11 Words And Phrases I Hate (And You Should Never Use)

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on November 20, 2013 – 6:02 AM

We all have words and phrases that hit our ears like chalk on a chalk board (or Kardashians on a television screen). Here are 11 of the words and phrases that make me want to let out a small yelp every time I hear them.

1. Touch points: This piece of PR jargon makes me cringe more than any other. “Touch points” make me think of something dirty, sleazy, or outright illegal. Please don’t touch me on my touch points. Just reach me through numerous channels.

2. Retarded: According to Google’s word usage chart (below), the word “retarded” has been going out of favor since the late 1970s. But as you can see, the word is still used more than it should be. This is especially grating in its common “you’re so retarded” usage, often referring to a friend who did something dumb. How about just using “you’re so dumb” instead? Heck, even “dumb shit” would be preferable.

Retarded Usage

3. “Sorry if you were offended”: This phrase is most commonly used by people who did something offensive. But instead of fully accepting the blame, they shirk it by shifting some of it onto you for having the audacity to take offense at their offensiveness. If you mess up, it’s far better to say “We did something offensive, and we apologize.” 

4. Whatever: This word is often used to dismiss a person or an idea. “She’s the one who wanted to do this stupid PR campaign in the first place. What-ever.” But it’s no longer the dismissive quality of the word that irks me; rather, it’s the complete lack of originality. Come on, people, dismissing a dumb idea is supposed to be fun, so stop relying on such a hackneyed term to do it.

5. You guys: This term is fine if you’re addressing a group of all boys or men. But if girls or women are present, it’s often considered rude. A waiter in a southern restaurant, for example, should expect a lower tip if he addresses his mixed-gender table as “you guys.”

6. Like: Can you, like, think of a word that, like, makes you, like, want to tear out your hair and stab your eardrums more? Like, whatever. And sorry if you are offended, you guys.

7. “I’m starving.” Unlikely. You’re probably just hungry. If you were starving, you would look like the poor soul in the picture below. Next time you’re tempted to say that you’re “starving,” remember her and remind yourself to say only that you’re feeling a bit peckish and would like something to eat.

starving chile

8. “I can’t.” Sometimes this phrase is true. But many times, frontline personnel say I can’t” when what they really mean is “I won’t.” “Sorry, we can’t let you return this defective product, since we only accept returns in the first 30 days and today is day 31.” “Sorry, we can’t let you substitute the cheddar cheese for the Muenster.”

9. Mucus: True story: When interviewing a young woman for a job many years ago, she followed a sneeze by explaining that her cold wasn’t contagious any longer since her mucus had changed back to its normal color and consistency. She didn’t get the job. (An exception for using this term is granted to the medical profession.)

10. Ninja: I have no problems with actual ninjas. Got that, ninja? Put the throwing stars down. But what the hell is a “PR Ninja” or a “Communications Ninja?” These phrases are becoming ubiquitous in people’s social media profiles lately, and they don’t make sense. According to Wikipedia, a “ninja” is defined, in part, as a mercenary. Are these PR professionals boasting about their willingness to take on any client, regardless of the ethics involved?

11. Spin: Yes, there’s such a thing as spin. But the term has been carelessly applied to many more PR campaigns than it should be, including ones that are completely aboveboard. There’s a big difference between strategic communications and “spin.”

What words make you cringe? Please enter your entries to the language hall of shame in the comments section below.

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Comments (49)

  1. By John Barnett:

    Nice post, Brad!

    Hoping to stay in line with what you’re discussing, I really hate “utilize” and “promulgate.” For some reason government and academic writers love those words in order to make something sound very official and important. Technically the words are being “utilized” correctly, but it’s a pet peeve of mine to throw in $50 words when 25 cents will work just as well.

    So I ask: what’s wrong with “use” and “publicize” in order to communicate more effectively?

    And in support of your “sorry if offended line,” I would recommend adding the phrase “with all due respect” as it is the usual introductory phrase for something highly disrespectful.

  2. By Brad Phillips:


    Thanks for your comment!

    Funny you should mention “utilize.” I had a client recently who must have used that word in every other answer. I opted not to comment on it, since there were other issues of greater importance. But I thought, “If I ever have the chance to work with this person again, I’ll definitely mention that.”

    I have a slightly different recollection about the phrase “with all due respect.” Back in the days I worked for Ted Koppel at Nightline, I remember that he used that phrase when he was about to go for a politician’s throat: “With all due respect, governor, I’m not sure you get it.” Whenever I heard him using that phrase while sitting in the control room, I’d instantly think “Uh oh. Here we go. This guest isn’t going to know what hit him.”

