Five Loathsome Phrases I Wish People Would Stop Using

I could scream sometimes.

There are certain words and phrases, whether they’re overused or misused, that just make me crazy.

For example, some people absolutely hate the phrase “it is what it is,” claiming it to be nonsensical pap. However, I find it to be a nice Zen summary of Freud’s “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” It means “this is the situation, and you’re not going to be able to change it.”

But there are other loathsome phrases that make me want to tear a dictionary in half.

Give Back

Big bag of money. Sure wish it was real.

Why don’t you give this back to me? The economy is troubled.

People say this to mean “do good for the community and other people.” But it doesn’t really count if you didn’t receive anything from that community. “Give back” implies you’re returning the favor. But too many people use it to mean they want to do something nice for someone else, somewhere else.

A rock star who wants to give back should donate money to his school’s music education program. A movie star who wants to give back should give money to her hometown’s theatre scene. A rock star or movie star giving money to disaster relief 2,000 miles away is not “giving back,” they’re “helping.”

Words to use instead: Give, donate, help, lend a hand, chip in, serve, support, contribute, bestow.


Stands for You Only Live Once. Said primarily by 20-somethings about their tattoos, their funny hats, their soy chai lattes, and their participation in charity-based fun runs. Rarely used for sky diving, base jumping, rock climbing, or other activities where the “once” can actually be realized.

Ervin McKiness, a 21-year-old aspiring rapper, once tweeted YOLO about driving drunk, and then died minutes later in a car accident. Irony, thou art a bitch.

The phrase needs to be reserved for people who are actually doing daring things that could result in their death. Not trying a new brand of vodka in their apple-tinis.

Words to use instead: I actually miss “No Fear” now.

An Historic

This is just wrong. The “an” is used incorrectly, and I want to Hulk-smash something whenever I hear it. There is no right usage, there is no version of this where “an” comes out on top. Just because you hear the newscasters on BBC World News say it doesn’t make it correct, it makes them wrong. Pompous and wrong.

There’s a simple rule we all learned in first grade: Any word that starts with a vowel sound is preceded by ‘an.’ Any word that starts with a consonant sound is preceded by ‘a.’ This means “an apple” and “an orange” are correct, as well as “a unicorn” and “an MBA” (because it’s “yew-ni-corn” and “emm bee ay,” not “oonicorn” and “mmmm-bah.”

So, unless you’re a 1950s Cockney chimney sweep, the word referring to things long ago is “h-h-historic,” not “‘iss-toric.” Since the word starts with the H sound, you precede it with an ‘a.’

Words to use instead: ‘A’

In This (Troubled) Economy

Everyone knows the economy has been in the toilet since 2008, unless you just woke up from a six year nap on your giant pile of money. We don’t need to be reminded that it’s troubled, sluggish, recovering, or a problem of any kind. We already know.

It needs to stop being an excuse, a reason we can’t/won’t do things, or included in every single article and press release that even hints at money. It has almost become its own word, inthistroubledeconomy.

I’m not saying you can’t talk about the economy, or that it’s not a valid reason for some things going the way they are. Just stop using that phrase. You make me want to throw pennies at you.

Words to use instead: None. Just see if you can write about why sales are down without alluding to the economy at all. Blame Jenkins from Accounts.

Lean In

What the hell does this even mean? I know it’s Sheryl Sandberg’s book about women and leadership, but the phrase itself is about as vague and generic as “it is what it is,” but much less helpful.

Times are difficult? Lean in.

Struggling in this troubled economy? Lean in.

Wind blowing in your face, threatening to knock you over?

What did Nutrition Hulk say when he was asked “Fat out?”

Maybe it’s because I don’t know what it means that makes me hate this phrase, but — nope, I just checked; I hate it regardless of whether I know what it means. It’s throwaway advice that’s too easy to spout and provides about as much support as a “Hang in there, Kitty. Friday’s coming!” poster.

Words to use instead: Any other nonspecific form of encouragement.

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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency He co-authored four social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (3rd ed., 2017, Que Biz-Tech), and The Owned Media Doctrine (2013, Archway Publishing). Erik has written a weekly newspaper humor column for 10 papers around Indiana since 1995. He was also the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.