Commentary: More “Crutch” Words
By Jim Schuh
I’m probably more sensitive than many when it comes to the proper use of English.
That can be a good thing, knowing that I’m not butchering our Mother Tongue. But it also can be irritating to those around me when I constantly and verbally correct poor grammar I hear on television, especially on local newscasts.
Talking back to my TV seems pointless, and perhaps even bizarre, but it gives me satisfaction to point out how badly so many people speak today.
Among the things that hurt my ears are “crutch” words – words that don’t mean anything. Many of us unwittingly have picked up the habit of using them, sometimes to the annoyance of the person to whom we’re speaking. Most of us don’t realize they add nothing to what we say and at the same time, and subconsciously to the listener, make us appear less-intelligent.
Dictionary.com has published a list of these aggravating words and I’ve added a few. You might be interested to see if any of them have crept into your vocabulary and if they have, it’s not too late to make a New Year’s Resolution to strip them from your utterances.
One word that’s been misused for a long time is “like.” It’s a crutch word – the speaker uses it while trying to think of the next words he or she is going to say. Using it occasionally might escape the listener’s notice, but when it occurs four or five times in a sentence, it’s beyond annoying. (It’s, like, you know, I want to, like, go shopping for, like a new sweater and like, some shoes.”)
Many young people are offenders, peppering their spoken sentences with multiple “likes” – often without realizing it. The result leaves the impression on the listener that the speaker is stupid. “Like” adds nothing to what they’re saying and the way in which they use it doesn’t even conform to what the word means: something of the same appearance, kind, character, or amount.
“You know” is another crutch that too many people sprinkle liberally in their conversation. I think it makes the speaker sound silly, you know? Or how about ”right?” at the end of every sentence? The questioner is projecting uncertainty and a lack of confidence.
In some earlier columns, I noted a more recent misuse of the word, “so.” Too many people now begin sentences with the word for no apparent or logical reason. It’s a bad habit. I’ve noticed educated people appearing in news interviews beginning each response with “So.” It becomes comical to listen to them and detracts from what they’re saying..
Other folks start each sentence with another crutch word – “Well.” As with “so,” it quickly becomes irritating. I guess it probably gives them an extra split-second to think if what they’re about to say.
Perhaps the oldest and most frequent crutch is a clutch of three sounds we make as we try to think of what to say next. Nearly everyone uses them – the trick is not to use them often. Substitute silence and you’ll be better off. The sounds are “Ah,” “Uh,” and “Um.”
Another word we should purge from our vocabulary is “look.” Most of us subconsciously find it denigrating. It makes the speaker sound as if he’s talking down to us.
In the same vein, “Let me tell you” or “I tell you” can be annoying. Chris Collinsworth uses it too frequently on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” broadcasts. My late stepfather told a story from his youthful days, working for an older man. In speaking with his superior, he said, “Let me tell you, Mr. so-and-so…” The older man quickly interrupted, saying “You don’t tell me anything.” My stepdad said that put him in his place and he never used the phrase again.
“For what it’s worth” or “The thing is…” are similar, but perhaps less-confrontational. Use them sparingly and cautiously because they can be interpreted as the speaker challenging the listener.
A recent crutch is a three-word phrase that annoys my wife. “To your point” is now in danger of becoming a crutch. The speaker doesn’t have to use those words at all – he or she can simply respond to what another person has said.
There another group of words that have become meaningless, but many still use them without thought. Do you use any of them – actually, literally, totally, basically, honestly, essentially, obviously and seriously in your comments?
Our president greatly overuses the adjectives “fantastic” and “incredible.” There’s no way so many of the things he describes with those words can measure up to their meanings. I know others who do the same.
“Awesome” is another word we should banish from our vocabularies. For some reason, many younger restaurant servers say it after asking you how your meal tastes. Merriam-Webster lists several synonyms for “awesome:” “amazing, astonishing, astounding, eye-opening, fabulous, marvelous, miraculous, portentous, prodigious, staggering, stunning, stupendous, wondrous.” While most of my restaurant meals have been good and tasty, none I’ve eaten conforms to the word, “awesome.”
Let’s add, “No problem” to server jargon that should disappear.
“Only” and “just” are greatly overused – especially in TV commercials. Advertising copywriters use it to try to make us think the product they’re hustling isn’t all that expensive (even though it often is).
We’d all probably get along fine without calling things “great” or “super,” too.
What a way to enter a new year! I don’t hold out much hope that our education system will correct or even address these issues – especially where some schools are eliminating the teaching of cursive writing. But it makes me feel better to get this stuff off my chest!