    Thanks for utilizing the comments section!

  3. By Briana Jessen LeClaire:

    My pet peeve is “I need you to . . . “. Whatever happened to plain old please?!?

  4. By Art Aiello:

    Great post, Brad. But you forgot “guru”. If I hear another person refer to themselves as a “social media guru” I’m going to lose my lunch. We love using weird words like “ninja” to communicate expertise and creativity while also implying a certain rakishness. They have just the opposite effect.

    And your comment about “with all due respect” reminded me of a comic speaking about the Italian-Americans he grew up with, and how they’d always use that phrase when being openly disrespectful. As in, “With all due respect, your sister is a slut.” We could combine it with a suggestion of yours above–“With all due respect, you’re a dumb shit.” :-)

  5. By Brad Phillips:

    Hi Art,

    I agree with you wholeheartedly regarding “guru,” which is terribly overused.

    Your second comment reminds me of the very British phrase used in parliament: “The honourable gentleman.” When speaking about a member of the opposing party, that phrase often rings as a seething sarcasm.

    With all due respect, thanks for your comment!


  6. By Dawn Bentley:

    Definitely “utilize” for “use”. Another is “due to the fact that” instead of a simple “because”.

    Another word that just sets my nerves on edge is “scrape”, which I made the mistake of telling people in a meeting one day. My team can be very mean people sometimes!

  7. By Tracy Dupree:

    Spot on! (ok, does that make the cut?) As a communications professional, I think we are a bit more sensitive to these terms. I did wait tables in college and as a communications major, realized that when I walked up to a table of women asking “What can I get you guys?” it was just wrong. I started saying “What can I get you all (sometimes y’all)?” and soon was mistaken for being from Texas. Hmmm, well, at least I addressed my audience correctly.
    Thanks, Brad.

  8. By Louie B:

    – “To be honest with you”…..does this mean that all of the other things that have been said up to that point are NOT honest?

    Am w/you on the “I’m starving” statement.

  9. By John Burns:

    With all due respect Brad, I did not enjoy this post as much as I’ve enjoyed most others. Two things were “off” for me.

    First, I don’t like it when real, identifiable individuals are used negatively for laughs. If nothing else, don’t you risk alienating part of your audience?

    Second, what if Recent Client is following your blog? Will s/he recognize him/herself? What will s/he think?

    More generally, I’d go along with the general sentiment of this post if we’re talking about professional/workplace communicaton. If we’re talking about the guys n’ gals relaxing over a cold one – you sound like an old fogey. And you’re not even that old, Dude.

  10. By Brad Phillips:

    Hi John,

    Thank you for your comment. I appreciate the fact that you’ve enjoyed most of this blog’s posts, and I’m sorry this one felt off to you.

    I presume that both of your points relate to a comment I made in the comments section, not the main article?

    Taking your second point first, that’s always a matter of great concern for me. I never want to “out” a former client. I try to shield clients so that they’re not recognizable. For reasons I won’t go into here regarding this case, I believe it’s unlikely that the client or any reader will have any clue who I’m talking about. But I do take your point on this one.

    On the first point, though, I disagree that my comment was playing for laughs. I meant that comment earnestly — perhaps it read as sarcastic, but I assure you it was not intended as such.

    Thanks again, and take care.


  11. By Rory Welch:


    Enjoyed the post. Hope all is well. Here are two that are so overused that when I hear them the impact is just the opposite of the true meaning: it seems as if everything is either awesome or a top priority these days. So if everything is awesome, that means that everything is of equal value and doesn’t that infer average? And the same goes for top priority: if everything is a top priority, then in reality, nothing takes priority over anything else so…nothing is a priority.

  12. By Brad Phillips:

    Hi Rory,

    Thanks for adding those two terms!

    I admit I’m guilty of using “awesome” too often. True story: when I was a kid, I sold baseball cards at local card shows. The name of my small business? “Awesome Baseball Cards.” I guess the idea of the “ABC” appealed to me (I was thinking in sound bites even as a tween!). But a few people have mentioned their aversion to the word “awesome” to me lately, so I’m thinking it’s time to reconsider my use of that term.

    As for “high priority,” I’m totally with you!

    And that reminds me of one more phrase that you often hear when you’re placed on hold after calling some big company’s automated switchboard: “Your call is very important to us.” Really? If it was so important to you, wouldn’t someone be taking my call?

