Tuesday, October 19, 2010

10 meaningless phrases.

From ragan.com and quite good.

Meaningless phrases people use every day
By Matt Wilson

Start at the beginning

Isn’t that where I would expect you to start? You’d really only need to warn me if you were starting somewhere weird there, Horace, like the middle, the end or somehow before the beginning.

Let me begin by saying

Is someone stopping you? Just say it! This is the rhetorical equivalent of, “I am now going to write about.” They teach second-graders not to start their essays that way, so keep it out of your adult conversations.

We, as human beings

As opposed to what? We, as robots? We, as orangutans? Unless you’re speaking to or writing for some especially diverse audiences, you can just say “we.”

That said

Yes, someone said it. And that ought to be pretty evident to everyone else who either heard it or read it. You don’t really need to reiterate that something was said. If you’re offering a counterargument to that statement, a “however,” “conversely” or “but” will do just fine.

Happens to be

Sometimes a coincidence can be so shocking that a “happens to be” may be justified. But in most cases, it’s just a cute way of pointing out someone or something has an interesting or unusual trait, like “That vagrant just happens to be my nephew.” All you need is “is.” That vagrant is your nephew.

All things considered

Here’s what you’re saying when you say this: “Anytime I don’t use this phrase, I’m only considering some things when I make judgments.” Or possibly, “I’m making a too-cute joke about the NPR program of the same name.” In either case, they’re not really statements you want to make.

All in all

As I think about what this phrase could have originally meant or what it could really mean, my brain has tied itself into a Gordian knot. Is it the opposite of “none in none”? A contrast to “some in some”? Is it supposed to imply that every single thing has been fitted into every other thing?

I’d better lie down now.

At the end of the day

Like the previous two, this phrase signals that you’re about to sum up all the various pieces of your argument and come to a conclusion. But what does that have to do with the time of day? Almost always nothing. What you’re talking about might even be happening in the morning!

In order to

What you really mean is “to.” The last time an “in order” was justified, it was in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. And I’m only cutting James Madison some slack because of the whole three branches of government idea and the Bill of Rights. Plus, he was writing back when a lowercase “s” looked like an “f.” Times have changed.

In all its forms

Ahhh! Look out! It’s a shape-shifter!
But seriously, you really don’t need to point out that you like chocolate “in all its forms.” For one thing, that should be self-evident. For another, chocolate is pretty much chocolate, regardless of its physical state.


Tore Claesson said...

I noticed you now have over one hundred followers. On to the next milestone.

Jake P said...

A perfect primer for election season!

Tom said...

Let me begin by saying that this is a load of tosh.

We, as human beings, use all these phrases in order to help structure what we say and signify changes in direction or scope. The qualification 'as human beings' means that the thing is universal, it is something which affects us all, rather than just certain social or economic groups. That's a clarification of scope.

The phrase 'let me start at the begging' may seem a little tautological, but it in fact serves as a forewarning that what follows may be complex and to start with the heart of the issue without giving some form of preamble would be difficult.

It is also true that some of the phrases happen to be a little idiomatic (like 'at the end of the day'), but to criticize it for that would be like criticizing the phrase 'throw the baby out with the bathwater' as being meaningless because what your discussing has nothing to do with babies!

All in all, i feel that though some of the phrases are somewhat without meaning (in terms of 'reference') they are not without purpose; they are useful as tools for giving structure to what we say.

That said, I do hate it when people say them.

geo said...

Whew, Tom, you redeemed yourself with your last sentence.