English Composition

P.U.: Phrasal Unpleasantness

Here are several troublesome terms and phrases too frequently used in contemporary writing, to the detriment of the nerves of many people who listen to language and consider its effects. (Is it getting dark in here or is it just the age?)

1) In todays society: This phrase has now emerged as the most overused cliché for attempting to sound grandiose and as the most common joke among English teachers when they commiserate over their scotch. Note the absence of the apostrophe; and no, using in society today instead is no real solution. Not using this phrase will automatically give your essay a certain subliminal originality!

2) Since the beginning of time: No assertion appropriate to a scholarly discussion can be true if begun with this phrase. "Since the beginning of time, humans have...." Nope! Sorry, Waldo! They weren't there.

3) In this paper I will: We would rather have heard your idea(s) than have our consciousnesses drawn to the physical fact of the foolscap by such self-referential announcements of intentions. How about a real thesis statement there, Barnum?

4) Webster's Dictionary defines ____ as: This uncritical appeal to a vague authority, now usually with the online.com suffix, substitutes for any thought about a topic. It simply fills space. Furthermore, we readers are seldom edified by the official definitions of such supposedly complex notions as toys, nature,dinosaur, America, writing, and the many other basic words I've seen being defined by Webster's in research papers wanting to list a dictionary as one of the "secondary sources" used! I beg you to stop.

5) everyday: The term is fine as an everyday adjective, and incorrect as it is used by Burger King, Toyota, Dave Matthews, Cheryl Crow, Rite Aid, Grocery Outlet, the Food Co-op, and most tv commercials these days, that is: "low prices everyday." They mean every day. [The Eagle store in Spokane even announced concern for customers "Everyday - Everyway." And so continues the deterioration.] Similarly, in order, in case, even though, some way, never mind, each other, and other hand are not single words. Thankyou.

6) deal with: The phrase can mean anything and therefore means nothing: a book deals with harpooning a whale; you deal with a used car seller; Clem deals with a deck of 52 cards; Arnold deals with the death of Fluffy (by openly crying? by proceeding normally with his life? When is he dealing with and when is he not?). Get a real verb.

7) center around: You can center on or you can hover around; which is it?

8) alot: Are you still kidding me with this? I thought I corrected this error permanently when I was student teaching junior high school. Here we go again: a lot = two words. Just don't use this phrase ever again. A lot is where you park a car. "I like the mall a lot" sounds juvenile anyway.

9) would have: Instead of simply saying, "I wish I had purchased a lotto ticket," people are now employing what one curmudgeon has labelled the "Past Regrettable": "I wish I would have...." It's idiotic in a vague way I can't explain.

10) a person that: To further the process of dehumanization, we no longer have "a relative who visited" or "friends whom we care about." People have been reduced to things: "my uncle that died" and "my neighbor that moved." I weep.

11) Reason being, / Meaning, / Matter of fact,: What's this new abbreviated grammar all about? Ads on tv are doing this now too: "Fact is, more people save with AT&T...." I assure you, you can't start sentences with these abortions. Slight rewording may not help: "The reason is because..." or "The reason being..." just results in more sentence trouble. Instead, try: "The reason for the misconception is that..." or "In fact, more people save...."

12) Although: This word, which should be used to show the relationship between two ideas, is now appearing at the beginning of separate sentences where it serves as a rough synonym for "On the other hand," or "However." For example: "Many people believe church and state should be separated. Although, others think that religion belongs in the schools." Knock it off, now. "Although many people believe..., others think...."

13) could of / should of: You could of passed this class if you had correctly written could have. You certainly should have.

14) thing / something / everything / stuff: Your writing is too vague if you are using these terms. They breed: "When the viewer sees something in an ad, that thing can represent anything and everything that viewer wants the thing to be." (What?!) Don't use thing; it's the single most vague noun. Stuff runs a close second.

15) big / great / major / excellent / awesome: You want to insist on the importance of your subject; but does writing that defective hoohas are a big problem (in today's society, no doubt) convey the importance in an effectively sophisticated way? Great sounds too juvenile; and major has been coopted by Val-speak, as in "I have got, okay? like this totally major crush." As for excellent and awesome, let me just say, bogus G.P.A., dude! Try significant, serious, growing, disturbing, or some other respectable term.

16) amazing: I noticed that this grossly overused word was taking over for awesome when a student told me that if I could e-mail her back, "that would be amazing." I wondered what kind of techno-moron she took me for, until I realized that amazing now just means good. Watch HGTV for one hour and count the dozens of occurrences until you pass out from slapping your own head that many times.

