Words That Piss Me Off



As a writer it’s easy to rant about the decline of the English language, the erosion of literature, and the dumbing down of pop culture.

Some embrace what they see as the “changing, dynamic nature” of the language. They adopt it and try to harness its supposed vibrancy, but this usually comes off as overly topical and is completely dated by the time next season’s TV premiers roll around. These writers miss an important distinction: Fresh and cutting edge is not the same as stupidly inexpressive and totally lacking in descriptive vocabulary.

I’m not going to take shots at the complete overuse of “like”—that’d be too easy. For me “like” still indicates a comparison or a simile, and is not merely the prelude to “know what I mean?” No. I’m sorry. No matter how many times you say “like, like, like, yeah” I still will not understand what you mean (if you mean anything at all).

I’ve learned to ignore “like”, mostly by kicking in the TV and staying away from the shopping mall. But there are far worse word usages that are much more difficult to avoid. They’ve even invaded some of the print magazines it’s been my habit to read. I can’t hold it in any longer, and it’s my fucking blog, so I’ll just let fly with a list of the words and phrases that piss me off.

The word “utilize” never fails to make my top ten. When did this replace the simpler and much shorter “use”? I’ve never yet encountered a situation where “utilize” was necessary, but I’ve encountered plenty of situations where those of questionable intelligence attempt to snowball others into thinking they’re clever by using big words when a small one will do. “Your task is to utilize this tool in the most efficacious manner.” You’re not fooling anyone, you know.

“At this point in time” falls into the same camp. Just say “now”.

The annoying proliferation of business terms into the daily lexicon is another obvious target. Phrases like “touch base”, “think outside the box”, “24/7” etc. have lost all meaning. Please never say them to me.

And how many times have you ordered something in a store, thanked the clerk, and heard “not a problem”? Of course it’s not a problem—it’s your fucking job! What ever happened to a simple “you’re welcome”?

Overuse of the word “literally” is next in line. Please stop using this for emphasis. “Like, oh my god? Kevin literally drank his face off last night.” No, he did not. He would be dead or in hospital for a face transplant. Literally.

This also kills me: “I mean, I love her to death, but…” Is that any way to demonstrate your affection for someone? By caring so deeply that they die of it? Or is this an actual physical description? Your carnal relations were conducted with such vigour and duration that you killed her? I think you’d better clarify before someone indicts you…

Finally, the misused phrase that pisses me off the most: “you need to.” How many times have you heard a bullying airport security screener yell “Sir! You need to get into that line!” No ma’am, you’re mistaken. A need is something that comes from within me. You want me to get in this line, but I feel no deep seated internal need to stand there. “You need to look at this and give me feedback by Friday.” Nooo….you want me to look at that, but the last thing I feel a need for is your painful convoluted prose.

Anytime someone insists I need to do something, I experience an unshakeable urge to do the opposite. I sit down, cross my arms, and refuse to budge. Few things annoy me more than being told what to do.

I’m not against inventiveness when it comes to language. Far from it! I make up words all the time, and I use made up words that serve a definite purpose. Take “fucktard” for example: a clever combination of “fucking” and that 80’s staple insult “retard.” I can’t tell you how many times each day I find a use for that one. Another excellent made up word is “fuckery”, as in “I’ll keep an eye on things and make sure there’s no fuckery.”

Use these words instead. You’ll have plenty of opportunities as you read through this list.

There, now doesn’t that feel better?



About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.


  • I appreciate Kathryn’s comment and I’m reminded of trying not to think of a polar bear. Thanks K for saving us all the indignity by pointing out the joke without explicitly saying it. Science writer Carl Zimmer likes to raise a challenge to others to avoid using certain words. The temptation to specifically use them all in some clever way just to be cute is nearly overwhelming.

  • You’re welcome, Todd.
    R has received at least one email from me when I failed to resist a different list he sent. I can assure you that, despite his otherwise cheery nature, he really does get grumpy when you indulge in such fuckery. 😉

  • The business phrase over used in my office is “out of pocket.” Were they ever in the pocket? If they were wearing cargo pants then maybe they were just hanging around in the hammer holder. Why not just say the individual is unavailable or out of the office?


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