The English language is on life support, hanging on by a mere thread of spellchecks and the last few surviving attention spans. It has endured years of abuse by strict character counts and the butchered slang of popular culture. Social media is ruthless, and the distorted lingo of funny GIFs and trending memes is slowly seeping into our everyday language.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, Marie Clair of the Plain English Campaign explained, “young people create their own language because they don’t want to sound like stuffy adults.” But what happens when adults start using teen-speak? Who’s left to preserve the English language? And if the majority of people are using these phrases, does that make them valid?
Listen, I get it. I, too, appreciate abbreviations to speed up a text. I also understand that symbols have been used as a form of communication since the prehistoric days of cave painting. But what started as harmless cyber-slang might be morphing into a much greater beast.
When we use these phrases, we risk appearing less intelligent than we are. Take the viral math girl from TikTok, for example. She asked some really interesting questions about the origins of math but because she used some of the following phrases, she was bashed by the internet. These words are unintentionally dumbing down perfectly intelligent people. And as much as people’s opinions of you shouldn’t matter, ultimately they do. They dictate the way we interact with the world and the way the world interacts with us.
People’s perception of you is based on your behavior. While you shouldn’t care what anyone thinks, I think it’s safe to say that most people do. Either way, consider this. Is popular culture stripping you of your individuality? Society is a machine. We enter the machine as unique individuals with the ability to think and speak for ourselves, until we’re spit out the other end as clones, mimicking cringy phrases that don’t actually mean anything.
Luckily, we don’t need an Ivy League education to be taken more seriously. If you want to sound smarter and more individual, consider removing the following words and phrases from your vocabulary.
If I hear this word one more time, I am literally going to kill myself. See, it doesn’t mean what you think it means. If it did, I’d be dead.
I’m not sure when or why this phenomenon began, but the word “literally” seems to be more contagious than the global pandemic.
Two years ago, I was out to dinner with three of my girlfriends. We hadn’t seen each other in weeks so we had a lot to catch up on. I sat there, cringing, as the word littered our conversation. Every other sentence, there it was.
“I literally died of embarrassment,” Jess said, as I wondered whether I, too, see dead people. “I literally can’t drink tequila since that time in Cancun,” Tara laughed, as she took a shot of Patron. “My boss literally loves me,” Brittany smiled, which I would have believed without the unnecessary emphasis.
“Do any of you realize how much you say ‘literally’?” I snapped. “If I hear it one more time, I’m going to lose my mind!”
For the rest of the night, we couldn’t get halfway through a story without stopping because the snake of a word had, once again, slithered its way through someone’s teeth. It was as if their ears were deaf to it.
I’m not sure why this word is so triggering for me. I suppose, maybe, because it’s just another example of society saying something they don’t actually mean. Using the word “literally” over and over, completely out of context, makes intelligent people sound like your stereotypical valley girl or meathead. Not only is it unnecessary, but it also dumbs you down.
What’s worse than literally? “Literally, I can’t.” While I had assumed we could blame yet another annoying expression on the Kardashian family, I recently learned that “Literally I Can’t” was a 2014 hip hop song by Play-N-Skillz, featuring Redfoo, Lil Jon, and Enertia McFly.”
That doesn’t mean the expression should have taken off, or lingered long enough to see 2021. It wasn’t even tolerable back in the day. In fact, Billboard ranked the song 1st in “The 10 Worst Songs of the 2010s (So Far),” adding, “You’d think that a song this reactionary and lame-brained wouldn’t even be produced in 2014, and thankfully, Play-N-Skillz’s opus to garbage viewpoints was not a hit. Congrats to the guys for topping one list, though!”
I’m not sure why our culture glorifies stupidity. Maybe it’s supposed to be funny. After all, I used to get a kick out of Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie’s performances in The Simple Life. However, viral expressions like, “literally I can’t,” paint an ugly picture of United States’ youth, particularly women. We seem ditzy, self-absorbed, weak, and unable to speak for ourselves or voice our opinions in a sophisticated, original way.
For generations, women were saying, “I can’t” because they weren’t legally allowed to. Finally, we’re seeing strides in gender equality and women’s rights, and yet here we are robotically muttering these mindless expressions. For what? To sound cool? To stay relevant? To be funny?
Please, please, please. Stop saying you can’t because literally, you can.
