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Useless Words

August 10, 2012

I have thought much, too much for sure, about what kind of post I would use for the re-launching of this blog. Since this will be the first year I get to be an English teacher and only an English teacher, I feel it only right to teach you something about English.

Those of us who speak the English language benefit from a veritable plethora of words to augment our vocabulary— like “veritable” and “plethora.” However, there are some words, and combinations of words, that just should not see the light of day. Ever. So now, I offer you this list of lexical lepers.

1. Irregardless
“Regardless” is a real word. Adding “-less” means there is no regard given. Adding “ir-” means “not,” just like “im-,” “in-,” and “non-“. So if “irregardless” were a real word, it would be a double negative, which makes a positive. You would be saying that you do not, not regard… so, you do regard. Regardless of your temptation to sound smart, do not use “irregardless.”

2. Like
“Like” is a verb. But it’s not, like, a word you just insert, like, wherever it, like, seems useful. Because it’s not useful. It will only make you sound like a Valley Girl and that was only cool for approximately three minutes in 1986.
Even the proper use of “like” is overused to the point of being weak. Saying “I like you” is code for “I really could care less if I see your face again” and if you really do like someone, you can always use a nice strong verb like “I adore you” or “You enrapture me” instead.

3. Cool… Awesome… Epic
It seems there is always a word du jour to indicate greatness. Cool is still cool, although we can also say something/one is hot. Awesome… God inspires awe. A tornado, perhaps, can inspire awe. A cheeseburger, regardless of its deliciousness, does not inspire awe. It’s not going to speak to you from a burning bush or bring the wrath of the heavens upon your poor mortal head. The newest version of Overused Synonym For Greatness is “epic.” Again, there is a real meaning for epic– it specifically applies to a genre of poetry. Interesting, this one most often gets employed in “epic fail.” Not all fails can be epic. Most of them are only ordinary fails. You like the idea of epic fail so you can feel better about screwing up. If you’re going to blow, blow hard. Sorry, most of your failures are not epic in the least. You’re just an average, everyday screwup.

4. A lot
First of all, no one knows how to spell this– many write it as one word, “alot.” It is two words, and what does it mean? There are a range of adjectives indicating indefinite number: a couple, a few, several, many, myriad (one of my favorites). “A lot” and its strange plural sibling, “lots,” just sound needlessly informal and maddeningly indefinite. I know several is more than a few and less than many but just how many are a lot or lots? A lot of people use this lots, which is a less than epic vocabulary fail.

5. Literally:
This word means something actually happens. Literally is the opposite of figuratively, which means you are using a figure of speech, such as a simile: Her attitude is like a breath of fresh air. In reality, her attitude and a breath of fresh air are two very different things, and her attitude can’t ever become air, or vice versa, mainly because air is something tangible which actually exists, and an attitude is abstract.
So, when speaking literally, you have to refer to things that can only exist in reality. “I literally drank eight cups of coffee.” OK, perhaps not advisable, but certainly within the realm of possibility. “I was literally bouncing off the walls.” Really? That’s quite the mental image.

6. All in all
What, pray tell, does this trite phrase mean? Think about it. It so utterly makes no sense that my erudite mind cannot derive any sense of it. I think it’s meant to be a more-clever-sounding version of “In conclusion,” which in and of itself is pointless. Trust me, I have read a few thousand five-paragraph essays by this point and students invariably want to start their final paragraph with either “In conclusion” or the noxious “All in all.” I know it’s your last paragraph, so I don’t need you to announce either of these pointless phrases.

7. It is what it is.
Well, DUH. Of course it is. What else would it be? A lot of people like to say this cool phrase, irregardless of how it is, all in all, an epic fail.


15 Comments leave one →
  1. August 10, 2012 11:56 pm

    I am so glad you started back up writing on your blog BECAUSE it is part of you. You need to write. That said, like…well it would be awesome…epic even if it were started on August 9th….the 10th is great is what it is.


