We had a discussion in the office the other day about some of the pointless day-to-day phrases that we habitually use. This is one of my favourite subjects because, over the past few years, I have thought a lot about how the written word has adopted oral colloquialisms.
Before the internet, the written word (books, magazine articles, advertising copy) resulted from a combination of professional writers having their work honed by professional editors. While a feature writer’s style may have been chatty, it would generally also be fine-tuned to remove waffle or superfluousness. Yes, that is a word. I could have said, “full of unnecessary words we don’t need”. That would be an ironic example of superfluousness, not to mention tautology.
After the internet, everyone is able to publish content, and most writers these days don’t have a sub-editor to refine their prose. Consequently, many oral phrases creep into the written word. Here are some of my favourites. A guide to things you can look out for when editing copy.
“Personally, I think . . .”
If thinking is not personal, what is it? I bet you have used this phrase when giving an opinion, or a variant of it – “me, personally . . .” or “I personally think . . .”
“The fact of the matter is . . .”
People seem to have developed the habit of using this phrase when they are about to make a statement. “The fact of the matter is that people just don’t use faxes any more.” You may talk that way, but you don’t need to write that way – “People don’t use faxes any more.”
“In actual fact . . .”
What are facts if they are not actual? “In actual fact, coffee is as good for you as it is bad.”
“Also . . . as well”
You will possibly not have heard yourself say this. Listen out for it. Also plus as well is a tautology. “Also, I will bring some food as well.” You know you do this. I do. In the written word, though, it is clumsy.
This is related to “add an additional”. We often talk about adding an additional something to something else. Imagine this sentence. “Also, I suggest we add an additional 10% as well.”
“Yeah, no” or “No, yeah”
I think this is a British thing. I hear it all the time – including from myself, unwittingly. Someone asks you how you are and you reply, “No, yeah, I’m fine thanks.”
Someone asks if you are still unwell and you say, “Yeah, no, I’m better now.”
“To be fair” and “in all fairness”
I find a lot of people, these days, saying things to be fair to someone. Even when the context makes no sense. “Yeah, he was good on Strictly, to be fair.” That makes sense if “to be fair” is countering some assertion that someone on Strictly is otherwise rubbish.
“I worked late, to be fair.”
“She was in the supermarket, to be fair.”
When did “to be fair” become punctuation for ending a sentence?
“In all fairness” is the variation that generally goes at the beginning of a statement. “In all fairness, he was good on Strictly.”
Summaries are meant to be brief, aren’t they?
“Absolutely essential” or “completely correct”
If something is essential, it is obviously absolutely, completely or totally needed, not partly essential. The words ‘absolutely’ and ‘totally’ could probably be edited out of the English language 80% of the time. (That’s not scientific – it’s totally a guess.)
Think about the times they appear. “You are totally right.” “It’s absolutely needed.” “I totally need this.” “You are completely wrong.” When the word in your statement is already an absolute, you don’t need the additional adverb.
Is being “very pregnant” more pregnant? Does it mean you are expecting a litter? What about “very unique” or “very exact”?
The word “very”, along with “really” or “extremely” are used far more than they are ever ever needed. They really are not necessary pretty much most of the time. (See what I did there?)
Is not all planning done in advance? We could say the same for advance preview, advance warning, advance reservations and advancing forward. No one’s ever said, “After the event finished, I did some post planning.”
If beat all previous records, that means no one has ever achieved the same. “She holds the record” is better than “she holds the all-time record”.