Eschew Obfuscation

Every conversation with my new boss includes the phrase, it is what it is approximately once every 3 or 4 minutes. It’s like a tic or something. I have to bite my tongue so I don’t inadvertently say it with her or just slightly ahead of her. Because it’s gotten really easy to tell when an it is what it is is about to spill out.

Every conversation with my last boss included the phrase you can only do what you can do approximately once every 3 or 4 minutes.

The boss before him liberally peppered every conversation and every speech with at the end of the day. I used to write his speeches and never once did I put that phrase in there.

Is it a prerequisite to have a catch phrase if you’re in senior management? And if so, do they have to come up with the catch phrase themselves or are they assigned a catch phrase when they accept the position? Are they obligated to use it a certain number of times every day? Does anyone know?

Because, it is what it is doesn’t even mean anything. It totally sucks as a catch phrase. Mae West’s why don’t you come up and see me some time was a good catch phrase. Resistance is futile is a good catch phrase. Even d’oh is not a bad catch phrase…for a cartoon character.

At the end of the day is a very bad catch phrase. It  always makes me think of going to sleep because that’s what I do at the end of the day. It doesn’t make me want to perk up to listen to the rest of whatever the guy has to say.

And ya, I really can only “do what I can do”. I certainly wouldn’t dream of trying to do more than I can do. Thanks for the validation.

I’m just saying is another pointless phrase. It says to me, “Don’t pay any attention to what’s coming out of my mouth. It means nothing. I’m just talking for the sake of talking.”

I’m not going to lie to you or I’m going to be perfectly honest/frank always convinces me that the person is about to tell an untruth. Because what is perfect honesty anyway? And why do they need to tell me that they’re not going to lie? I usually assume when people are talking to me that they’re not going to lie. Should I assume that this particular person lies all the time, except when he/she expressly tells me they’re about to be perfectly honest?

Other phrases that, in my opinion, really, really never need to be spoken out loud are:

  • It goes without saying
  • When all is said and done
  • Don’t get bent out of shape
  • When push comes to shove
  • Make no mistake
  • At this point in time
  • Be that as it may
  • With all due respect
  • I know where you’re coming from
  • Keeping you in the loop

When people throw these phrases around it makes me think they have nothing original, interesting or useful to say. Because if they did, why wouldn’t they want to get right to the original, interesting and useful information instead of padding their conversation with all this vapid fluff?


41 responses to “Eschew Obfuscation

  1. hehheh, my new boss speaks in acronyms.
    my husband and i bond over our hatred of I’m not going to lie / to tell the truth. it makes me think that the speaker has spend a lifetime lying to me and is only NOW telling me the truth.
    i’m going to listen for catchphrases today.

  2. I have a coworker who constantly expresses her belief that things are “tickety boo”. It makes me a little bit crazy.

  3. Darn, I say some of those things. But then I’m not a “boss”, so it’s OK 😉

    I try not to, but when it comes to giving people financial advice, believe it or not, sometimes those phrases “fit”.

  4. Haha!! You caught me on a few of these! (But, like Ken, I’m no “boss,” so perhaps I get a free pass?). There’s another one: “get a free pass”! And oops, Ken’s “believe it or not” is another one! They’re everywhere … .

    My pet peeve sayings include “absolutely.” Rings false to me. And naturally, “To be perfectly honest” rings false too.

  5. I had a boss who kept telling me I would eventually “get up to speed” so I started pretending I was Slow Motion Man everytime I talked to him. I wasn’t at that job very long.

  6. When you look at the big picture, it pays to keep your options open when it comes to describing the lay of the land.
    As well, from a strategic perspective, all parties have to be at the table in order to ensure transparency; especially during a transitional time when it is absolutely imperative that we manage change with a view to the path forward.

    Gawd – I’ve been in the PS too long… all of that makes perfect sense.

    Hey – if you want some fun, use “be that as it may” when francophones are listening… it freaks them out.

  7. I think you need to “think outside the box” on these pet phrases. Most of them are slightly better thought pauses than, “um” or “er”.
    They allow the speaker to think of what they are going to say next without allowing the listener any chance to break in with a thought of their own.
    As such they show the mind power needed by all management types as they “push the envelope” in an effort to clarify things for the minions.
    I expect now you will do what you can do to respond to these with greater appreciation.

  8. Listen, XUP, you need to understand that for some people this is a way of life. All things considered, (and this is just my opinion), people like you and I are just better communicators.

    I don’t think it was one of Orwell’s tips (which would eliminate the type of verbal tics you describe), but one technique I learned in grade 6 was not to use the same word twice in a paragraph. In fact, I try to avoid using the same word (aside from the unavoidable* ones) in a whole blog post.

