Misused Words and Phrases



The English language is full of persnickety quirks, the most despicable of which are buzz words. Words and phrases we’ve decided work better than plain speech. Why say what you mean when you can just toss out a phrase that says what you want, but in such a vague and convoluted manner than people spend so much energy figuring it out that they can’t challenge you? Genius! Or how about those words we overuse, or misuse? Oy, da pain!

So here, for your reading pleasure, are some of the words and phrases that drive this logophile right up the wall. Literally!

Can you unpack that for me?

Nope. I can’t. Literally. What’s more, I don’t want to. I don’t like packing or unpacking. And what does packing have to do with anything? Whatever happened to the plain and simple, “Would you explain that, please?”


Folks, we all know what this means. Fired. Laid off. Out of a job. You can’t take away the devastation by giving it some innocuous name and hoping nobody challenges you on it.

Baby bump

Seriously? It’s not a bump. It’s a baby. Way better than a bump.

Drill down

Sounds painful. And for most of us, it is painful. Literally.

That’s just so random.

Um…huh? What does that have to do with…well, anything?


NOT a word. Regardless is a word. Irregardless is saying it’s regardless of being regardless. Can you say department of redundancy department?


You know what’s not awesome? Using awesome all the time. To quote one of my all-time favorite movies: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Webster’s defines awesome as something that’s:

Expressive of awe; deeply reverent


Awful (as in full of awe) or terrifying

We’ve literally stripped the meaning and power from this word by using it to refer to everything from Kleenex to chewing gum to you name it. Friends, storms are awesome. GOD is awesome. Your new shoes or car or the movie you just saw? Yeah, not so much.


Okay, if you use it the way Gollum does, then that’s fine. But as with Awesome, people have taken to calling everything precious. Let’s check Webster’s again. If something is precious (in a positive sense), then it’s of extreme value or high price. In fact, it’s of such extreme value that a suitable price is hard to estimate. Now, ask yourself, does the thing you just called precious fit that bill?


Ooo, just makes me wanna throw something. I mean, could you be any more dismissive?


Especially when said in that dumb gravelly voice and drawled out. Makes me want to go deaf. Literally.

And my all-time hated word, the one that literally everyone uses wrong, I mean, they literally can’t figure out how or when to use it…

Yup, you guessed it.


But rather than go into detail on this one, I’ll let Captain Literally explain!


Your Turn

How about you? What words or phrases make you grind your teeth?


46 Responses to Misused Words and Phrases

  1. Avatar
    Ron Estrada May 29, 2013 at 4:36 am #

    Oh my, where do I begin?

    “My God” or the modern version “OMG.”

    Anything with “alicious” attached.

    “Hater.” Referring to anyone who disagrees with your opinion.

    Which leads to the dumb phrase of the decade, “Haters gonna hate.”

    “Dude.” Women are never dudes. Just to be clear. Got it Jillian Michaels?

    Speaking of Jillian, who invited “Rad” back to the party?

    Okay. I’ll let someone else have a turn. You’re next, dude.

    • Avatar
      Nicko April 1, 2019 at 2:16 am #

      Alex Honnold brought back ‘rad’

  2. Avatar
    Karen Schravemade May 29, 2013 at 4:48 am #

    Dude! This is hilarious!! LOL – literally!

  3. Avatar
    Sally Bradley May 29, 2013 at 6:18 am #

    Off all those you listed, Karen, the unpacking one is my least favorite. It’s everywhere now. Pastors talk about unpacking a concept. Ugh. Let’s just study it. Or examine it. Glad my pastor husband hasn’t picked up on that one yet. Or I’d have to literally–nope, not gonna invite Captain Literally to take me up on it! 😀

  4. Avatar
    Tamela Hancock Murray May 29, 2013 at 6:23 am #

    Karen, I love this post! Literally! Well, not really. I didn’t kiss the computer screen after reading it. 🙂

    I’m annoyed by the gradual change of, “I couldn’t care less,” to “I could care less.” I’m not sure why people don’t realize this change means they are no longer saying that they care nothing about the topic. Unless of course, they mean they COULD care less about the topic. Maybe a lot less. I suppose they couldn’t care less that they misuse the phrase.

