Things People Say

What’s a laundry list?

What a Load.

Do people really make a litany of things they need washed and dried? It’s a funny term if you think about it. And of course I thought about it. I Googled it and learned that it came from a bygone era when people did exactly that.

Now, I feel better. It’s good to at least be conscious about the terms I’m using. It got me thinking about other phrases people often use/misuse. My favorite has to be “intensive purposes.” I hear that all the time. “I mean, for all intensive purposes, it’s the same thing.” What’s an intensive purpose? It’s “intents and purposes.”

Btw, I’ve spent HOURS on Common Errors in English Usage, learning about the most routine language errors we make — it’s a gold mine.

I’m sure there are explanations behind a lot of these but here are other things I hear people say all the time. Some of these are idioms and such from the English language. And some are just curious or stupid things people say.

  • “That’s neither here nor there.” Where is it, then?
  • He told them to go to hell “but not in so many words.” It was probably a lot more words than that. Three is pretty concise.
  • It’s “his big beef.” Sounds dirty. I’m Hindu, though. We have no beef with anyone.
  • “With everything going on this time of year…” This is exclusively a term for the Holidays — that simultaneously fast and slow period. You can totally drop this one around, say, December 20th, and it’s an excuse to get out of anything. But try using it around like August. What? Nothing is really going on in that month. But if you say it quickly enough, you may get away with it. It’s like “obviously.” “And obviously, I can’t go out with you on Friday and then Saturday I’ve got plans…” Do it quickly. People generally accept it.
  • It’s the best movie “of all time.” You can’t really say that. Not because you haven’t seen all the movies in the world but for the precise reason that the future hasn’t happened yet. You can really just say the best movie “so far.”
  • I told someone the other day I’ve seen The Social Network three times. He asked, “Was it good?” No, you moron. It sucked. That’s why I’ve collectively dropped six hours of my life watching it.
  • Why do comedians end their shows with, “That’s my time, folks”? No, it’s really the audience’s time. There’s like 300 of them and one of you. How presumptuous. Haven’t these guys heard of weighted averages?
  • “No news is good news.” But “all publicity is good publicity.” How can this be?
  • If we say “bless you” after a sneeze to ward off demons, we really should consider saying something even stronger after farts.
  • Someone I know actually thought that whole milk contained 100% fat. “It’s whole milk.” OK, that’s actually kind of smart because maybe “whole” is a misnomer here but did he really think it was ALL FAT? Like it’s just a solid block of lard?
  • To lazy people, folks will say, “Stop sitting on your ass.” Where are they supposed to sit? On their hands? I got news for you. If you sit on your hands, your chances of getting any work done at all diminish significantly.
  • We were “hoping against hope.” Why would you hope against hope? Isn’t hope the one thing that’s supposed to help you?
  • I “hate her guts.” Really? What did her spleen do to offend you?
  • “Good for you.” We say that when it’s something we would never do ourselves, e.g., your friend says, “Yeah, and then I got so frustrated with my boss over that Power Point that I just gave my two weeks’ notice and quit.” “Good for you.” We’re really thinking, “Yikes.” (The only thing is that I really did this.)
  • You “showed your true colors.” But it’s always bad. I mean, outside of the Cyndi Lauper song, it’s never good. You could dive in front of a swerving car and save your friend’s life and the next day you honestly forget to leave a tip for a waitress and your friend will say, “You showed your true colors, didn’t you?” Dude, I just saved YOUR LIFE yesterday.
  • “Just” is an interesting word. “What do you want to drink?” “Just water.” “Are you guys dating?” “No, we’re just friends.” That’s strange. Isn’t water one of the basic human necessities? You’re much better off imbibing that than Coke. And isn’t friendship vital to existence, as well? I mean, all of my friendships have outlasted my relationships. I think it should be the other way around. “You guys friends?” “Nah, we’re just married. We’re definitely not friends.”
  • “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” Not true at all. After cancer, you’re usually weak and maybe even bald. Perhaps you’re mentally stronger but you’re certainly not physically so. I find this phrase just insulting.
  • “What’s up, killer?” Really? That’s not a very nice noun of direct address. That’s a capital offense. Ironically, you couldn’t get away with a lesser crime. “What’s up, rapist?” Not OK.
  • Why do restaurants write “Prices Subject to Change Without Notice” on their menus? Of course it’s without notice. How would that work otherwise? Anytime there’s a modification, everyone who’s ever eaten there gets a text message? “Look at that, honey. Dynamite rolls are now $2 more expensive at that joint we dined at three years ago two time zones away.”