    – RG>

    *For example, normally I’d rephrase to avoid using “avoid” and its variant so close together. Ew, I used it three times… *edit*

  9. Meanie – Most government types speak in acronyms. It’s very disconcerting to sit in a meeting at a new place and it’s like they’re speaking a foreign language.

    J – That’s a very east coast expression. I heard it a lot in Halifax.

    Ken – No, it’s never okay. And please tell me how any of those phrases “fit”? What possible difference could they make to any conversation except to drag it out?

    Julie – Well, I’m sure we all use them sometimes. It’s just weird when they or one of them becomes a regular part of a person’s speech.

    Skylark – Nice to hear from you! You make an excellent slow-motion man. I think it’s one of your more endearing qualities.

    Trashee – It freaks me out, too. Your entire comment has freaked me out.

    Bandobras – Sorry, I’m not on board with any of this. I prefer to lick the envelope and tape up the box.

    Grouchy – You used “the” 4 times and “I” 6 times.

  10. I’m going to be perfectly honest has such a car salesman sleaze to it. I immediately distrust anyone who utters those words. Like you said, I assume everything else they say is lies including the thing about which they’re being perfectly honest with you.

    The only tic I recall from a former boss is “So” preluding most every string of sentences from her mouth. Sometimes it was just a “So”, but often she’d get stuck on this stuttering string of “So, so, so, so, so, so” and I’d want to bump her so she could get on with what she had to say.

  11. I can’t stand : Think outside the box.” Really the outside of the box…is now the friggen box.

  12. I like using the phrase – “If I might be frank with you…”
    I usually follow it with a series of truely unkind statements about the person that I am talking to.
    I know that I won’t be talking to them again!

  13. My financial guy says “kinda thing” every minute or two. As in, “I’d like you to draw up a will kinda thing because you never know when you’re going to get sick kinda thing and you don’t want to leave your loved ones trying to sort through a mess kinda thing.”

    My last boss liked to say “literally” all the time, as in “I literally exploded when I heard that,” and “we were literally beside ourselves!”

  14. Everytime I hear “Step up to the plate”, it almost always refers to an onerous, impossible task. Requiring lots of sweat and overtime, that you’ll still get in shit for, regardless of how things turn out.

    Expectation = Another word to scold us with. It’s what we were supposed to have met, when we were asked to step up to said plate.

    Followed by: “This is unacceptable”.

    I suppose this magic word is supposed to make us quake in our boots. Like bad puppies being scolded for weeing on the bed.

    Wonder what they expect? :

    “Oh, no, Jacques! Surely not the dreaded U-Word! (Please!) Don’t say the U-word! (I promise I’ll be good!)” 😮

  15. I was kidding when I said it was okay that I use them 😉

    Using phrases like that is a bad habit, to be sure, however we all do.

    For example, I use “when all is said and done” when I’m comparing mortgage rates.

    “When all is said and done, you’ll pay less interest on a variable rate mortgage over the long term than a fixed rate.”

    The “said and done” part is referring to reaching the end of the term and amortization.

    Despite the increased financial knowledge of customers, many still don’t know what “term” or “amortization” is when it comes to mortgages. I find it’s easier on the customers to hear phrases like that, then saying “When you reach the end of your amortization…” It makes them understand what we’re talking about.

  16. Sorry – a quick followup:

    I don’t mind the phrases that much. I tend to tune them out when people are speaking them. I understand they’re using them to make themselves heard.

    What bothers the ever-living-sh!t out of me is people saying the letter “O” instead of saying the number “0”.

  17. If I hear “leverage the existing knowledge base” one more time, I will go stark, raving mad. My other pet hate: “core competencies”. Don’t we want employees who are skilled at something rather than merely competent? Why aren’t they “core skills”?

    Oh, and thanks for the offer, but we did end up finding a Gryffindor robe for Rachel.

  18. You tell ’em, XUP! I go to sleep at the sound of those phrases. I sometimes catch myself saying “fabulous” in response to anything or for no reason at all. I’d like it stricken from my vocabulary, please.

  19. I should send you a picture of a T-shirt we have. Printed on it is:
    Having said that,
    In any event,
    At the end of the day,
    It is what it is.

    My Sweetie’s co-worker’s assistant had a bunch of them made up for people to wear to that guy’s 40th birthday party. So I’m thinking you would probably hate that guy. (And don’t tell onthecurb how often I start sentences with “So.”) The only one of all of these that bothers me is “Having said that.” That one’s got to be the worst. It makes me want to kill people. Oh and I say THAT all the time. Hmmmm.

  20. i know an moron, she is a lifer at her position and never will be management and i think it is for this ‘catch phrase’ alone. she said “whatchyamacallit’ during almost every sentence she speaks. no shit. its enough to make you want to spork your eyes out

  21. Dr. Monkey – I’m in your corner, dude. We’re on the same page.

    OTC – Well, bless my soul! As I live and breathe, if it isn’t old Curby! Nice to see you out and about. “So” is a strange one. It’s not even a catch “phrase”.