According to Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job,” this word “doesn’t convey a high degree of intelligence.” She told Business Insider, “You’ll be seen as far more credible when you’re direct and speak professionally.”
The same goes for all abbreviations bred out of bad reality TV and social media influences. Don’t even get me started with “aggro,” which I think means aggressive. Yes, people really do use this word. Unless you’re from Australia and allowed to say things like “arvo” and “bevy,” it’s a bad look.
If not to sound smarter, fine-tuning your language will invite individuality into the way you express yourself. Popular culture prides itself on brainwashing us with whatever it wants us to believe is the best or coolest way to behave. We are constantly, and often unknowingly, impacted in the way we dress, act, speak and spend our money, which is why we all end up dressing and acting, spending and speaking the same way. These words and phrases put us in a box. They taint our individuality whether we like to admit it or not.
If we have freedom of speech, why sound like everybody else?
I know, I know. This one is like, really difficult. It’s a parasite clinging to speech that happens as naturally as taking a breath. So, how do we eliminate it? By simply taking a silent breath. I can’t help but wonder whether this relentless filler came from an urgency to speak quickly or, what we would consider, more naturally.
The word, much like literally, is unnecessary jargon and as meaningless as all the others. A movie isn’t “like really good,” it is really good. You’re essentially giving your mouth more work.
Um, uh, & you know
While these fillers often go unnoticed, it’s a good idea to banish them if you’re involved in public speaking. They stick out like sore thumbs during presentations and speeches. Remember, these words are marking the natural pauses in your speech; they shouldn’t be announced. They don’t serve a purpose, nor do they drive your dialogue forward. In fact, fillers might actually distract your audience from understanding the message at hand.
Practice in your everyday speech to determine which is your filler of choice — we’ve all got one — and then make a note each time you’re tempted to use it. Bringing awareness to the word will allow you to eliminate it.
So, here’s something I just learned. Supposably is a real word, entirely separate from supposedly. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, supposably means “as may be conceived or imagined” and is the adverb form of supposable, which means “capable of being supposed or conceived.”
With that said, dictionary.com will redirect you to the root word “suppose” and Grammarly will underline it in red.
The word you’re probably looking for is “supposedly,” which means “allegedly.” Unless you plan on trying to convince your listeners that supposably technically is a suffix of suppose, just use the word supposedly. You may not prove to be a genius, but you also won’t sound like a six-year-old.
Save yourself the embarrassment and drop the IR. Regardless means what you think irregardless means. Irregardless doesn’t mean anything at all.
No. God, no. There’s so much wrong with this expression, I don’t even know where to begin. Typically spoken by the city dwellers of New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Illinois, “you’s guys” is the delinquent cousin of you guys. Unfortunately, being from Boston means I’ve run into this family member more than once at a bar in Southie. I usually duck and hide.
…when it isn’t ironic. People mistake irony with coincidence far too often. Irony is “a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.” Coincidence is a “remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection.”
Think of the Alanis Morrisett song.
An old man turned 98, he won the lottery
and died the next day.
That’s both ironic, and shitty. Now let’s say he didn’t die, but his best friend Joe won the lottery on the same day as this dear old man. That’s not ironic. That’s just an unbelievably unlikely coincidence. See the difference?
I could care less
So, you do care?
No, I don’t.
Are you sure about that?
I don’t care at all.
But you could care less?
So you couldn’t care less?
Isn’t that what I said?
Conclusion: Why You Should Care More
The words you use to articulate your thoughts are directly correlated to the way people perceive you. Let’s face it. Everyone passes judgment, whether it’s unconscious or not. First, we judge a person by how they look. Then, it’s how they speak and what they say.
As columnist Douglas Rushkoff said in a 2013 New York Times opinion piece, “Without grammar, we lose the agreed-upon standards about what means what. Without grammar, we lose the precision required to be effective and purposeful in writing.”
A poor or stunted vocabulary could either attract the wrong individuals or deter the right ones. Misusing words and idioms might give a bad impression. You want people to take you and your ideas seriously, don’t you?
The easiest way to improve your vocabulary is by reading books. You can also make an effort to slow down your speech and listen carefully to what you’re saying. Sometimes, we speak so fast that we don’t even realize the mistakes we’ve made. This is when we’re more likely to use the fillers like and um.
Language dictates your professional and emotional intelligence. Don’t let these ten phrases hold you back at work or in social settings. As tempting as it is to use popular slang, speaking well will never go out of style.