  2. CreepinJesus permalink
    August 12, 2012 1:25 pm

    Ironic how you tell us not to use these incorrect words/phrases, yet use, “I really could care less if I see your face again,” as an example. It’s “couldn’t care less.” 😉


    • August 12, 2012 1:44 pm

      Thank you for commenting. I’d rather have one nitpick comment than a hundred benign non-commenting readers 😉
      Is it ironic? The definition of irony is a topic for a future post, but for now I will concede the irony…
      You raise an interesting point, and honestly I have never known which phrase is correct, because I obviously never thought it through. But after investigating here:
      I see the logical point. You have to say “not” because to say “I could care less” means it is indeed possible for you to care less than you do, so you must care at least a little.
      Thank you for educating me today, CreepinJesus. Come again!
      (Jesus… come again… now that is funny… I’m sure I didn’t have to point it out to you, but not sure anyone else reading the comment would get it ;))


  3. shugamama permalink
    August 12, 2012 5:25 pm

    Reblogged this on Shugamama's Blog.


  4. Greg permalink
    August 13, 2012 2:56 pm

    My take on “like” is that it has become this generation’s “um.” At least in colloquial speech, it seems that this word is now taking over the roll of allowing for a pause while we focus on what we are trying to say. Are you seeing this used in written form much, or just hearing it in conversation? If the former is true, certainly this is troubling.

    Let’s just not forget about the various other proper uses of the word while on our quest to restore its proper place in the lexicon.

    It seems that over the years, the focus on proper use of our language has dwindled. I dare say that most people could not possibly care less about presenting themselves positively by the proper use of language. I’m dismayed to see this begin to creep into places where such mistakes should never have be penned, much less pass an editor’s scrutiny – reputable new outlets, particularly.

    “Epic” certainly has seen its power diluted by overuse. It’s an Internet meme now, so its proper connotation is likely lost to us for good.

    I will debate you on the usage of “awesome.” I believe the appropriateness of its use to describe something can greatly depend on your frame of reference. While some things might universally inspire awe (lightning – not lightening, which makes me cringe every time I see it – the Badlands and Mars rovers, perhaps), other experiences may only inspire a sense of awe in an individual observer.

    If I eat a cheeseburger, and am struck by the talent of the chef who prepared it, could this not be considered awe? If the flavor of cheeseburger inspires me to think, “wow, I really wish I could create a burger this good,” could this not be considered awe? Perhaps I’m more properly in awe of the chef, rather than the burger itself, though.

    “Should of,” “would of,” “could of,” gah! Can we begin a guerilla campaign against the improper expansion of contractions? Perhaps this is just the mistaken application of an “o” where an apostrophe should be, but it’s getting well out of hand. “Should have,” “would have,” “could have.”

    Also, I often wonder how two words like “terror” and “horror” could so wildly diverge by the addition of the same suffix. Why do “terrific” and “horrific” mean almost precisely opposite things when the root of each of them mean almost identical things? Add “-ible” and they go back to meaning the same thing. What is the meaning of this?

    Just teach your students to use their words. Hopefully, I can teach my daughter to use hers.


    • Greg permalink
      August 13, 2012 2:57 pm

      Quite how I was assigned a cartoon Flying Spaghetti Monster as my avatar is beyond me.


    • August 13, 2012 3:16 pm

      Thanks for your comment, which brings up several excellent points! I may have to explore some of these in future posts. I have always thought that we should feel sorry for non-native speakers having to learn English. It’s such an idiomatic language, especially in contrast to Spanish, with its all-phonetic pronunciation and generally straightforward syntax.

      WordPress has an interesting, or questionable, depending on one’s viewpoint, collection of randomly-assigned avatars. I have wondered if someone in particular was paid to come up with them, and what chemical influences may have come into play.


  5. Greg permalink
    August 15, 2012 8:53 am

    So, I though you might also like this:


  6. September 26, 2012 3:04 pm

    Have you heard of Taylor Mali? He does a slam poem called “Like Lili Like Wilson.” You’d dig it. YouTube it. And, yes I did Verbify my Noun.


    • September 27, 2012 10:16 pm

      I’ve seen him before; he did the “What Teachers Make” video. You can verbify nouns all you like. I’m amused you still kept the proper capitalization (YouTube) even in morphing the part of speech. Properness in rebelliousness. I’m looking at your blog now and I’m sure I’ll be adding many of my own words in response to your quest for the eventual one million. 🙂


      • September 28, 2012 6:04 am

        Thanks! I’m still trying to decide if I can count my comments on other blogs toward my 1 million. Somehow, I think it might be cheating. Sigh.


      • September 28, 2012 8:37 pm

        Well, a little cheating can be… Nevermind. Nothing good can come of that comment. 😀



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