    Hope all is well with you, Rory. Thank you for staying in touch.


  13. By scottinapac:

    “with all due respect” – a business professional’s way of teeing up before taking a whack — as “bless her heart” – a Southern Lady’s way of teeing up before taking a whack

  14. By Nancy:

    One more obvious one–BREAKING NEWS.
    It’s usually neither breaking nor new.
    Another peeve? Efforting. As in ‘the family is efforting to recenter after the house fire’.
    Thanks for your blog, Brad. I enjoy them all.

  15. By dawn:


    Causes immediate gag reflex.

    And, I’m about there with
    “Seriously” and
    “Are you kidding me?”

    If you ever do an article that suggests words we should use, please include “conversate.” It is time.

    Great post. Thanks.

  16. By Brad Phillips:

    Scott, Nancy, Dawn —

    Thank you all for your terrific additions. Seriously, with all due respect, I’m efforting these grammatical suggestions. :)

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  17. By Barbara Quayle:

    One I am tired of hearing is…”at the end of the day.”
    Plus the incorrect grammar of people from media personalities to young people saying…”ME and John are going to the movies.”

  18. By Brian Chandler:


    Excellent post, as always. I would encourage you to consider one more though. The phrase “You Know” is being used all over the place in interviews and by talk show hosts. It’s worse than saying “um” in my opinion and people will use it multiple times in interviews. I’ve heard it on all of the major news outlets from both the interviewees and the hosts.

    This has to be stopped.

    Brian Chandler
    Commonwealth Public Relations

  19. By Brian:

    If a waiter in the south is from the South he’ll say hi ya’ll and then say yes Mam, we have grits, no Sir we don’t have any more ocra,

    If the waiter is in the North, or from the North, he’ll hi, what can I get for you guys, regardless of the gender(s), becasue even the gals up there say hi guys to each other. It’s a regional thing, at least on the East Coast.

    I’m from the North, moved to the South in 6th grade, and learned very quickly that Southern girls don’t like being called guys! Of course I’m a guy, so it finally took a girl chasing me around the classroom with a pair of scissors the last time I forgot to say ‘you all’ in mixed company. It took a while to correctly say ya’ll.

    Great Post, you hit on several good ones.


  20. By Brian:

    My No. 1 is ‘the incorrect usage of ‘then’ and ‘than’. It seems to be a fairly recent development. So when did people start getting them backwards, and why? How do we get them to be used correctly again?


  21. By Brad Phillips:

    Brian C —

    That’s a good one, especially when it’s used a form of verbal filler. Along the same lines, people occasionally end every sentence with “okay?” And then there’s “you know what I’m saying?” My temptation is always to reply: “I just heard what you said, so I know what you’re saying.”

    Thanks for writing!

  22. By John:

    While I agree with your dislike of “you guys” I have to ask why you’re picking on southerners? They say “ya’ll.” I grew up in the south, and first heard the term “you guys” when a family from NJ moved into our neighborhood. Actually, they said “you’se guys,” which we all thought was quite funny and a bit odd.

    My pet peeve phrase: “no problem” instead of “you’re welcome” or “my pleasure.”

  23. By Brad Phillips:

    Hi John,

    Thanks for your comment. I’m not picking on southerners at all — quite the opposite! I’ve heard from several friends from the south that the term “you guys” is downright offensive to many women in the south, who resent being called a “guy.” Therefore, I’m suggesting that term be avoided, especially if speaking with people from the American South.

    As for “no problem,” I completely agree. I used to be guilty of that one, but have replaced it (as you suggested) with “my pleasure.”

    Thanks for reading,

  24. By Kristin:

    “The fact of the matter.” I don’t hear it all that much, but when I do, it grates. It sounds pompous to me. And I second (third, fourth) the overuse of “guru”.

    I enjoyed this post!

  25. By Brad Phillips:


    Thanks very much! And great add on “the fact of the matter.” I’m not sure there’s ever a time when that phrase is necessary.

    That said I use “The bottom line is…” with some frequency. I hope that remains on the approved list! :)

    Thanks for reading,

  26. By Rod Russell:

    My two are “interface” as a verb, and “So” at the start of a statement. I ran into “interface” when in the military space program in the 1970s, and it was used and over-used nearly every day, as in: “I interfaced with the NASA rep …”.

    I’ve noticed recently on television interviews or at congressional hearings, the guest (or witness) will be asked a question on a new topic and start off his answer with “So”. I find it very distracting because I assume he is ignoring the new question and is continuing to answer the one asked previously, since “So” used to be used as “In conclusion”. I guess “So” has replaced “Well”, which Ronald Reagan popularized when answering questions from the press.

