Last week I took a long, hard look at the top ten most insanely persuasive words in the English language. It was a cross between etymology and linguistics, for the purposes of marketing.
For those of you that missed out, the list included: you, free, save, because, instantly, new, proven, guarantee, easy and love.
So, what’s the one thing that all these words have in common? They are all efficient. They are all simple. Their message is crystal-clear. After reading them, your audience knows exactly what you are trying to say. And, more importantly, exactly what it is you want them to do.
Today, I thought I’d jump to the polar opposite end of the scale: I’m going to delve into the most boringly overused words and phrases in the English language. Guaranteed to make your eyelids droop, you’ll be napping in no time.
According to the Global Language Monitor, as of 1 January 2014, the English language boasts 1,025,109 words. Over 1 million words. So, why is it that people tend to use the same tired, tactless terms time and again? There are more effective word (and phrase) choices available. Words and phrases that will convey your message much more accurately. Words and phrases that are bound to illicit the response you’re after.
The Top Ten Most Overused Phrases
Scholars at Oxford University routinely monitor English language usage rates via the Oxford English Corpus. The corpus is a comprehensive collection of texts (both written and spoken). Effectively, it is a database of books, magazines, newspapers and online publications, estimated to contain more than two billion words. It is the largest linguistic database for the English language. It enables scholars to track, and record, all manner of linguistic developments, from emerging words and trending phrases to evolving spelling and annunciation.
According to this behemoth of a database, the most overused phrases in the English language are:
- At the end of the day
- Fairly unique
- I personally
- At this moment in time
- With all due respect
- It’s a nightmare
- Shouldn’t of (for shouldn’t have)
- It’s not rocket science
So, eradicate them from your writing. Do not include them in your blog posts. Do not try to slip them into your website content. Don’t even think about hiding them in a media release.
The Top Twenty Most Boringly Overused Words
Boring words equate to boring content. No one wants to (or has the time to) trawl through boring content. The answer: revamp your vocabulary to beguile and bewitch (not engage and interest – too boring!) your audience.
BBC News released a report on the top 20 most overused words of 2013. I thought a succinct summary of these hackneyed adages would be highly appropriate. Some of the words materialised only last year, buoyed by the crest of social media fame. Others have been around, boring audiences forever. Here goes:
- Twerk, v. Dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance.
- Selfie, n. A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.
- Passion, n. A strong affection or enthusiasm for an object, concept, etc.
- Look…, v. (in imperative form). To direct one’s eyes or attention (towards).
- Robust, adj. Strong in constitution; hardy; vigorous.
- So, conj. With the consequence (that).
- Delivery, n. Handing over, or conveying into the hands of another.
- Project, n. A proposal, scheme, or design; task requiring considerable or concerted effort.
- Hashtag, n. Word or phrase preceded by a hash sign (#), used on social media sites such as Twitter to identify messages on a specific topic.
- Amazeballs, adj. (slang) An expression of enthusiastic approval.
- Doing, v. Perform or complete; prepare or arrange; produce; also used as an auxiliary to replace an earlier verb and avoid repetition.
- Absolutely, adv. Yes, certainly, definitely; without a doubt. Completely or perfectly.
- Fail, v. To be or become deficient.
- Responsible, adj. Capable of fulfilling an obligation or duty; reliable, trustworthy, sensible
- Anyway, adv.conj. However the case may be; in any case; anyhow.
- Yeah-no, Being affirmative while at the same time covering the opposite possibility. Particularly favoured by sportspeople during game time when it appears as though their team is going to score a point.
- Legacy, n. Something handed down by an ancestor or predecessor.
- Hipster, n. A person who follows the latest trends and fashions.
- Geek, n. A person who is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about a specific subject.
- Iconic, adj. A person or thing regarded as representative of a culture or movement.
(Note: all definitions are taken from the Oxford English, Collins, or Merriam-Webster dictionaries.)
Then there’s my own personal list of word pariahs. It includes all manner of stale adjectives: good, great, bad, amazing, awesome, beautiful, nice, happy, and sad. Introducing these words into your copy is just plain lazy. Don’t do it. There’s simply no excuse; everyone knows how to use a thesaurus.
To finish up, I’d like to leave you with a most pertinent quote on quite possibly my least favourite word of all time: very. No one is very tired, they’re exhausted. No one is very sad, they’re devastated. No one is very happy, they’re ecstatic.
“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” – Mark Twain
For a limited time only, we have a free CHEAT SHEET – THE 100 MOST PERSUASIVE WORDS. To get your hands on our free CHEAT SHEET, all you need to do is subscribe to our newsletter. Once you’ve got our CHEAT SHEET, you’ll be able to sell ice to eskimos!
P.S. If you’re wondering what an old school combi van has to do with over-used words and phrases, let me enlighten you…not a thing! Rather than relying on boring stock imagery, we’ve decided to go with beautiful photos. Photos that inspire. Photos that make us smile. Plus, this combi van is the boring brother of last week’s psychedelic (and more persuasive) combi!