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Express Publishing (ELT) Teachers' Corner - Irritating utterances


“At the end of the day, and with all due respect, at this moment in time I personally just take things on a daily basis and any upcoming revelations in the press are absolutely without foundation in fact. Basically, I’m literally gutted. They shouldn’t of printed anything up until they’d got my view on this fairly unique situation. They’ve been hounding me 24/7 and it’s totally a nightmare.”

Thus spake the fictional entity known as Galagady in a recent webinar. Why does everything in the above get up my nose? And more importantly, the nostrils of a certain British newspaper?

“Literally” is, quite literally, the most hated phrase of Daily Telegraph readers. The word tops the list of those phrases and sayings that cause untold irritation.

The response of 700 Daily Telegraph readers in an online poll, showed “literally” outstripped “basically”, “a safe pair of hands” and “I’m gutted” in the top 10 of the most annoying utterances. The overuse of the word “basically” and “upcoming” made the list as did the grammatically incorrect “shouldn’t of”, instead of “shouldn’t have”.

Daily Telegraph readers were responding to a top 10 of irritating expressions which has been compiled by researchers at Oxford University. Top of the university’s list was the expression “at the end of the day”, which was followed in second place by the phrase “fairly unique”. The tautological statement “I personally” made third place – an expression that BBC Radio 4 presenter John Humphreys has described as “the linguistic equivalent of having chips with rice”.

Researchers compiled the list using Oxford University Corpus database, which alerts them to new words and phrases by monitoring books, papers, magazines, television and the internet. The database can tell which words are being misused as well as identifying expressions which are disappearing.

Jeremy Butterfield, author and lexicographer, says that many over-used expressions, considered annoying, actually began as office “lingo”, such as “24/7″ and “synergy”. “We grow tired of anything that is repeated too often – an anecdote, a joke, a mannerism – and the same seems to happen with some language,” he said.

Alan Sutton said: “My pet hate is the word “upcoming”. Whatever happened to forthcoming? Colin Sherlock said: “Literally, I can’t believe people have forgotten the infuriatingly inaccurate use of the word ‘literally’.”

Oxford University’s top [sic] ten most irritating phrases:

  1. At the end of the day
  2. Fairly unique
  3. I personally
  4. At this moment in time
  5. With all due respect
  6. Absolutely
  7. It’s a nightmare
  8. Shouldn’t of
  9. 24/7
  10. It’s not rocket science

Daily Telegraph top ten list:

  1. Literally
  2. A safe pair of hands
  3. I’m gutted
  4. Basically
  5. Going forward
  6. Upcoming
  7. Shouldn’t of
  8. Up until
  9. Neither here not there
  10. On a daily basis

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