Pet Peeve Poll: Have your say



There are three types of Glossophilia post that always seem to attract particular interest and attention.

The first is the topic of slang and colloquialisms — the more obscure, quaint, and rude the better. We all want to know where, when and why these strange little words and expressions found their way into the colorful world of our informal banter.

Next is the Great Trans-Atlantic Divide. It’s not the wide ocean that really separates us, nor the fact that we can’t agree on a common system of measurement, DVD-watching or which side of the road to drive on. No, what distinguishes the American from his British counterpart is what comes out of his mouth — and I’m not talking about accents. We speak differently, therefore we think differently. Discuss.

Finally, who doesn’t have a long laundry list of pet peeves when it comes to written and spoken English? No matter how linguistically lofty or proudly proletarian we are when it comes to our choice of words, we all love to prod and pick at those who, like, talk different than us or get on their haughty high horses; the language we all share is an endless and fascinating source of entertainment and amusement, especially when we’re identifying that which bugs and annoys us in other people’s prose.

My father and a couple of his friends (all notably British) have started a list of their favorite pet peeves; here are some of them below, with a few of my own thrown in. (Those marked with an asterisk are heard more in British than American English.)  Which of these, if any, annoys YOU most? Please add your thoughts and your own pet peeves in the comments section below.


“Overkill” expressions, which feel the need to introduce superfluous words unnecessarily for extra effect:

  • “Track record” – when “record” will do
  • “For free” – when “free” will do
  • “Kick start” – when “start” will do
  •  “Head off to” – instead of “go to”
  • “Each and every” – when “every” will do
  •  “At this moment in time” – when “now” will do


The pompous word choice:

  • “Boasts” –  a favorite expression of realtors: “The kitchen boasts a quarry tiled floor”
  • “Commences” – instead of “starts” or “begins”
  • “Concludes” – instead of “ends” or “finishes”
  •  “Deduce” –  instead of “understand” or “gather”
  • “Thus” – in informal speech or e-mails


The wrong word choice:

  • “Literally” used when “figuratively” is meant
  • “Coruscating” used to mean harshly critical (confusing it with excoriating), when it really means glittering
  • “Prevaricate” used as a synonym for “procrastinate”, when it really has the sense of deviating or diverting by deceit, not necessarily by delaying anything
  • “Alternate” instead of “alternative” – as in “Please suggest an alternate route to the airport”
  • “Presume” instead of “assume” – as in “I presume you’re taking an umbrella?”


Ugly misuse/abuse:

  • “You and I” used when you and I are the objects of the sentence: “He gave it to you and I”
  •  “Both” applied to two people about each other – as in “they both hated the other”  instead of “each hated the other” or “they hated each other”
  •  “Like” instead of “as if” or “as though” – as in “He felt like he was drowning”
  • “However” instead of “but” used halfway through a sentence – as in “She didn’t like him, however she went out with him anyway”
  • The difference between “which” and “that”, which isn’t that hard to understand!
  • “Whomever” used as a subject instead of “whoever” – as in “Whomever likes this apple can have it”
  • “In regards to” instead of “with regard to”, “in regard to”, or “as regards”. And why not use “about”, “concerning”, or “regarding”?
  • “Could of”/”should of” instead of “could have”/”should have” – as in “I could of easily beaten him in that match”
  • “I could care less” instead of “I couldN’T care less”
  • “Only” before the wrong word – as in “I can only talk to you for a minute” (ie. I can’t sing or dance to you)
  • “Sung” instead of “sang” in simple past – as in “I sung the hymn this morning”
  • “All of” when “all” will do – as in “I ate all of the cookies in the jar”
  • “To transition” (ie. “transition” used as a verb) – as in “We will transition over to a new platform”


Marketing/corporate BS:

  • As well as some of the pompous words above, prolific use of any of the following, often in combination: “synergy”, “leverage”, “first ever”, “going forward”, “transition” (used as a verb), “out-of-the-box thinking”, “content streamlining”, “strategize”, “bandwidth”, “result-driven”, “paradigm”, “multi-platform”, “functionality”, “empower[ment]”, “top-down”, “e-tailers”, “online assets”, etc.