    • Avatar
      Shulamit May 29, 2013 at 6:30 am #

      Tamela, this is so funny! According to the time stamps, you posted your comment, while I was writing mine.

  5. Avatar
    Shulamit May 29, 2013 at 6:28 am #

    Oh, SO many. But a particular misuse that bothers me:

    “I could care less.”

    Folks, the phrase is, “I couldn’t care less.”


    As for “repurposed” I think you have the meaning wrong. See: http://www.buzzfeed.com/stacylambe/26-ordinary-objects-repurposed-into-extraordinary for some excellent examples of repurposed items. That is, items used to do something quite other than their original purpose. “Repurpose” is a word in the “reduce, reuse, recycle” line of concepts.

  6. Avatar
    Cheryl Barker May 29, 2013 at 6:42 am #

    One that drives me crazy is “informed”, as in something informed my decision, etc. For some reason, it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard to me — maybe because it’s so overused and also sounds kind of pretentious. By the way, hope I didn’t sound pretentious while saying pretentious! 🙂

  7. Avatar
    Rick Barry May 29, 2013 at 6:47 am #

    Karen, I realize my comment will sound so random, but this was such an awesome post! I mean, it literally drilled down into the core of abused words and, irregardless of their popularity, exposed them as the huge problem they are, rather than some tiny baby bump of misuse. To me, it was so precious to see how you unpacked this bundle of truth. Sure, some bloggers sit back and ask “Whazzup?” or utter a resigned “Whatever.” But I conclude that no writer who heeds your timely advice will ever end up repurposed.

    Lol! Please forgive me. I couldn’t resist the challenge to use each offensive expression in a single, odorous paragraph. I don’t always comment, but I regularly enjoy reading your blog, Karen. Your thoughts and advice are extremely helpful. Literally. 😉

  8. Avatar
    JoAnne Potter May 29, 2013 at 6:58 am #

    Let’s see, and this comes from jr high school paper editing:
    ‘nice’ and ‘boring’ and ‘disgusting’ and anything else that gives an opinion rather than describing.

    • Avatar
      Shulamit May 29, 2013 at 9:02 am #

      A similar overuse is “stuff.” Used to refer to any item or concept for which the speaker or author lacked a specific term or description.

  9. Avatar
    Robin Patchen May 29, 2013 at 7:02 am #

    For me, I think it’s the overuse of the word “like.” But I like have, like three teenagers, so I like hear it, literally, like all the time.

    My kids also love the words “haters” and “random.” These words don’t bother me coming from my kids’ mouths. (When I was their age, everything was radical.) But when adults use those words–nails on a blackboard.

  10. Avatar
    Ann Shorey May 29, 2013 at 7:11 am #

    Karen, Preach it, sister! Thanks so much for this post. 🙂 The one that causes me to clench my teeth is “baby bump”–especially when applied to pregnant, unmarried celebrities. We’re supposed to be thrilled for them?
    I know this is slightly off-topic, but grrr. Drives me crazy.

  11. Avatar
    Deb Kastner May 29, 2013 at 8:06 am #

    Hmmm…yep. I just used a variation of the word “precious,” but I’m pretty sure that counts in the “correct” department. I call my granddaughter “Preciousness.” Okay, so that’s not technically a word, or even a derivative, but it fits my little sweetheart–and I swear I don’t say it like Gollum.

  12. Avatar
    sally apokedak May 29, 2013 at 8:09 am #

    Well, I think, “Let me unpack that for you,” was fresh when it started–it just became a cliche quickly.

    I don’t like a lot of the verb-izing of the nouns. Let’s dialogue, for instance. Sometimes those work and sometimes they just irk me.

    But what a great video. Thanks for the introduction to Captain Literally.

