end of the day it gets dark.’

Lego

LEGO is awesome. Saying ‘awesome’ in an office should be a sackable offence

Awesome – Yes we all love LEGO. But use this if you’re over 13 and you won’t be loved.

Basically – Classic filler. ‘Basically’ just adds three syllables to your sentence, basically.

Cool – Was cool in the 70s for a bit. Great, Super and Magic fit into this category too. Reminders of the Bee Gees aren’t good.

Don’t mean to be rude / disrespectful / awful … – Yes, we’re all just waiting for the but aren’t we?

Do you hear me? – Aggressive and likely to make your listener stop hearing anything you ever say again.

Do you understand? – Ditto. Only worse.

Dunno – The teenager’s answer to 97% of questions. Forgiveable in teenagers. Unforgivable if you aspire to be an intelligent, mature, reasonable person.

Eh? – Used at the end of a sentence is extremely annoying. Isn’t it, eh?

Enjoy! – It’s likely they won’t after you’ve said this.

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera – Used to cover ignorance. You don’t actually have other examples to bolster your argument, do you? Fine if you’re quoting from The
King And I, though.

Exactly or Exactamundo – Used instead of ‘Yes’ to emphasise agreement. ‘Yes’ is better. In the same category as Perfectamundo and Correctamundo.

Friend – Doesn’t really mean ‘friend’ at all – and is much slimier than the more neutral salutation tic, ‘mate’.

F**ing – I have actually heard people say: ‘F***ing. I f***ing went this f***ing morning and I’m f***ed if I’m f***ing going this afterf***ingnoon.” Overuse destroys
the effect of this otherwise excellent word.

Frankly – Similar to ‘honestly’, but possibly even more insincere.

Hello? – As in ‘Hello? Is anyone at home?’ Aggressive and likely to ensure no-one’s in.

Honestly – So your other comments are dishonest?

Um and ah, erm – Classic tics. The majority of us use them when we’re thinking of a word or phrase. You could try to replace them with nothing. Silence is wonderful. Awkward silence is even better.

Innit / Innit tho’ – Urban slang deriving from ‘Isn’t it?’ and ‘Isn’t it though?’ Pretty ugly, innit though?

It is what it is – What? Of course it is, or else it would be something else, wouldn’t it?

Know what I’m saying? – It’s not a question is it? It’s just a tic, know what I’m saying?

Know what I mean? – No I probably don’t. Popularised by Frank ‘Know what I mean, Harry?’ Bruno. Nice chap, but not really a conversational role model.

Newcastle Brown Ale, like

Newcastle Brown Ale, like

Like – The habit of repeating this word several times in a sentence gained notoriety in Beverley Hills 90210. Only acceptable when used in a Geordie accent. ‘Get us a
brown ale, like’ sounds absolutely splendid, like.

Literally – As in ‘You could literally knock me down with a feather’. ‘Literally’ expands sentences with redundant syllables that make you sound very silly.

Listen or Look – Patronising attempt to control a conversation. First popularised in the UK by the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, attempting to sound sincere when he didn’t believe a word of what he was saying.

Myself – Used instead of I. ‘Myself and Steve will be taking questions.’ Gulp.

… Not, as used in Wayne’s World – ‘We’ve hit all our sales targets … not’ isn’t very professional. No wonder you’re in trouble.

Not a problem / Not an issue / No probs – Lazy Customer Service speak. On the plus side, ‘Not an issue’ rhymes with ‘Mogadishu’.

Right? – It’s not a question. Just an annoyance – a patronising, insulting annoyance, right?

So (at the start of a sentence) – ‘So’ is a conjunction, so it begs for something before it to make sense of what comes next. Use it to introduce a new concept or argument and you are being so annoying.

Sort of / Sorta – Doesn’t add anything to what you’re saying: ‘Are you OK?’ ‘I’ve got a sorta headache.’ Unless a sorta headache is a type of migraine. Dunno.

That would be great – Used by bosses favouring the passive-aggressive Just F***ing Do It management technique. It would be great if you watched Office Space.