Meaningless sentence- and gap-fillers (most of these are British-isms):

  • “Like” used for no apparent reason mid-sentence (or at the end of a sentence by Brits) – as in “She, like, went ballistic”, or * “Have you been to the shops, like?”
  • * “Basically” – as in “Basically I told him to go”
  • *  “I mean” / “You know” used for no apparent reason mid-sentence.  Peter Snow of Channel Four says it in every sentence.
  • *  “To be honest” or “to be honest with you” starting every sentence
  • * “If you like” ending every sentence
  • * “Do you know what I mean?”  used to fill gaps between sentences

Just …. ugh:

  • “First ever” (so awful it gets two entries in this post)
  • “Was like” meaning “I said” –  as in “I was like ‘You do!'”
  • “Thusly”
  •  “With respect, …” or “With all due respect, …”  before launching an attack on someone you think is an idiot

Update, during Superbowl lights-out:

  • “Change it up”
  • “Space” meaning an abstract area of thought, discussion or virtual territory – as in “You’re invading my personal space”


12 thoughts on “Pet Peeve Poll: Have your say

  1. Alison

    Oh Louise — you hit the JACKPOT! I simply can’t pick which of these makes me craziest. “Like” is high on the list. Please add: “Her and I went to the movies together” (alternatively “him and me”). Glad you are posting these to facebook — I have failed you as a Glossophilia contributor.

  2. Barrie England

    My objection to lists like these is that they are blind to context. They don’t distinguish between what belongs to Standard English and what belongs to other dialects. They take no notice of whether the vocabulary and grammatical constructions occur predominantly in the written or the spoken language. They take no account of degrees of formality. They consider only experiential meaning (what the words denote and connote). They ignore interpersonal meaning (the way the words reflect and establish relationships) and they ignore textual meaning (the way the words are used to create a coherent text). They merely reflect the prejudices of those who compile them.

    Now, we are all entitled to like or dislike whatever we choose, in language as in all else. But what we are not entitled to do, unless we are trained to do it, and unless others have sought our advice, is to say that words and constructions in common use are wrong or incorrect. As the philologist Henry Sweet said over 100 years ago, ‘In considering the use of grammar as a corrective of what are called “ungrammatical” expressions, it must be borne in mind that the rules of grammar have no value except as statements of facts: whatever is in general use in a language is for that very reason grammatically correct.’

    Here are my comments on a few items from the list.

    ‘You and I’

    When the first person singular personal pronoun is in coordination with a noun or another pronoun, and is in object position, it’s certainly grammatical to use ‘me’, as in ‘He gave it to you and me.’ However, as the authors of ‘The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language’, Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey Pullum, ask ‘why should we simply assume that the grammatical rules for case assignment cannot differentiate between a coordinated and a non-coordinated pronoun?’ They point out that such objective use of ‘I’ ‘is used by many highly educated people with social prestige in the community; it should be regarded as a variant Standard English form.’

    ‘Like’ meaning ‘as if’

    ‘The Cambridge Guide to English Usage’ reports that ‘the British National Corpus contains hundreds of examples of these constructions, making “as if” the commonest sense of conjunctive “like” in British English as in American English.’

    ‘Which’ and that’

    Does this refer to the belief that integrated (also known as ‘defining’ or ‘restricted’) relative clauses should not begin with ‘which’? If so, it has no basis. As Huddleston and Pullum say, ‘integrated “wh” relatives with non-personal heads have been occurring in impeccable English for about 400 years. Among the most famous cases are . . . “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s” (the King James Bible, 1611) and “a date which will live in infamy” (Franklin D Roosevelt’s often misquoted remark about the day of the 1941 Pearl Harbour attack).”’

    ‘I could care less’

    Steven Pinker deals with this in the chapter entitled ‘The Language Mavens’ in ‘The Language Instinct’. The point, he says, is that the way in which it is typically delivered is sarcastic, and he suggests that a good paraphrase might be ‘Oh, yeah, as if there was something in the world that I care less about.’

    ‘Like’ as a filler

    ‘Like’ is just one of several hesitators that we all use in everyday speech. Any objection to such use can only be that it is used by people we don’t, um, like.