17) so: I understand that the word can serve simply as an intensifier, but since it has become as overused as amazing, as in "OMG! That is soooooo amazing," I'm now demanding that it fulfill its grammatical function and you must now finish your crappy sentences. "I am soooo glad!" So glad that...? "I am soooo glad that you're here." No, you're so glad I'm here that...? "I am sooo glad you're here that I could puke?" There you go.

18) due to the fact that: Too wordy. Instead of "He died due to the fact that he was shot in the head three times," why not "He died due to having been shot in the head three times," or "He died because he was shot in the head three times," or "Shot thrice, he died from the head-wounds"?

19) Another ... is: Does the opening sentence of a paragraph within the body of your paper include these words? Then I'll bet most of them do. You've got a list, not a developing idea. D+.

20) out there: "There are alot of people out there in todays society who are dealing with major things everyday." The phrase out there bespeaks a brand of wannabe elitism: it sounds chummy and informal while still establishing an in-group (in here, I guess) vs. a silly majority of the cosmos (out there) we can shake our superior heads at.

21) perfect: Stop telling me that Barbie has the perfect figure and the perfect smile and the perfect life that every girl wants, even when you think you mean it ironically. The word serves simultaneously as a slang term and a value judgment I don't think you usually want to be making. Barbie has a bizarre figure, a vacuous smile, and a perfectly meaningless non-life.

22) go ahead and...: Here's a new pointless idiocy I've started to notice lately. In addition to the command coming, people are telling us to "go ahead and [fill in burdensome imperative here]." The phrase signals action but serves as nothing but a stall and a waste of three words.

23) based off of: Meet my friend, Winky T. Featherstone? It sounds like a crap verb phrase anyway, but at least say "based on."

24) foreshadowing: I'm very glad you learned a nifty English term and got your three points on Mrs. White's junior high vocabulary exam, but now it's time to realize that just because one entity in a text precedes another event in that text does not necessarily indicate that any "foreshadowing" has taken place. Macbeth telling his hitmen to assassinate Banquo is not "foreshadowing" the assassination of Banquo. Abuse of this term suggests we're now living in a world devoid of subtlety, or of literacy for such.

25) to really impact: I'm not entirely sold on the use of impact as a verb outside of dentistry; but the typical problem here is the "split infinitive." Purists say you should not place an adverb or any other foreign matter between the two parts of an infinitive: to be, to go, to give, etc., reasoning that in many other languages the infinitive is one word and that in English it appears as two but should be treated as if it were one. Others say that this is bunk. I say, at least aim for mellifluousness. Also, try this at home: listen to Miss America contestants explain their thoughtful views concerning potential utopian futures and see which "young lady" splits her infinitive the widest. (E.g., "I hope to truly and most honestly as far as it is in my power now and in the future be an inspiration to all English majors and children. Thank yew all soooo very much.")

26) they: When used as the subject of the sentence, this term often signals a mechanical slip-up in which the real subject has been banished to a prepositional phrase: "In Time magazine they compare...." Instead, "The author compares..." or "The Time magazine film critic compares...."

27) in the process of: "I am in the process of realizing how many poor writing habits grate on me." The phrase is almost always redundant and can simply be deleted here.

28) this / that: Individually, these terms often are used poorly to substitute for previously established, complex ideas: "[blah blah blah] Social Darwinism [blah]. This is shown in the film Planet of Dinosaurs." You should be defining your terms for readers in helpful ways: "This Social Darwinistic interpretation of 'survival' emerges in the film Planet of Dinosaurs."

29) rolling around: As in "The Paleozoic era came rolling around," or "The American Civil War rolled around," this phrasing sounds rather offensively laid back. One pictures ol' Grampa Teakus sucking on a straw: "Yep, then the bloody Apocalypse came a-rollin' 'roun' -- heh, heh, heh."

30) at that point in time: Admittedly, this is a gripe against interviewees on cop shows, but the phrase is redundant: "at that point I heard several gunshots," or "at that time I heard several gunshots," or better, "then I heard several gunshots" would serve sufficiently. Check for other redundant wordings.

31) In conclusion: We can see that you're concluding and, if you are relying on this caliber signal phrase, we are no doubt delighted about this fact. We should be able to sense the structure of the discussion without this hackneyed gimmick.

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