    Grouchy – That reminds me of something I saw on a TV show once. One chick says to the other chick, “Quit staring at me, bitch!” The other chick says, “I wasn’t staring at you, bitch. My eyes were just pointed in your general direction.”

    Cedar – I know. Inside the box is the new outside the box, really.

    Lebowski – No one works harder at being a social pariah than you do, my friend. There ought to be a prize…which you can then reject unceremoniously.
    Zoom – You have a financial guy? Wow! Do you ever want to tell him to stop saying “kinda thing”? I’ve know a couple of people who keep saying “you know” after every sentence. I’ve said to them I KNOW, I KNOW, I KNOW already.

    Friar – It’s simple. They expect you to step up to the plate and not stepping up to the plate is unacceptable. It means they’re giving you money and in return you have to eat their shit or else they’ll be really pissed off. Even though there doesn’t seem to be much they can do about it. Which makes them even more pissed off. You’d better pull up your socks, keep your head down and try to fly under the radar a bit.

    Ken – Tuning out is exactly the problem. People tune out these phrases and often everything that comes after them. That’s not communication anymore. If you said “when all is said and done” to me when you’re talking about something as important as my mortgage, I would think you’re trying to bamboozle me. I want you to tell me exactly what all this stuff is that’s going to be said and done. That’s like telling someone, “okay, you sign here and yadda yadda yadda eventually you’ll own this house.

    Trashee – I think that Ken needs a good whoopin’. Go get ‘em!!

    Alison – OMG. These are horrible. Especially “leverage the existing knowledge base.” I’m assuming that sort of means “let’s suck our people dry instead of hiring anyone new.”??

    LoLa – Yes, everything today is awesome, fabulous, tragic, brilliant, devastating, traumatic, etc., etc….but I did a post on hyperbole once already. Go look it up if you’re interested. You should be able to find it by searching hyperbole.

    Geewits – I start a lot of sentences with “so” or “anyway”, too. Not in full-blown tic fashion or anything, but I know I do it. I guess that co-worker must have used those phrases a lot for them to wind up on his birthday t-shirt. I wonder if he stopped after that?

    Jobthingy – Does she just forget the actual word for everything or does she just throw whatchyamacallit into the middle of sentences for no reason at all?

  22. In the car just this morning after dropping off the kids at school, I was making a list of phrases I hate.

    I absolutely hate when creative writers start off a sentence with “You see,…”

    If you’re such a creative writer make it visual and stop wasting words telling me to do what I can’t help but do naturally. You talk, I’ll visualize! That’s how it works!

    At the end of the day I just want to shoot myself. (That was not a cry for help.)

  23. Don’t get me started!
    I think “At ten end of the day” originated with the Ontario NDP. At one time, they all used it, and it spread to most politicians, regardless of party affiliation.

    I could expand this while topic with phrases that are redundant. “In a week’s time” grates on me. What do you think a week is, if it isn’t time?

    Not always, but sometimes, you can say “whether” without adding “or not”.l

    And it goes on and on and on…

    I’ll stop now before I really get started. Just sayin’ is all.

  24. When I first started reading this post I was nodding because my husband started saying ‘it is what it is’ a while ago and it is so irritating…but then you got to ‘i’m not going to lie’ and I could feel myself blush! Guilty!!!! I rarely (if ever) lie but I do say ‘i’m not going to lie’ ALOT!

    Eeek the other thing I realized I say is ‘Guess what?’ before I tell a story, which I happen to find very very irritating (my kids say it all the time…gee I wonder why?).

    I don’t like any of those catch phrases, they are all annoying and I’m embarrassed to admit that I use a few of them.

    Great post.

  25. “At this point in time” drives me insane. I just want to say to the person “It’s either ‘at this point’ or ‘at this time’! PICK ONE!!”

    While we’re on annoying verbal hiccups, “irregardless” also makes me want to stick a fork in someone’s neck.

    I also go along with those who dislike “management fad buzzwords”. “Paradigm” was my favourite, since I am convinced that almost everyone I knew who used this word had no clue what it actually meant!

    Maybe I am just having a “red hat moment”…or perhaps someone “moved the cheese”! 🙂

  26. XUP – That’s what YOU may think but the hundreds of clients I’ve served over the years have benefited from the way I explain things, and Yes, that means using little phrases like that.

    If it helps them understand what they’re getting into, then all the better for them.

    I use that phrase when I have fully explained the product and its features. Come see me some day; you’ll understand what I mean.

    I do agree with you that too many sales people or advisors use those phrases in place of explaining; I do both.

