Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English


English Composition

P.U.: Phrasal Unpleasantness

Here are several troublesome termsand phrases too frequently used in contemporary writing, to thedetriment of the nerves of many people who listen to languageand consider its effects.

1) In todays society: Thisphrase has now emerged as the most overused cliché forattempting to sound grandiose and as the most common joke amongEnglish teachers when they commiserate over their scotch. Notethe absence of the apostrophe; and no, using in society todayinstead 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) everyday: The term isfine as an everyday adjective; incorrect as it is used by BurgerKing and most tv commercials these days, that is: “low priceseveryday.” They mean every day. [The Eagle storein Spokane even announces concern for customers “Everyday-Everyway.” And so continues the deterioration.] Similarly, in order,in case, even though, and other hand arenot single words. Thankyou.

5) deal with: The phrasecan mean anything and therefore means nothing: a book dealswith harpooning a whale; you deal with a used car seller;Clem deals with a deck of 52 cards; Arnold deals withthe death of Fluffy (by openly crying? by proceeding normallywith his life? When is he dealing with and when is henot?). Get a real verb.

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

7) 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 effectivelysophisticated way? Great sounds too juvenile; and majorhas been coopted by Val-speak, as in “I have got, okay? likethis totally major crush.” As for excellent andawesome, let me just say, bogus G.P.A., dude. Trysignificant, serious, growing, disturbing,or some other respectable term.

8) Webster’s Dictionary defines____ as: This uncritical appeal to a vague authority usuallysubstitutes for any thought about a topic. It simply fills space. Furthermore, we readers are seldom edified by the official definitionsof such supposedly complex notions as toys, nature,dinosaur, America, writing, and the many otherbasic words I’ve seen being defined by Webster’s in research paperswanting to list a dictionary as one of the “secondary sources”used! I beg you to stop.

9) perfect: Stop tellingme that Barbie has the perfect figure and the perfectsmile and the perfect life that every girl wants, evenwhen you think you mean it ironically. The word serves simultaneouslyas a slang term and a value judgment I don’t think you usuallywant to be making. Barbie has a bizarre figure, a vacuous smile,and a perfectly meaningless non-life.

10) thing / something / everything / stuff: Your writing is too vague if you are using these terms. Theybreed: “When the viewer sees something in an ad, that thingcan represent anything and everything that viewer wants the thingto be.” (What?!) Don’t use thing; it’s the singlemost vague noun. Stuff runs a close second.

11) Reason being, / Meaning, / Matterof fact,: What’s this new abbreviated grammar all about? Ads on tv are doing this now too: “Fact is, morepeople save with AT&T. . . .” I assure you, you can’tstart sentences with these abortions. Slight rewording may nothelp: “The reason is because. . .” or “The reasonbeing . . .” just results in more sentence trouble. Instead,try: “The reason for the misconception is that. . . .”or “In fact, more people save. . . .”

12) 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 an idea. D+.

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

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

15) alot: Are you stillkidding me with this? I thought I corrected this error permanentlywhen 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.

16) out there: “Thereare 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.

17) to really impact: I’mnot entirely sold on the use of impact as a verb outsideof dentistry; but the typical problem here is the “split infinitive.” Purists say you should not place an adverb or any other foreign matter between thetwo parts of an infinitive: to be, to go, to give, etc., reasoning that in manyother languages the infinitive is one word and that in English it appearsas two but should be treated as if it were one. Others say that this is bunk. I say, 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 so very much.”)

18) due to the fact that: Too wordy. Instead of “He died due to the fact that hewas shot in the head three times,” why not “He dieddue to having been shot in the head three times,” or “Hedied because he was shot in the head three times,” or “Shotthrice, he died from the headwounds”?

19) they: When used as thesubject of the sentence, this term often signals a mechanicalslip-up in which the real subject has been banished to a prepositionalphrase: “In Time magazine they compare. . . .” Instead, “The author compares . . .” or “The Timemagazine film critic compares. . . .”

20) in the process of: “Iam 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.

21) this / that: Individually,these terms often are used poorly to substitute for previouslyestablished, 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.”

22) rolling around: As in”The Paleozoic era came rolling around,” or “TheAmerican Civil War rolled around,” this phrasing soundsrather offensively laid back. One pictures ol’ Grampa Teakussucking on a straw: “Yep, then the bloody Apocalypse camea-rollin’ ‘roun’–heh, heh, heh.”

23) at that point in time: Admittedly, this is a gripe against interviewees on UnsolvedMysteries, but the phrase is redundant: “at that pointI heard several gunshots,” or “at that time Iheard several gunshots,” or better, “then I heardseveral gunshots” would serve sufficiently. Check for otherredundant wordings.

24) 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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