The thing is – Usually a prelude to bad news.

Think about it – Implying that unless you tell me to think, I won’t actually do it myself.

To be honest – Implying the things you say without this tic are lies.

To be brutally honest – Implying the other things you say are particularly dishonest.

Trust me – Is unlikely to bolster the listener’s confidence in you.

Yeah? – When said aggressively at the end of a sentence will make your listener think ‘No’.

You know? or Y’ know? – Even if I did know, you’re not really asking me. You’re just padding out your sentence, you know?

We are where we are – See ‘It is what it is’.

Whatever – Thankfully waning but sometimes reappears in the mouths of bosses who are trying and abysmally failing to be ‘cool’. Accompanied by the two thumb and index finger ‘W’ sign. You really don’t want to be like them, do you? The answer is No.

End of the List of Shame

So now you’re thoroughly ashamed at how many you use, what can you do to stop yourself?

Some people say you should record yourself when you do a speech or a presentation. That sounds boring and hard work.

You could just accept that’s the way things are. This is more likely – but you’re better than that. You’re reading this blog, so you’re an intelligent, reflective, thoughtful person.

The third thing to consider is Mindfulness.

Instead of yabbering on mindlessly, you could try to be more conscious of what you’re saying.

Then, when you’re about to say ‘To be brutally honest it’s like literally awesome’, you may just keep your mouth shut instead. Silence is golden.

And if you can’t be bothered with that, you can have good fun counting the number of times other people use their favourite tics. Tic Tac Toe as a fun alternative to office Buzzword Bingo.

Awesome.

My A-Z of Office Jargon is growing by the week and I hope this list will develop similarly. Please let me know if you think I’ve missed any out.

You can get an email alert whenever I publish a new post. If you’re on a mobile you can sign up below. If you’re on a computer, sign up at the top right-hand of the page.

Feel free to follow me @simlington if you like too.

With thanks to Lisa Henry, Christine Brucker, Eleanor Goold, Dennis Hodgson and Scott C Allen for their suggestions.

Copyright Simon Henry @simlington 2014

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13 thoughts on “Verbal tics, cliches and catchphrases – to be brutally honest they’re basically not alrighty

  1. Mikey

    Some more –

    but, at the end of a sentence (is this just Aussie teenagers, hate it!)

    Agreed….pretentious for yes!

    Clearly….pretentious for yes!!

    Like

    Reply
  2. Alex Pearl

    Back in the 80s when I entered the advertising industry I remember one account man’s verbal tic. After showing him work, he’d always utter the following words: “Jolly good commander. Let’s run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes it.”

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  3. Pingback: 7 reasons not to run marathons – and a saner way to keep fit | Smile, laugh, giggle, wet yourself

  4. Pingback: An A to Z of British office jargon in 2014 or how to speak like a boss | Humour me: Smile, laugh, giggle, wet yourself with Simon Henry (simlington)

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  6. Paul

    “Yourself” instead of “you” – (often used by grovelling salespeople). Here is an example in an email to me last week.
    “This is to ensure you are on the best rates/tariffs available to yourself, and that there are no new technologies available to yourself that can make your communications infrastructure more effective.”

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  7. Dennis Hodgson

    One that annoys me is when someone spends five minutes expounding a point of view, ending with “Am I right or am I wrong?” In other words, “I’m not interested in your opinion.”

    I agree that the modern usage of ‘awesome’ is anything but.

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    1. Simon Henry Post author

      Thanks Dennis – I’ve added it to the list of shame. I added ‘Am I right or am I right’ too – another version of the same rhetorical question.

      Like

      Reply
  8. Richard Broadbent

    I’m very late to this party, but which circle of hell should I peer into to find people who (following a short pause) append the word ‘BOOM’ to, well, anything?

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  9. ayabowman

    What happened to “absolutely” in lieu of “Yes”, or “totally”, or any of the other hundreds of annoying, irritating, unnecessary and misused words that have entered the language (I hesitate to use the word “English” in this context) from the USA and trendies who try to imitate the trash that emanates from the American and Murdoch media empires?

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