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Posted: June 11, 2012

Ten really stupid things people say

These could cost you a job

John Heckers

Every generation has its very annoying phrases, especially when they are teenagers. Teens have their own language….mostly to keep us from knowing what they’re saying. What is intensely irritating, however, is when people who are supposed to be “grown ups” start to speak in a manner similar to teenagers. Here are my top 10 pet peeves.

1). “Like.” “And I’m like (quote), then he’s like (quote).” Whatever happened to “Then I said (quote)?” The word “like” is also used as a spacer. “I’m like, going to the mall.” It is annoying and makes you sound incredibly young and inexperienced. Instead of “like,” use words like “said,” “thought,” “believed,” and so on. And don’t use “like” as a filler.

2). “I mean.” “Well, I mean, we went to the, like, mall and I mean we had a good shopping trip.” Arrrgh! Don’t say “I mean.” Just say what you mean!

3). Misuses of “Jane and I.” “Jane and I went to the store” is correct. “A letter came for Jane and I” is incorrect. It should be “A letter came for Jane and me.” The rule is simple. Take out the name of the other person. “I went to the store” is correct. “A letter came for I” just sounds wrong — and is wrong. “A letter came for me” is correct. Too many supposedly educated people, including professionals and executives, are getting this wrong too much of the time.

4). “Event.” Everything is an “event” these days. It’s not a “sale,” it’s a “sales event.” No. It’s a sale. It isn’t an “event.” A movie is a movie, not a “movie event.” “Event” is one of the most overused marketing words in our age. Save “event” for something that is truly an event, not an everyday occurrence. Something with major speakers, a dinner, networking opportunities, and so on, is an event. A movie is just a movie, and a sale is just a sale.

5). “Awesome” and “amazing”: Really, people, does everything fill you with awe or amazement? Easily awed and amused aren’t you? It’s bad enough when everything is “awesome” or “amazing” to a teen. When it’s “awesome” or “amazing” to a 50 year old — that’s just absurd. The one person who can get away with “amazing” is The Amazing Spiderman. Stan Lee called him that long before “amazing” was applied to everything from brushing your teeth to the end of the world. No one over the age of 12 should utter either word unless something is truly awesome, like sunset over the Grand Canyon, or amazing (like Spidey!).

6). “My bad.” This is okay in your family life, but is definitely NOT OK in a business setting. If you’ve made a mistake, acknowledge the mistake and move on. But when you say “My bad,” you’re downplaying a very real error and making a fool of yourself. Try saying, “I’m sorry that I made a mistake in this area.”

7). “Y’know.” No, I don't know or I wouldn’t be listening to you. Punctuating your speech with “you know” over and over again is incredibly annoying to the listener, and really calls your intelligence and eloquence into question….you know?

8). “Industry Agnostic.” People who are looking for a job often use this really absurd phrase. STOP IT! It was, perhaps, cute the first 50,000 times someone said it. Not now.

9). “My passion is…” Again, one of those great phrases…for the first five years of the Millennium. Now, it just makes you look old hat.

10). “Often” with the “t” pronounced. The correct way of saying the word “often” has always been and remains “offen.” The “t” is silent. Not knowing this makes you look uneducated. (See a list of the 100 most mispronounced and misused words.)

There are many other speech patterns that can derail your job search. The most common is a voice that raises a bit after each sentence, as if you were asking a question. Save this mannerism for actually asking questions. If you are making a statement, make a firm, not tentative, one.

Speaking with authority in clear, understandable and grammatical English (and writing in the same) is a trait that will set you apart. It is expected of those who want to be at the top. While there are many mannerism you can and should change, you should start with the first thing most people judge you on — your patterns of speech.

John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC was an Executive, Relationships, Life and Spiritual Coach in Denver with 30 years of experience  helping people with their lives, relationships and careers.

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Readers Respond

Thanks for all the great comments. Yep, "absolutely" gets me, too. The correct response to "Thank you" is "You're welcome," or "My pleasure," not "grunt" or "absolutely." "Off-ten" is being used more, but it is still not the proper pronunciation among educated professionals. "Off-en" is still preferred. It is more than a matter of taste. It demonstrates a level of proper education, which is often (off-en) important in your job search. If that one thing annoys the employer, it could cost you the job. I'm also annoyed by the turning of nouns into verbs, but I think that is a losing battle in office jargon. I'm not a jargon fan in any event, but too many people think that jargon makes them sound "in the know" and "one of the team." By John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC on 2012 06 13
Good article John! Liz By liz wendling on 2012 06 11
I like this article calling for recalibration of our office language. Informality is a filler for people trying to make a "personal connection" but ends up looking like adolescence. I was surprised, though, about the pronunciation of "often" being presented as "offen." This may depend on where you are from, perhaps--like the word "pious" being pronounced both ways like pi-ous and pee-ous. I have always been taught and heard it pronounced as OFF-ten, and this is my first encounter correcting me to say it as "offen," which sounds childish and wrong to me. I guess I'm not one to offer correct pronunciation to the world, though. English is my second language. By Misheel Chuluun on 2012 06 11
I couldn't agree more! Your list mirrors very closely my list of pet peeves. There is another pet peeve, which you might switch with one in your own list - only to keep it a Top 10 list - is the overuse of "Absolutely." May I have the keys to that Porsche? "Absolutely!" Would you like to go to dinner? "Absolutely!" Do overused phrases and words bother you as much as they do me? "Absolutely!" Really, does every comment or request require such an emphatic response?!? By Kevin Shane on 2012 06 11
A fun read, but I've got to challenge you on number 10. AWF-en and AWF-ten are equally accepted pronunciations, with about half the US population using each. Just because you were taught one thing and found it on likely non-authoritative website doesn't make it so. AWF-ten was considered inferior for a long time, but this started to change in the first half of the 20th century. Language is always evolving; particularly the English language. Pris-TEEN used be pris-TINE; SKED-ule used to be SHED-ule, and ga-RAHJ used to be GAR-ij. By Mark W on 2012 06 11
Great piece. I'm also annoyed by the habit of turning nouns into verbs. One of the most offensive is "office", as in "where do you office?" You don't "office". You WORK in an OFFICE. Work is the verb here, not office. Personally I work in my office at home in the room over the garage. By Ken Neubecker on 2012 06 11
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