    ‘Like’ as a reporting verb

    Used to introduce direct speech, it is, according to the OED, of US origin, and, in the OED’s explanatory note, ‘Often used to convey the speaker’s response to something, or to introduce segments of an ongoing conversation between two or more speakers. Sometimes also used to introduce a gesture or facial expression evocative of the speaker’s feelings.’ The OED’s earliest citation is from a song by Frank Zappa in 1982. The earliest prose citation is from ‘The New York Magazine’ in 1986.


    ‘Transition’ as both a transitive and intransitive verb is first recorded in the OED in 1975, when it was in use in the United States aeronautical industry. When used intransitively, it means ‘to make or undergo a transition (from one state, system, etc. to or into another); to change over or switch.’ Is there any other verb with quite the same meaning?

    1. Louise Post author

      Thank you for your amazingly well-researched and comprehensive comment, which is fascinating and enlightening.
      Of course, I don’t claim to be a scholar, expert or linguist, by any stretch of the imagination. And whether or not some of these words, expressions or usage forms are technically or historically legitimate, I’m afraid I still find most (although not actually all) of them grating to my ear — as I think they do to many others’. The title and theme of the blog post is “pet peeves”, and sometimes things are peevish, even if they are correct. But you’re absolutely right to point out that they aren’t necessarily wrong, and that something in our living, evolving language can never really be wrong as long as it is being uttered deliberately by someone.

      1. Brian Barder

        Barrie, you and I have — er, to use a long since deceased metaphor, crossed swords on this kind of thing too often before to go through it all again. I still think that your insistence that usage confers respectability and acceptability long before it ceases to make the owners of sensitive ears wince is a kind of trahison des clercs, and contributes to the coarsening and degradation of the language. And of course I agree with Louise (I would, wouldn’t I?) that the list, to which I have contributed, makes no accusation of linguistic error: just of ugliness that jars, anyway on most of us who care about language without being grammarians. If you’re really unjarred by some of the horrors in the list, so be it. But I suspect that at some level, you are too.

        1. Barrie England

          ‘Usage confers respectability and acceptability’. Well, yes. ‘Referee’ and ‘bottle’ were first nouns, and it is only through their usage as verbs that we are now able, if so inclined, to referee a match or bottle fruit. But it doesn’t invariably do so, and I have never said that it does. Some words and usages enter the language, have a brief moment of glory, and then are heard no more. If they serve no purpose, then, sooner or later, they will disappear. Those that are useful survive. Whether or not they grate or jar on sundry ears when they first occur is no predictor of their fate.

  3. Diana

    I believe that ‘kick start’ has a quite different meaning to ‘start’. ‘Start’ generally means to commence or begin. ‘Kick start’, as I understand the phrase, implies that some added impetus is given to get things underway.

    1. Louise Post author

      I agree that “kick start” has (or at least once had) a different meaning to “start” on its own. However, I have seen it used more and more frequently to mean just “start” — especially in corporate/business settings, and perhaps when the meaning of “kick off” is intended, eg. “kick starting” a campaign, when starting or kicking off a campaign is meant, and not giving the campaign some extra impetus when it has already begun. The “Kickstarter” web site doesn’t presuppose that people are seeking extra impetus for campaigns that are flagging (although it doesn’t exclude those projects either); its inherent message is that funding for a particular project starts and ends on Kickstarter. The name of the web site is therefore, in my opinion, either a misnomer, or an indication that the meaning of “kick start” has begun to change and is now believed to be synonymous with “start”.

      1. Brian Barder

        Kick start is also irritating because it’s a dead metaphor (which once suggested starting the engine of a motorbike but is now just a pretentious way of saying start — or, if not pretentious, lazy, thoughtlessly reproducing a cant phrase used all the time by journalists. Other dead metaphors are similarly tiresome: ‘he fell on his sword’ (resigned), comes to mind.

        1. Barrie England

          Any fear that ‘kick start’ may be replacing ‘start’ is unfounded. The Corpus of Contemporary American English has 1506 records for ‘to start the’ and only 6 for ‘to kick start the’. The figures for the British National Corpus are 300 and 1.

  4. Bill

    Louise – the list of marketing/corporate BS is spot on. “Bandwidth” is particularly moronic, and is used quite a bit in government offices these days. “Going forward” is another one. Thanks for sharing.


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