11 words and phrases everyone should stop using

Whether they imply something that probably isn’t the speaker’s intent, are overused, or are simply offensive, these terms are all highly problematic.

We all have words and phrases that hit our ears like chalk on a chalkboard (or Kardashians on a TV screen). Here are 11 of the words and phrases that make me want to let out a small yelp every time I see or hear them.

1. Touch points: This piece of PR jargon makes me cringe more than any other. “Touch points” make me think of something dirty, sleazy, or outright illegal. Please don’t touch me on my touch points. Just reach me through numerous channels.

2. Retarded: According to Google’s word usage chart (below), the word “retarded” has been going out of favor since the late 1970s. But as you can see, the word is still used more than it should be. This is especially grating in its common “you’re so retarded” usage, often referring to a friend who did something dumb. How about just using “you’re so dumb” instead? Better still: “That was a dumb thing to do.”

3. “Sorry if you were offended”: This phrase is most commonly used by people who did something offensive. Instead of fully accepting the blame, they shirk it by shifting some of it onto you for having the audacity to take offense at their offensiveness. If you mess up, it’s far better to say, “We did something offensive, and we apologize.”

4. Whatever: This word is often used to dismiss a person or an idea. “She’s the one who wanted to do this stupid PR campaign in the first place. What-ever.” But it’s no longer the dismissive quality of the word that irks me; rather, it’s the complete lack of originality. Come on, people, dismissing a dumb idea is supposed to be fun, so stop relying on such a hackneyed term to do it.

5. You guys: This term is fine if you’re addressing a group of all boys or men, but if girls or women are present, it’s considered rude. A waiter, for example, should expect a lower tip if he addresses his mixed-gender table as “you guys.”

6. Like: Can you, like, think of a word that, like, makes you, like, want to tear out your hair and, like, stab your eardrums more? Like, whatever. And sorry if you are offended, you guys.

7. “I’m starving.” Unlikely. You’re probably just hungry. If you were starving, you would look like the poor souls in the famine relief ads on TV. Next time you’re tempted to say that you’re “starving,” remember them and remind yourself to say only that you’re feeling a bit peckish and would like something to eat.

8. “I can’t.” Sometimes this phrase is true. But many times, frontline personnel say “I can’t” when what they really mean is “I won’t.” “Sorry, we can’t let you return this defective product, because we only accept returns in the first 30 days and today is day 31.” “Sorry, we can’t let you substitute the cheddar cheese for the Muenster.”

9. Mucus: True story: When I was interviewing a young woman for a job many years ago, she followed a sneeze by explaining that her cold wasn’t contagious any longer because her mucus had changed back to its normal color and consistency. She didn’t get the job. (An exception for using this term is granted to the medical profession.)

10. Ninja: I have no problem with actual ninjas. Got that, ninja? Put the throwing stars down. But what the hell is a “PR Ninja” or a “Communications Ninja?” These phrases are becoming ubiquitous in people’s social media profiles lately, and they don’t make sense. According to Wikipedia, a “ninja” is defined, in part, as a mercenary. Are these PR professionals boasting about their willingness to take on any client, regardless of the ethics involved?

11. Spin: Yes, there’s such a thing as spin, but the term has been carelessly applied to many more PR campaigns than it should be, including ones that are completely aboveboard. There’s a big difference between strategic communications and “spin.”

What words make you cringe? Please enter your entries to the language hall of shame in the comments section.

Brad Phillips is author of the book The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview. He is also the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm, and blogs at Mr. Media Training, where a version of this story originally appeared.

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