10 of the most nefarious words in the English language

Cast these infernal abominations and annoying clichés into the abyss of wretched writing.

Nefarious words in the English language

New, terrible coinages are concocted every day, it seems.

Some grating word or phrase shoots into the public sphere and gets the meme treatment. Before long, the masses tweet and text it into the vernacular, and bam—six months later it’s in the dictionary. Just look at this nonsense. Do we want to live in a world that enshrines “chiweenie,” “glamping” or “embiggen” in our language’s most esteemed manual, guide and arbiter?

Yes, you say? Oh, well. Let’s at least agree that the following words are horrible and should be deleted upon sight:


Wasn’t that burrito just, like, amazing?

It was tasty. It was delicious, even. It was not amazing.

This word has been overused to the point of meaninglessness.

[FREE DOWNLOAD: 10 punctuation essentials]

Don’t take my word for it—the King has spoken.


If words were animals, this eyesore would be a skittering, unkillable cockroach. However, “impactful” is not even a real word, so it’s more like a genetically engineered roach-beast that escaped the lab and is now breeding wildly all over the world.

As we shared in 2014:

This is not a word. You hear and see this non-word so frequently that it seems inevitable it will eventually steamroll its way into some kind of official status. Though in the same spirit of fighting against the seemingly unstoppable stream of Jets and Patriots fans clogging up South Florida, I encourage you to push against the tide by rejecting the validity of “impactful.”


Full disclosure: I tried to use this word—in a headline, no less—about six months ago. It was a dark moment I do not wish to revisit.

If you’re writing about efforts to restore a ’72 El Camino, go for it. If you’re writing about content marketing, use a different word.

It’s worth noting that a supercharger’s function is to blow hot air.


“Actually” is actually amazingly useless.

From Ragan’s style guide:

This is camouflage for “very” and “literally.” It’s intended to provide emphasis; it doesn’t. Equally useless: “truly” and “really.”


Do you wince whenever someone describes their field or industry as a “space”? Do you giggle every time Kirk Herbstreit says a wide receiver just needs to “get the ball in space”? (My wife brought this to my attention years ago, and I now I just imagine players slowly floating with a football just outside the pod doors.)

Let those “thought leaders” (another bit of piffle) stay busy “disrupting” their spaces. Meanwhile, the rest of us can build a jargon-free colony in the far reaches of our galaxy.


This immediately signals that the next thing is going to be aggressively uninteresting.

If you consistently try to pump up what you’re about to mention with a simpering “interestingly” and fail to deliver the goods, your audience will quickly become skeptical. You run the risk of becoming the writer who cried wolf.

Show, don’t tell.


Loads of people say or write “utilize” because it sounds fancy. You can just use “use.”


Corporate buzzwords constitute a separate category of hated flapdoodle words that deserve the nearest trashcan. However, “enterprise” merits a mention here for its ubiquity and inanity.

Unless you’re writing about “Star Trek” or a specific battleship, there’s no reason to use this word. (It seems we’re back in outer space—or at least at sea.)

(See also: innovative, bandwidth, actionable, agile and deliverables.)


This is another overused word that we’ve nearly pummeled into obsolescence.

Use it sparingly, such as at the Grand Canyon, or upon first sight of Golden Corral’s Chocolate Wonderfall.


After serving in World War II, my granddaddy was an airplane mechanic for 35 years. He treated everyone with respect, cleaned his own fish and never badmouthed anyone.

Amassing thousands of “fans” on a social media platform might make you an “influencer” by today’s standards, but let’s never forget who the real “influencers” are.

All right, readers, it’s your turn. Offer your verbal bêtes noires in the comments section, please.


18 Responses to “10 of the most nefarious words in the English language”

    ed cortese says:

    Essentially; literally; basically; etc. and many other useless or redundant adverbs, e.g., he ran rapidly; he is grossly overweight

    Knut L says:

    Pause words are also needless, Like, Really needless.

    Also, would love to see phrases like, ‘living the dream’, and ‘t is what it is’, fade away.

    Bill Van Eron says:

    I appreciated this as was still using some words like awesome, with regard to enabling others to feel that way more often.
    But I do agree that we overuse many words that are intended for special use. Two years ago, no matter what was said to many younger people, got the response “perfect” and now I hear other soon to be overused words.

    Conversely, and being a creative professional and new thinking advocate, it is sad how many leaders dismiss vocabularies that reveal new thinking as “buzzwords”. Is there such a thing as “buzz people” as superficiality in leadership seems at an epidemic level?

    As examples of the new vernacular:

    We are in a “Weconomy” which infers we are moving to an age of greater conscious interdependency across internal and external value-based ecosystems that now (finally) determine if you are a success as a company. Geez, Google does not even allow these words to be searched, thus forcing us to fit into outdated categories and phrasings.

    Martha Craft says:

    “So” should never be used to begin a sentence. Listen to how many people are asked a question and begin the answer with, “So.”

    Example: “What college did you attend?”
    Answer: “So, I started at community college and transferred to State after two years.”

    People! “So” is a word that links an action to an outcome.
    Example: I cut my hand, SO I went to the emergency room. I love dogs, SO I adopted two this weekend. I see this mistake often, SO I added it to my media training!

    Dan Evans says:

    I’d argue that ‘very’ is the most overused and least impactful word in the English language. Follow what Mark Twain said – “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

    So many better ways to say the word that I can not write.

    Linda Thompson says:

    For media I’d add ahead of, on the back of, plays host to, is set to, watches on, in a bid to, incredible, wonderful, great. Empty rubbish which adds nothing to the story. No real person talks like that! How many things are really “incredible”!

    Genevieve says:

    This isn’t related to online news because even they don’t do this –
    “could OF”, “should OF” etc. How is “of” any part of a verb. How dumb can you be? Is it because people don’t read books as much nowadays. This annoys me every time I see it.

    Chris says:

    Agree with all of these!

    When I hear someone say “exactly” I take it to mean that they are not really listening and are far more interested in whatever (damn!) thought they want to share with me…

    Cameron says:

    “Agile” and “nimble” … most frequently found in conversations at companies trying to implement “innovation” using processes that are neither “agile” or “nimble” to come up with new ideas on how to not be redundant.

    Tony J says:

    my pet hate is “in regards to”. It should be either “with regard to” or “regarding”. Like all the examples given, it can’t be that hard !

    AJ says:

    Oh, how far the English language has fallen! One of my pet peeves in speech is when people say something is “different than” something else.

    Different than!? Really?

    It’s a comparison, so it’s different from NOT different than.

    Usage Examples

    The red car is different from the white one with regard to their engine capacities.

    Beds are generally different from cots in large part due to their size difference and overall architecture.

    One way in which successful teams differ from unsuccessful ones is in their intense desire to win.

    If you want to show that the quality of your electronic products is higher than and different from that of your competitors, you shouldn’t be hesitant to put them through objectively constructed torture tests.

    Thanks for reading.

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