A few more words and phrases that (literally!) annoy the hell out of me

I had such a great response to my earlier post on ‘The 10 words and phrases I hate the most’ http://bit.ly/1S9uERs that I thought it was worth revisiting the topic and adding a few more. Every day I seem to find myself cringing in the face of yet another overworked cliché, grammatical infelicity or pointless euphemism.

So here are my latest pet hates. As before I welcome all your comments and additional suggestions.

Hard-working people/families

It seems that every politician on the planet is targeting its policies specifically at these people. But who are they? Is this a tribe made up of everyone except people on benefits? In which case it seems a bit of a discriminatory approach. Or are we expected to perceive a subtle distinction between people who work really hard and those who put in minimal effort. In which case where do we draw the line? Whatever – it’s time to put hard working people and families out to grass.

Let’s take it offline

This puzzling, geeky little phrase is an American import now thrusting its way into the boardrooms of corporate Europe. Nobody seems to know exactly what it means – Google it and you’ll see what I mean – but it seems to get deployed in meetings whenever the chairman gets the sense that a debate is moving outside its agreed confines. We used to use a motoring metaphor – ‘let’s park that one’ – for the same purpose. Logical, really, that we now prefer the metaphors of cyberspace – but irritating all the same.


…as in ‘my head literally exploded with the pressure’ or ‘he was literally on fire with enthusiasm’ or ‘we literally died laughing’. No it didn’t and he wasn’t and you didn’t. These are all metaphorical statements and, as such, are diametrically opposed to literal truth. Let’s preserve the highly specific meaning of the word and not just squander it as an all-purpose intensifier.


This one really bugs me and I have heard it used by a lot of educated people who really should know better. An incident is an event or occurrence. Incidence is the rate at which something occurs: for example, there is a high incidence of lung disease in heavy smokers. There are no such things as incidences and never will be.

I must be honest…

Must you really? And am I to assume you are being dishonest the rest of the time when you don’t preface an utterance this way, because that’s what you seem to be implying.

Passed/passed on

I abhor this euphemism (which seems to reference some kind of shadow world beyond our own) marginally more than I dislike its sister phrase ‘lost their lives’, which suggests a degree of carelessness. Can we really not talk about death anymore? What’s wrong with ‘he died’ or ‘they were killed’? They work quite well for me.


These days people talk about being devastated when they are a bit upset or mildly inconvenienced. The true meaning of the word is ‘completely destroyed’. If we are completely destroyed when we get a parking ticket, what language is left to describe how we feel when we are attacked by a shark or diagnosed with terminal cancer? Let’s keep our powder dry, people!


As in ‘I love football but my partner is completely disinterested’. This makes me want to scream, literally (and I do mean literally!) Disinterested is a subtle and elegant word that means ‘unbiased’. Not to be confused with ‘uninterested’, which means just that.


Heard this on BBC TV recently, which seems as good a reason as any to withhold my licence fee. The verb ‘to pronounce’ gives rise to the noun pronunciation, without the ‘o’. Just as, similarly, denounce gives rise to ‘denunciation’ and not ‘denouncement’, as I heard a Radio 4 reporter say, to my astonishment, a few days ago.


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