Last year I blogged about how the Ledbury poetry festival asked poets to reveal their most hated words. This year at the festival, the spotlight was on words and phrases that have become so hackneyed and overused that they’ve lost all their meaning. Favorites—actually, least favorites—included: “awesome” and “thinking outside the box” as well as two of my top pet peeves: “literally” and “devastating.” Half the damn time when people say “literally”, they’re still just speaking figuratively. “Devastated” is so painfully overused that people say they’re devastated when they’re lost their wallet or their favorite team didn’t make the playoffs.
My nomination, which does not appear in this list, would be “tragic.” Thanks to cable news, every fucking thing is tragic, particularly death and especially celebrity death (Princess Diana’s death? Not tragic.) The word has lost all sense of proportion and veered sharply away from the original literary meaning of tragedy, in which a good person loses everything or suffers greatly because of his hubris, or conflicts with a force greater than himself. Seriously, if I see another local news story hyping “a tragic accident on the Major Deegan Expressway”, I’m going to call the station and freak out. I’m also completely over the word “like”, which only has two legitimate uses, as a verb or as part of a simile. If you use it as, like, an interjection or a stopgap because you’re, like, inarticulate, you need to, like, cut that shit out.
Got a cliche you want to call out? Words that are so overused they should be retired…or at least given a long sabbatical? It’ll be tragic—literally, I’ll be, like, devastated—if you don’t share in the comments.