  • There are certain words that only work in certain contexts. Like “predominantly.” You know that if you hear that word, the phrase “black neighborhood” is probably coming after it. It’s like parentheses. “Predominantly… black neighborhood.” Or “wreak havoc” — you can’t wreak anything else and if you have havoc, you’re wreaking. Chores happen around the house; if you’re outside, they’re errands. Or stow — you can only stow on a plane. Stow your luggage or stow your cell phone. You can’t stow on the ground — you must be 30,000 feet in the air. Now you can GO to the sto’… in a predominantly black neighborhood.
  • I’m a “little ADD” sometimes. Yes, there are degrees to diseases but it’s still a dichotomy. You either have it or you don’t. You can’t have a little ADD any more than you can be half-pregnant.
  • He’s a “complete fag.” Not only is this offensive in this day and age, but what’s an incomplete fag? Someone who doesn’t… (OK, I’m trying to keep this PG-13.) Would this be a fa? Like he’s the 4th step in the octave? Then again, Julie Andrews is a gay icon. Hmmm…
  • I’m “an only child.” The indefinite article implies there is more than one. It should be “the only child.” But then, that sounds like Jesus or somebody. (Why write “somebody”? There’s no one else like Jesus.)
  • “Put your best foot forward.” There are only two. It should be “better foot.”
  • He “has his head up his ass.” How’d he get it there? And which way did he go? If he went forward and passed up his penis, that was pretty dumb.
  • “Peace in the Middle East!” as a sign-off… Why don’t we just shout other impossible things? “Deriving Euclid’s 5th from the other 4!”
  • “She had the balls” to say… No, she didn’t. She might’ve had the ovaries to say it, though.
  • I think I’m going to start saying that I don’t want to put all my “sperm in one basket.” I don’t have any eggs.
  • Ever notice that Jews call it “schlepping” but blacks call it “hustlin’”?
  • People reveal too much information when talking. This woman the other day, for no reason at all, began a sentence with, “My ex-husband…” I don’t need to know that. So, I hit her back with, “I was talking to my parole officer the other day and…”
  • Why do restaurants call those little plastic eight-ounce things “courtesy cups”? If they wanted to be polite, they’d give us a regular glass. These should be called “obligation cups.”
  • He “swears by it.” I always picture somebody standing next to something and yelling, “Ass! Bastard! Dick! Bitch!…”
  • A friend of mine was in a car wreck on his way to a party. When he got there he told everyone what happened and everyone said the same thing: “You’re really lucky.” You know who he’s not as lucky as? Everyone else at the party who didn’t get in a car wreck.
  • My favorite phrase has to be Assume the Best. But sometimes we misuse it. I was telling my friend Andrea, “You know, if a girl doesn’t call me back I just presume maybe a family member is sick or her dog died or something. Assume the best, you know?”
  • What does “extraordinary” mean? How is something great if it’s EXTRA ordinary?
  • “Every corner of the globe.” The globe doesn’t have corners. It’s round.
  • I read about a murder that was a “hate crime.” Aren’t all murders “hate crimes”? Isn’t that a pre-req? You don’t hear of too many mild disdain crimes.
  • Isn’t “deceased” a double negative? He doesn’t stop any more?
  • How is killing yourself “selfish”? Could anything be any less of the self? Isn’t it doing things for yourself? It’s the complete opposite. It’d be like… “He loves cake.” “Really, how much?” “Anytime he sees one he pisses all over it.” “Hmm… doesn’t sound like he loves cake.”
  • “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” You know what other percentage you miss? 0%. In fact, because zero is the denominator, it’s undefined. You miss 23%. And 46%. And any other number.
  • Whenever I hear someone give me that quote, “Shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars,” all I think is, “Wow. This person does not understand astronomy.”
  • “Help yourself.” If you think about it, it’s no different from “Screw off.”
  • Why do we call them “amusement parks”? They’re mostly for kids. And kids can’t really detect subtlety. And that’s what amusement is. You become amused at something subtle. Besides, you really don’t feel amused on a 100′ tall roller coaster on which you lose your stomach for three minutes. They should be called Hysterical Parks.
  • My friend the other day said, “I was unpopular in high school.” I corrected him. “No. That implies people knew who you were. You were just ‘unknown.’”
  • Why do vets call it “WWII”? That’s four syllables longer than just saying, “World War Two.”
  • True story: When I worked in a lab, our experiment went awry and the janitor got pissed, telling us that he spent “the better part of an hour” cleaning it up. Now, I don’t know what that means. Is that 31 minutes or 59 minutes? And if you’re mopping crap up off a floor, isn’t the best part of that hour 1 minute?

Guess it all comes out in the wash.

That’s my time, folks.

Rajiv Satyal is a standup comedian and grammarist.

Originally published at