Phrases That Don’t Mean Anything

Language by Adam on 2008-06-07 04:01

Keep an eye out for filler phrases in your writing and speech. They dilute your message without adding anything. Here’s a few common ones:

None of these phrases really mean anything. How can you tell? By cutting them out of a sentence, the meaning of the sentence doesn’t change:

“The garden out back was, in a sense, Jane’s sanctuary from the world.” → “The garden out back was Jane’s sanctuary from the world.”

“Without further ado, I’m pleased to present tonight’s speaker, John Smith.” → “I’m pleased to present tonight’s speaker, John Smith.”

“We don’t have any more tickets to give away at this point in time.” → “We don’t have any more tickets to give away.”

As always, omitting needless words makes your message more forceful.

3 comments per 'Phrases That Don’t Mean Anything'

  1. Ethernight says:

    I disagree. They convey intent, imply context, and add flavor… so to speak.

  2. Adam says:

    On further reflection I’ll say that I think that all of these phrases do have a purpose, rather than meaning: they soften the statement into which they are inserted.

    For example, I saw someone who was pitching one of those “cleanse” formulas say something like “This product, in a sense, makes you healthier.” By inserting the weakening phrase, he’s avoiding a potential lawsuit, since otherwise it would be a direct medical claim that couldn’t be supported.

    Sometimes it might make sense to use a weakening phrase in personal speech, such as softening the blow of conveying something that might be hard for your audience to hear. But for serious writing or speech - for example, in a professional context - I think that the desire to use one of these phrases indicates that you should reconsider the entire statement being made.

    if the statement isn’t worth being made boldly, it very likely is not worth being made at all.

  3. Mark says:

    “We don’t have any more tickets to give away at this point in time.” → “We don’t have any more tickets to give away.”

    Those two sentences carry very different connotations. The first implies that there will be tickets to give away if the requester were to return at some other time to be determined.

    You make use of a fair bit of filler in your own writing. For example, “I’ll say that I think that” is a worse offense than any of the phrases you criticized. “Sometimes it might” contains one too many words, “sometimes” serves the same function as “it might.”

    Good writing doesn’t stand solely on the meaning of words. Pacing matters. Phrases like “I think that” add little substantively, but serve to change the flow of a sentence and add subtle connotations.

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