  13. Avatar
    Emily R. May 29, 2013 at 8:11 am #

    This may be a regional thing, but I know some people who say “whenever” instead of “when”. For example: “Whenever I was 10 I did such and such.” I think to myself, “What? Were you 10 more than once?” 🙂

  14. Avatar
    Gail Sattler May 29, 2013 at 8:15 am #

    I have to add one more – OF.
    She should of known that – NO!!!! She should’ve known that!
    What is the word “of” doing there? It doesn’t even make sense if you think about it. But the sloppiness of the pronunciation has made it common for people to use “of” instead of “have” and then they write it that way.
    They should have known better.

  15. Avatar
    Andrea Nell May 29, 2013 at 8:36 am #

    I have to admit I was thinking through my speech habits to make sure I don’t use these words to the annoyance of others. 🙂 I think I’m safe. I have a few others that rub me the wrong way.
    Over use of “totally” is totally intolerable. I mean, it totally drives me crazy. Like, totally, dude.
    Another pet peeve is “right?” phrased as a question as a response to show agreement with a statement. This post was so funny. Right? It totally captures the misuse of those words. Right?
    Thanks Karen. I always love reading your posts.

  16. Avatar
    Andrea Cox May 29, 2013 at 8:59 am #

    Hi Karen! I really enjoyed this article. You’ve hit the nail on the head. The buzzwords that get me are ‘like’ and ‘dude’. Yes, they sometimes make it into my vocabulary, but I tutor middle school students and hear it all the time. I do try really hard not to say them. When I do mistakenly utter them, I think, “Oh no! I’m turning back into a teenager!”


  17. Avatar
    Mike Manto May 29, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    Lately I have been hearing among the younger crowd (we have teenagers) an expansion of the misused term “like” into the even more annoying “I was like”, often combined with “you know”. This is typically tacked onto the end of an already incomplete and vague sentence. To which I reply with, “No, I don’t know because you haven’t said anything.”

    What disturbs me even more than the tortured English is the lack of clarity in thought and expression. It’s as if they are reluctant to speak in clear, declarative sentences that will unequivocally say what they mean. (If they know what that is.) I’m beginning to wonder if there isn’t some kind of general retreat underway from clear, direct thought and speech.

    • Avatar
      Rick Barry May 29, 2013 at 9:58 am #

      Mike, some of the younger set seem to shy away from education for fear of looking too intelligent in the eyes of their peers. So sad to see.

      As for clarity of thought in expression, that might, like, run the risk of offending somebody who, well, you know? And yeah….


      • Avatar
        Mike Manto May 30, 2013 at 9:23 am #

        Exactly. Unfinished sentences that trail off, then end with “yeah”. I’m hearing more and more of that. It’s drives me bonkers!

        And have you heard people starting to use “ask” in place of “question” or “request”. As in: “What is the customers ask?” or “Do you know what the ask is..” It the latest verbal tic starting to make the rounds. When I hear that it feels like (proper use here!!) acid being poured over my skin.

  18. Avatar
    Karen Ball May 29, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

    Tamela, LOL!

    Shulamit, I agree that the way “repurposed” is used isn’t accurate, but that is what many employers say now rather than “he was fired” or “he was layed off.” He’s become “he’s been repurposed.” ICK!

    Cheryl, my reading your comment informed my reaction, so no, you didn’t sound pretentious at all!

    Deb, SO glad you don’t say it like Gollum!

    Rick, your attempt at an odorous (or even malodorous!) paragraph is a screaming success!

    Robin, like, I SO totally, like, get it!

    Andrea, I know, right? That just drives me nuts!

    Mike, your comments are spot-on.

    Thanks, all. You gave me many laughs today!

  19. Avatar
    J.D. Maloy May 29, 2013 at 12:39 pm #

    Omg, The Princess Bride is literally one of the most awesome movies ever made. To all the haters out there whazzup with you? Don’t you know a precious flick when you see one? Can you unpack that for me? Whatever.

    Karen, if this made you gag I apologize, I just couldn’t resist! Thanks for the giggle today 🙂

  20. Avatar
    Jan Lazo-Davis May 29, 2013 at 1:51 pm #

    Great Blog! However – I did not see anyone catch the bad title:“Misued Words and Phrases”

    Misused vs misued?

