Sometimes we say or write things and don’t realize how ridiculous they sound to those who hear or read them. Or we say or write things that simply don’t make any sense.
I’m referring to phrases such as “I thought to myself” or “first annual.” Or people who talk to answering machines as if they were talking to a person. And blah, blah, blah.
Yes, that last one is among the phrases we hear so often, and it makes little sense other than to fill the air.
I hear it at work far too often. Several months ago I was at a newspaper conference, and three people during panel discussions included the important message of “blah, blah, blah” at the end of a sentence.
I’ve reached the point where I count the number of “blahs,” and I’ve found that most people use three or five. Now if they shared something more important than “blah,” I might be too interested to count.
What does “blah” really mean? I know they intend to convey that there is more they could add, but they’re really telling me that the rest is unimportant, boring and dull. In other words, blah. So why say it at all?
I’m sure you know the phrase, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Here is another: “If you don’t have anything to say, don’t say anything.”
Another great phrase along that line is “and so on and so forth.” It’s sort of blah. But do we really need “so on” and “so forth”?
Those are the latest in a list I’ve been keeping of things people say or write that, if you really think about them, are silly phrases.
For example, people say, “I thought to myself.” Who else could they think to? You can think something. Or you can say something to yourself, which apparently I do, because my wife used to accuse me of talking to myself. But a thought is a thought, not a spoken word. Some say, “I thought out loud.” That makes a little more sense because it gives the impression the person was thinking something and actually spoke it, which many times is dangerous. Of course, a person could just say, “I said.”
When people or groups hold an event for the first time, they like to call it “first annual.” I guess it gives the impression it will continue. Annual is something that is held every year. It can’t be annual until it is being held for the second straight year.
Then there is “past history.” Is there really any other kind of history?
When someone breaks his arm, why do people say or write, “He had his arm broken”? Did the person ask someone to break his arm, or was it broken?
A record is a record. So why do so many sports people fall into the trap of saying “new record”? There can be an old record, but unless you’re releasing a new vinyl music album, “new record” doesn’t make sense. I feel like a broken record harping on that one.
The same goes for perfect 10-0 record. Is there an imperfect 10-0 record?
Many of these dumb phrases are kept alive by sportswriters and broadcasters. I spent my early years in journalism as a sportswriter. Tony Zonca, one of the sports editors those many years ago, harped on avoiding incorrect and senseless phrases and clichés. Occasionally he still sends emails to me with some of his pet peeves:
“Why, at the end of games, do play-by-play guys redundantly insist on saying, left to go?” he wrote recently about the time remaining to be played in a game. “It’s either to go or left, but not both. And they love to say, the Lions win by the final score of . If they won, it is certain the score is final.”
He shared some others, including a young 21-year-old, 3 a.m. in the morning, an offensive center in football, a big edge and a good success.
Think about those phrases. Are those qualifiers necessary? Not in quality writing or proper speech.
If you really want examples of the silly things people say, listen carefully to messages left on answering machines. Some people talk as though someone is on the line: “Hi. How are you? Um, I guess I’ll try back later. Or you can call me. OK?”
Some people send an email or leave a voice message and begin “How are you?” Is the person really expecting an answer to the question? If I return that call and get that person’s voice mail, perhaps I should start, “Hi. I’m doing well.”
There are many other examples of dumb things we say or write, but I’m running out of space. So, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
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Contact Harry Deitz: 610-371-5004 or [email protected]