  27. Oh yes. I am guilty of using both highfaluting literary phrases and ridiculously fabulous hyperbole (hehe). In fact (there’s one), I often mix them together for humorous purposes. When I talk in public performance, this actually comes out as entertaining (I’m told). Another verbal tic I have is “actually.” In other words (there’s another one-hee!), I am addicted to transitory words and phrases. Fortunately (there’s another one), I am a living example to my ESL clients.

    The worst thing I say that gets on my own nerves is “stuff” and “thingie” because my aging brain can’t remember half of the terms I want to use. The worst thing that my SIL says is a dismissive “it is what it is.” It makes me want to kill her right there.

  28. No, now they all do it on purpose to be annoying. And after I pulled out the T-shirt to read it, I put it on and am wearing it now just to be goofy.

  29. I had a boss who would trail off after a story into, ‘So yeah, so no, so yeah, so no, so yeah…’
    And here’s the kicker – if there was an interruption (a phone call, a delivery, a call to arms) she would come back when normal routines resumed to deliver the line. I generally found it endearing, but I find it mildly ridiculous to have a conversation ‘around’ something instead of ‘about’ something. Maybe that’s just me.

  30. Amy – When you get into “creative” writing. I find it annoying when the author writes “it was an indescribable sight/sound/feeling” for that very reason. If you are incapable of describing stuff — no matter how powerful, then you shouldn’t be a writer maybe?

    Bob – “Don’t get me started” is indeed another good one.

    Betsy Mae – Well, if I’ve stopped one person from saying “Guess what” before every story or “I’m not going to lie” before telling a lie, then my work here is done. My daughter always says “Can I ask you a question?” before she asks me a question and then I always say, “you just did”

    Daniel – Or how about they just say “now” instead of at this point in time? Red hat moment I haven’t heard, but cheese references were very popular after that book. I haven’t heard that in a while either. But then I don’t live in Welland.

    Ken – Okay, okay, I believe you know what you’re doing, but I’m too scared to come and see you now. You’ll bedazzle me with your fancy talk and next thing you know I’ll own Park Place.

    Marie – I say (and write) “stuff” a lot, too. And probably for the same reason.

    Geewits – Let the t-shirt annoy for you.

    Stella – ‘so yeah” is very popular with teenagers. My daughter even adds it to the end of her texts because apparently that’s how you indicate the conclusion of a conversation (like “roger over and out”)

  31. Whoa, late to the party but here goes.

    My 5 year old cannot tell me anything without saying “Guess what?” or “Dad, can I tell you something?”

    I challanged her not to say that before she told me what she wanted to say. After about 2 minutes of trying she couldn’t do it and gave up and said she would try in the morning. She just couldn’t do it. It must be hard wired into our brains.

    Anyway, she practiced all night and in the morning, she just came out and said what she wanted to say, good girl! Now I need to break her of the habit of saying “like” every other word.


  32. Betsy mae – Also, “I’m not even kidding” shows up a lot!

    Eyeteaguy – This party never ends, so don’t worry. I’m still reading and responding to recent comments on posts posted months ago. I think it’s kids’ way of getting your attention instead of poking you with a stick before they ask or tell you something.

  33. My personal pet peeve is “To make a long story short”, especially when all hopes of the story actually being short evaporated 20 minutes ago — if that’s the short story, I’d hate to see the long version.

  34. You should try sitting in court sometime. In the procedural courts where I used to appear in half a dozen or more cases in a morning, it was routine, once you had done your bit and the sheriff had made his or her judgement to say “Obliged, m’Lord” as you left the bench. Even if you had just had your ear chewed off and been refused each and every thing you had asked for. Ridiculous thing to say and at least one sheriff I knew, if he had been particularly mean to you and you still came out with the standard phrase, used to raise an eyebrow and say “Really?”

  35. Louise – I know. I always say “too late” ..sort of under my breath but audible.

    Loth – My second government job gig was with the federal court and I DID have to sit in court often and we were always obliged to address the judges as m’Lord. I’ve never had more trouble spitting out a word in my life. At least I never had to add “obliged”. Thank you was mandatory though even if you’d just done something for him — like brought him a 200 pound book.

  36. i love the way you used “vapid fluff”!! i think that some people have no idea how to get to a root of a problem so they fall back on easier phrases like you’ve listed.

    i’m pretty sure that “make no mistake” was born with george dubbya bush, or maybe that’s just when i began to notice it.

    many people i know despise “it is what it is” and i find myself saying it sometimes when i have nothing else to say (which isn’t often, lol).

    i really like how you observe humans and our quirky ways and then write about it to provoke good conversation. maybe i should move there. my husband is actually looking into getting dual citizenship, his dad just got his or reinstated his if that’s even possible.