  27. By fomil:

    Expert: especially this time of year. Really? If your “high tech gifts for grandma gadget expert” is so awesome how come I’ve never heard of her? And what does she do the rest of the year?

    There’s a name for people who sell themselves for a fixed rate, duration, or result. And it ain’t “expert.”

  28. By Lorrie:

    Using “disrespect” as a verb – which I guess it is now. Sigh.
    “Very unique” – unique means one of a kind, so can something be “very” one of a kind? That one will drive you crazy listening to sports and news broadcasters.
    Also “over” and “under” when NOT referring to location…if you mean “less than” or “more than,” then say so!
    If you really want to get my goat, say that flags are at “half mast” when you are NOT talking about those on a boat – it’s “half staff,” people!

    And yes, I have been accused of being the Grammar Police! (Thanks for letting me vent!)

  29. By Chris Kelly:

    Living in the UK, please let me correct your disdain for the ‘honourable gentleman’. It is never used in a derogatory way because it has a special meaning in our unwritten constitution. In Parliament it refers to a Member of Parliament who is also a member of the Privy Council but can be used for some members of the nobility and the Lord Mayor of a number of our cities. It has specific meaning in other countries (eg, Canada).

    Keep up the fascinating education!

  30. By Jeff:

    Unfortunately, I do not see any endorsement of your correct inclusion of the word “retarded” on your list. The casual use of this term has become deeply offensive to those who have relationships with people with developmental disabilities, whether they be family, friends, or professional service providers. Just check with anyone involved with The Special Olympics and they will back me up. On another note (Uh, Oh. Does that phrase make anyone cringe? I’m feeling edgy since reading this post), I am very, very tired of the overuse of the adjective “amazing.” Worn out, overused and misapplied.

  31. By Gregg Peppin:

    Many good comments. Using “disrespect” as a verb tops the list, but “In terms of” is a close second for me. I really like your blog and wanted to share this list with my 13-year old daughter as we often talk about over-used or inappropriately used words and phrases. In fact, we just had that conversation about “retarded.” However, I couldn’t share with her due to your use of “dumb shit” in your comments. I know you used it for impact and while I’m certainly guilty of occasionally using vulgar language around other adults, this took a teachable moment away from me as I wanted to forward your post to her. Otherwise, great work!

  32. By Brad Phillips:


    Thanks very much for your comments. I’m sorry that the phrase “dumb shit” is preventing you from sharing the article with your daughter. Frankly, I never before thought of children as part of the audience for this blog, but perhaps your comment is an indication that a few of them are. Perhaps you can show her the article, with the caveat that the author slipped in a word that she shouldn’t use and that he probably didn’t need to, either?

    Alternatively, I’ll happily waive the usual copyright rules for you if you’d like to cut and paste the article into an email to her, with that phrase edited out.

    Best wishes,

  33. By Brad Phillips:


    Thanks for your comments. I’ll take the word of a man living in the UK over one living in New York, but I could swear that some of the “honourable gentelman” comments I see during Prime Minister’s Questions have a sneering, sarcastic tone to them. Am I seeing that wrong?


  34. By Brad Phillips:

    Good ones, Lorrie! You’re the second person to mention “disrespect,” so I suspect a lot of people react to that term the same way you do. And it’s stunning how many newscasters still don’t know the difference between “half mast” and “half staff,” isn’t it?

    I used to share your disdain for “over” and “under,” but it seems that language has evolved to allow their non-location usages, at least according to a few dictionaries. That said, I still prefer the “less than” or “more than” usage.

    Thanks for writing!

  35. By Brad Phillips:


    I’m guilty of “so.” Really guilty. I recently listened back to the media training questions I asked one client and couldn’t believe how many times I began my questions with that word. That’s the one word, more than any other, I need to reduce. So thanks for the useful reminder and for commenting!


  36. By Wendy Vreeken:

    Too many to list here, but I believe the phrase “going forward” deserves special recognition. Gag worthy. Also, the word ironic is constantly misused, and I still hear people say that they “could care less” when they really mean they “couldn’t care less.” While I’m at it, there is a difference between the meaning of the word “lose” and the meaning of the word “loose.” See what you started?
    I always enjoy your posts!