    That said – we do have a tendency to use words incorrectly and misspell them as well.

    • Avatar
      Shulamit May 29, 2013 at 1:55 pm #


    • Avatar
      Steve Laube May 29, 2013 at 2:02 pm #

      Title fixed.
      Don’t hire Steve as your poorfreader.

  21. Avatar
    Peter DeHaan May 29, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    You literally had me at the title.

    (Thanks for address one of my pet peeves.)

  22. Avatar
    Carol McClain May 29, 2013 at 2:33 pm #

    So many of these phrases, Karen, I hadn’t heard. Unpacking? And repurposed I’ve only heard in reference to furniture.
    I despise: a smile on his face (where else would it be?). And in regards to smiles–can we just smile broadly or wryly or some other adverb. Why do we always give a smile. Last, to heave a sigh–so many characters heave sighs. I can’t sigh without heaving.

    Not quite the everyday expressions, but when I read them–I cringe.

  23. Avatar
    Pat Jaeger May 29, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    Great post, Karen. One of my pet peeves is the use of double negatives. “I didn’t do nothing” is one of my favorite ones to dislike!

  24. Avatar
    Scott Smith May 29, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

    “On accident” makes me crazy. Please. Unless you’re in kindergarten, this is unacceptable. Jim knocked the glass off the table BY accident, not ON accident.

    I’ve also heard another atrocity creeping into the language and sadly I’ve heard it fall from the mouths of otherwise very intelligent adults: “all the sudden”. What? All of a sudden, I had the irresistible urge to vomit when Carla said “all the sudden…”

  25. Avatar
    Rachel Muller May 29, 2013 at 5:49 pm #

    This was fun to read!

    In matters of speech I despise the words “totally”, “cool beans”, and “like” as in “like totally!”

    When it comes to literature nothing bores me more than to read a chapter filled with big fancy words that no one uses on a regular basis–unless they are rocket scientists (I mean that ‘literally’). Reading a long string of complicated words takes me back to 10th grade chemistry class…not a place I want to visit again.

    Give me a novel written by Tricia Goyer or Dan Walsh anytime!

  26. Avatar
    BooRay May 29, 2013 at 8:32 pm #

    Ouch! I used to hope one day to grow up and become a writer …I am just happy when I can get words on paper to express a complete thought …and put together a few paragraphs that look like they belong that way. People do use words in strange ways I have noticed …especially in different parts of the country ….and in each part of the country they are completely convinved their local way is the “right” way! That sure does bug me because I know the mid-western way is the only “right” way! Any way after reading this column think maybe I should crawl back under my rock instead of starting that blog before I embarass myself further!

  27. Avatar
    Leslie May 29, 2013 at 10:02 pm #

    Thanks for an awesome post, Steve.

    Sorry, I just couldn’t resist! 🙂

  28. Avatar
    Kip April 18, 2014 at 9:34 am #

    ” and then? “

  29. Avatar
    bunny July 13, 2014 at 6:53 am #

    Precious. I call my grand daughter in different pictures and now reallize that is a wrong thing to be saying. Corrected by my college son whom sent this to me. Thank you

  30. Avatar
    Misused Words and Phrases February 1, 2016 at 9:40 am #

    I would add misused words like maybe and may be, every and versus everyday, some time and sometime.

    Maybe – perhaps or possibly (as in something might happen),
    may be – has the ability to happen (as in implies something can happen).

    Every day – means each day individually,
    everyday – (acts as an adjective) means: frequent or often.

    Some time – an extended period of time. Here the word “time” acts as a noun and the word “some” acts as an adjective describing time.
    Sometime – at some unspecified point of time. Sometime is an adverb telling when.

    If I have some doubts I use dictionaries. Hope this helpful information…

  31. Avatar
    Jorge May 16, 2017 at 10:21 pm #

    White Paper- Since when has any technical or medical document been printed on a paper that is not white? You would call that a flyer, brochure, pamphlet, mailer, etc.

