Five hackneyed expressions to purge from your vocabulary
Fall always makes me want to give away crappy old artifacts that have outlived their usefulness. No, not stuff from my closet—from my vocabulary. So I’ve compiled a list of what I consider the most worn out phrases that should be put out for curbside pickup.
#5. At the end of the day
When all is said and done. In the final analysis. Sooner or later. In the long run. In the end. Clichés all, but none so threadbare as the synonymous “at the end of the day.”
Not to be confused with “by the end of the day” (which might be the way your boss communicates a deadline, perhaps reduced to the acronym EOD), this cliché is a bona fide pet peeve. This phrase, which earned the sobriquet “hackneyed” from the Oxford English Dictionary in the 1970s, even turns up in Les Miserables. Anachronism much? I promise you, French Revolutionaries did not say “at the end of the day”!
Can you imagine ruining the penultimate cut from the Beatles’ Abbey Road album by singing, “At the end of the day, the love you take is equal to the love you make”?
Special thanks to Grammarphobia’s post on the etymology of the phrase, including this delicious factoid: a 2008 Oxford English Dictionary poll put “at the end of the day” at #1 on its list of the Ten Most Annoying Clichés.
#4: That being said (or “having said that…”)
The proper use of this phrase is to reverse or contradict what was previously stated. Here’s an example:
“We are a smoke free facility. That being said, employees who are still trying to quit may smoke in their cars during scheduled breaks.”
But it’s more commonly used as an upgrade to words and phrases like “nevertheless” or “on the other hand.”
“It was a dark and stormy night. That said, the vampire made his way to the castle without a lantern.”
It’s a bit silly, and lazy to boot—or as one commenter wrote, “meaningless filler.”
Try one of these substitutes: against this background; on that basis; with that in mind; or (best and simplest): not only that.
#3. Maybe, just maybe
Bernie Sanders has used this to powerful effect, both during and subsequent to the 2016 presidential election season.
“Maybe, just maybe, we should put money into education and jobs.”
“Maybe, just maybe, we want someone leading the Environmental Protection Agency who actually believes in environmental protection.”
“Maybe, just maybe, the government should represent all of the people and not just the one percent.”
The Bern uses the phrase poetically, and after all, that’s what campaigns are about. Poetic repetitiveness can fire up the listener, conveying power and energy. Bravo, Bernie. You get a free pass on this one.
The rest of us? Maybe we should just skip the “just maybe.”
#2. Take it to the next level
Take your (gym workout; financial planning; living room; relationship) to the next level!
You want to improve. Maybe you want to push yourself hard, going where you’ve never been before. But if you break down “the next level” as a phrase to amplify your intention, it’s just silly. Take an escalator or a weight training machine or your Magic Bullet to the next level, and you’re only increasing it by one increment (or floor). That’s not a lot of improvement. It’s just another level.
So why the avid attachment to the phrase?
The original* expression emerged from gaming. Gamers advance through levels, and each time they defeat an opponent or master a challenge, they get to move to the next level. For a while, this was cool and different. But like most other fad-speak, its power fades quickly, becoming hackneyed and meaningless.
So don’t take your vocabulary to the next level. Instead, kick it up a notch, perform at a higher tier, or turn it up to eleven.
*not backed up by research
#1. Each and every one of you (each and every day; each and every zebra, etc.)
When my kids were in middle school, their principal used this expression repeatedly, often many times in a single sentence. To suffer through her speeches, my husband and I bet our kids on how many times she’d say those before leaving the podium.
The phrase is intended to convey “all” or “everybody” or “every single,” but for some reason has become like those instant replies that pop up in a text reply window.
Merriam Webster grudgingly allows that “each and every” can be used to supply emphasis. But if you're out to banish clichés, try losing the “and every” and your phrasing