  37. By Brad Phillips:


    Hah! Sorry to have started this…I had no idea how much the idea of “hated words and phrases” would have resonated, or I would have written the post years ago! I’ll write many more “going forward,” I promise. :)


  38. By Doug:

    Many of my pet peeves are already covered here; utilize is at the top of the list. Another common error that troubles me, a great deal, is when people spell y’all as ya’ll. I’m certainly not naming names here. You know who you are. Y’all is a contraction for you all and even we Southerners (notice the capital S) learned that proper grammar rules call for an apostrophe to replace missing letters in a contraction. You all loses the o and the u and becomes y’all – not ya’ll.
    Always love your posts, Brad.

  39. By Ninja Dave:

    “Do what?”


    “You know”. I am apalled when a speaker begins or ends every sentence or comment with, “You Know”. I am an avid fan of NPR. During their recent fund raising weeks, the announcers were off script and making ad lib comments about the station, its good works, etc. Without scripts these announcers could not speak intelligently. I counted 17 “You Knows” and twelve, “Uhms” in a one minute conversation.

  41. By Kara:

    “Ensure” vs. “Insure”
    They are NOT the same! Look it up people!

  42. By kelly:

    I’ve just returned from a holiday trip and this email was among the many in my inbox. Knowing how much I enjoy your monthly newsletters, I saved it as a reward for getting through all of the others.

    My list of hated words and phrases is long. Some that have been mentioned here are included, with “disrespect” as a verb sitting high on the list. Going forward also drives me crazy because we all know we can’t return to the past. My others are:

    1 – hit the ground running
    2 – ramping up
    3 – I know, right? (Hello, you agree, why do you need to confirm, right?)
    4 – shelter in place (the new one for emergency situations example: Students were told to shelter in place when the storm began. My issue is if a student is standing my a window, the student should move to a safer area, not shelter in place)
    5 – any time a sentence ends in a preposition – what are you looking for vs. what are you trying to find or what do you need. what is that for vs. how do you use this or how is this used….?
    6 – went missing – A local animal shelter will post info on missing animals on their social media sites. These animals all went missing and I cringe each time I see the post. An example would be Fido went missing from the Cedar Park area. I think Fido was last seen in the Cedar Park area reads/sounds much better. After all, Fido could still be in the Cedar Pak area.
    7 – um
    8 – Keep me posted – this is actually my husband’s pet peeve phrase, but I thought I’d throw it out there.

  43. By Brad Phillips:

    Kelly —

    My newsletter is your “dessert?” What a huge compliment — thank you! I’m glad you greet the content on this blog so warmly.

    and thank you for adding some terrific (or awful) terms to the list! You’ve identified some particularly annoying, jargon-ridden, and even potentially dangerous terms (such as “shelter in place.”) Going forward, I may plan a follow-up post that includes some of the words and phrases that drive readers nuts. I’ll keep you posted.

    Truly, thank you for being a loyal reader and contributor.


  44. By Terri:

    I googled “phrases we hate” just to see who else is going to Ralph if they hear “at the end of the day” one more time. It may be here more than once but I only did see it once, which surprises me. However, I agree with almost every other phrase and word mentioned here, except “you guys.” I’m a ‘California in the 60’s girl’ and I think that’s why it doesn’t bother me – I’m just too used to it.

  45. By Lauren:

    I think “you guys” is a regional thing. I’m from the midwest and its not a big deal to address a mixed group as “you guys”. It’s like saying “you all” or “y’all”.

  46. By Sam:

    Well any woman or girl who is ok with the word ‘guys’ being used for themselves are either ignorant or stupid. The word guys is exceptionally used for men, and I don’t want to be lumped in with men as you wouldn’t call a room of men “you girls”..sadly Lauren you’ve been brainwashed

  47. By Dan:

    Here are a few more for your list

    But the worst has to be GENDER. It shouldn’t even be used unless you’re talking about grammar because it applies to words not living things.

    While I’d like to see YOU GUYS go away, I feel that way because it’s as hackneyed as LIKE and YOU KNOW. The plural of you is YOU

  48. By Tomas:

    I think we’re stuck with Gender because after Bruce Jenner, people will no longer accept the notion of sex being determined by nature. They prefer something that seems arbitrary such as La Mesa being feminine (though not female) in Spanish.

    I’d also like to see words like “chairperson” go away but the most annoying phrase for me is: “I could care less.” Really? Than why is that significant?

  49. By Vicky:

    “Touch base”. How about we just call each other.

    “Have a good one.” Have a good what? Even adults at retail outlets are using this now. I think if I hear someone say, “Have a good day,” then I might be inclined to high-five them.

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