Feb 6, 2017 (for week of Jan 29)

Running late this (last) week, so I will post something nice and easy to make up for it. I’m not sure whether this was allowed under the rules of the challenge I set up, though I probably should’ve given myself at least 3 of these make-up pieces (1 down).

In any case, I’ve wanted to write about this for a while now. I write a lot as a graduate student, and on top of that, I keep this blog and somehow always find myself in the middle of very long Facebook chat conversations with essay- length responses. Because of that, I noticed that I tend to use a set of words for no good reason at all, and these sometimes actually transcend into my speech. So, without further ado, these are my top 5 pet-peeve words/phrases.

1. “Like”

Oldie but goodie, and I know I’m not the only person that gets annoyed at themselves for using this word. The canonical use of this word, of course, indicates an inability to describe something in a precise way (at best), and it’s a substitute for “uh” (at worst). E.g., “the Falcons had, like, the biggest meltdown in Superbowl history!” Everybody knows this is the word to use (and “totally”) if you want to sound like a Valley girl, so I guess it’s not as offensive in California. But I use this word in another, quite different way. Sometimes when I’m describing an interaction between me and another person, I use “like” as a substitute for “said”. Example: “I told my parents I drove the car off the road, and they were like ‘how the hell did you manage that?’” In this case, “they said” is the proper English expression for what had happened, and I have no idea why, but “they were like” just rolls off the tongue (and keyboard). The problem is, in an exchange with multiple turns - and this really happens - I will tell the story as such: “he was like …, then she was like …, and then he was like …, and then she was like…” This drives me nuts. Although, replacing “was like” with “said” does not make it sound any better. Or at least, I don’t like it, maybe because “said” definitely implies direct quotation, whereas “was like” could be interpreted as speech or inferred attitude. In general, I haven’t found a great way of narrating a story with a conversation that doesn’t sound stupid.

2. “Basically”

This is another classic, exemplified by the following exchange:
A: “I know rainbows come out after it rains, but how does that actually work?”
B: “Basically, the rain…”

In my experience, only about 10% of the time when people say “basically”, do they actually proceed to distill the concept into something understandable or more similar to a BASIC concept that the other person has experienced before. The other ~90% of the time, it really signals that they have no clue what the hell they are about to explain (myself included). Or maybe if they actually do understand internally, they have no good way of expressing that understanding. This has been my experience so often that whenever I feel like I’m about to start my explanation with “basically”, I will stop myself from talking and think about whether I actually understand what I’m about to explain, and most of the time the answer is “basically, no”. In fact, using the word “basically” actively hinders my own understanding of the topic.

3. “Definitely”

As in, “I definitely think this is a good idea…” “Definitely” is definitely a word that should be sprinkled sparingly. Obviously, the word conveys an increase in relative certainty in the context of the current conversation, as in “I think this will work, and that will work, but the other thing definitely won’t work.” But sometimes I will use this in multiple consecutive sentences to indicate my conviction. I don’t think doing this is necessarily bad, but it does take away the meaning of the word, like the boy who cried sheep. After a string of “definitely”s, what if I was even MORE certain? Shall I use “definitively”?

4. “Just”

I use this a lot when I first send someone an email inquiring about something, like their paper, or asking for a favor: “Hi, I was just wondering if you can …” This is the apologist Canadian in me, I guess. That example sentence is perfectly fine without the “just”, but using the word (at least I think) downplays the importance/inconvenience of the whole request. Like, “I know you’re busy, but I JUST need a few moments to…” This isn’t annoying as much as it is funny to me, because I usually tend to err on the side of more polite/formal when I write to unfamiliar people (compared to not even using capitalization when I write to my lab. Sorry Roemer). But I do think this can introduce a power dynamic unfavorable for me even before I’ve even made my request, so I actively stop myself from using this word in emails and texts now. Let me know if I sound like an entitled ass without it.

5. “and stuff”

I just scrolled through Youtube for an hour to find this. Worth.

This is probably the single most frustrating phrase for me. I used to always say it at the end of every sentence, then somehow, one day, I realized I have no idea what I’m referring to when I say “…and stuff”. This, and its closely-related cousin, “and things.” Next time you hear yourself say it, kindly ask yourself, “and what stuff?”