    When did we start using this redundant useless expression? What was wrong with referring to a paper as just a paper?

    Momentarily – One word that is almost always (99%?) used incorrectly by everyone, including journalists. For those who care about its true meaning, it does not mean in a moment, as in “We will return in a moment” but rather describes something of temporary nature, not lasting or permanent.

    The use of very + a superlative – As in “The dinner was very delicious”. Well, it can be delicious but not very because delicious is the most it can be, in terms of how tasty it can possibly be. If you want to use very, then it should be followed by an adjective which is not a superlative. “The dinner was very good” or “The dinner was wonderful”.

  32. Avatar
    Bill Norton April 10, 2018 at 6:04 am #

    Got a few of them:

    1) Reach out. I don’t mind if you are literally (ha ha) reaching out to grab something or you are doing a mission of mercy, such as reaching out to the poor and oppressed, but please stop using it as a substitute for “contact,” such as “After lunch, I will reach out to my supervisor and find out what I should do next.”

    2) Using question marks at the end of statements, such as “We don’t process orders in Tennessee?” or “I don’t get it?” or “We’re out of time?” UGH! I almost prefer all caps to that! (And there’s no question about that!).

    3) Make sense? Although the intentions of the utterer of this phrase are probably good, it comes across as mildly condescending, as if to say “I understand it.Don’t you?”

    • Avatar
      Christina Uduwerage-Perera May 31, 2018 at 8:10 am #

      Using rising tones at the ends of sentences arrived in the UK via Australian soap operas. Arrrrrgggghhhh!

  33. Avatar
    Christina Uduwerage-Perera May 31, 2018 at 8:07 am #

    I hear Americans on TV say “… off of..” for example “What did you get that reclaimed lamp off of?” It drives me loopy. I wondered if this could be a regionalism and also whether it irritates other people? Is it just me? The phrase is catching on in the UK.

  34. Avatar
    Ron September 5, 2018 at 8:29 am #

    This is Great! I love it – I was literally (lol) bustin’ my gut LOL’ing !
    Can’t stand the “so” “way” and “like” mess especially when used in the same sentence or uttered at the same time: I am so way doing that. WHAT ?!
    and that’s another one. . . . “What ?!” or – I’m like,,, What ?! Give me a break! I’m like – whazzup with these people ?! Here’s a good one: High Level…. whateverrrrr. “This is just a high level overview….” OMG.
    As mentioned previously, Reach out – and I’m like: Please Stop it! ! ! LOL
    Here are some other common and poorly used “buzzwords” we hear all the time that make me want to puke when I hear them now – literally. Metrics and multitasking. Here’s a whole string of them: I’m like so totally engaged in this work errort. BARF !!! Deliverables, gain traction,, it is SO on point….
    Get on the same page – like Really ?!! Ping me – omg…… Increase the footprint. Seriously?! oh – and Talking points. How about it’s the rhetoric and the narrative; the rhetoric and the narrative – oh PLEASE…… Deep dive,,, Ramp up,,, “Low hanging fruit” how genius. . . . and one of the best ones: Going Forward….. Sorry, was just “on a roll.”
    Seriously though, this made for a good laugh.

    • Avatar
      Ron September 5, 2018 at 5:40 pm #

      OK – I’m like,,, wow! I was so into this that I misspelled a word! Work effort – not errort – LOL. Way to go Ron.

  35. Avatar
    Jay January 15, 2020 at 1:27 am #

    When you ask someone a question and instead of saying no, they reply, “Thank you.” Not no thank you, just thank you. It doesn’t make sense to me. What are you thanking me for, it was a yes or no question? Total pet peeve. I think it is an attempt to sound snobbish but makes them just sound grammatically incorrect.


  1. A Few Misused Words and Phrases - The Steve Laube Agency - May 2, 2016

    […] years ago Karen wrote about some “Misused Words and Phrases” but today I thought I add to her great list with some that I’ve found troublesome […]

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