This semester at the college where I teach I had the great opportunity to travel twice with groups of students to international destinations in pursuit of knowledge and justice. As an accompanying faculty member on these education abroad experiences, one spends lots of time with the students -- airplane rides, hotel breakfasts, lectures, dinners, excursions, etc. Spending academic, social, and travel time with college students allows for lots of conversation and rhetorical exchange which offers one of the brightest and most rewarding parts of my career as an educator who gets this opportunity.
However, upon listening to my students speak to me, and to each other, there have been a few repeated words and phrases that made the speech professor in me cringe -- every time. My students are young men and women heading into their final years of college, off to graduate school, and/or work. On the stodgy end of the spectrum most of the following words or phrases simply do not fit grammatically with the way my students are using them. On the more aesthetic free-advice-side of the spectrum the following phraseology tends to just sound silly. I would hate to have any student coming from my speech classes using these phrases in an interview. It would be a bit frightening to me as the interviewer. So, operating on the premise of helping students perform better, here I list five words or phrases college students should stop saying NOW!
"Like" -- you might think that the first term college students need to stop using is the speech-filler word "like." However, it seems that "like" has become the "texting-and-driving" term of the speech world. You know, everyone knows it is wrong; you don't do it when you know someone important (like a cop/teacher) is watching; yet you just have to use it; and we all know it is going on but no one can stop it. Make sense? This is what "like" has become in our phraseology today. Instead I start with my least favorite new filler: "literally."
1) Literally. There are "literally" (not figuratively) articles already out there today about the over and incorrect use of this word. For some reason, though, spending 24-7 with my students this semester really highlighted just how annoying the overuse of this term can be. Don't believe me? Just stop and listen to your friends, college-or-not, who use this word to Nth degree. "We literally just saw the president in the airport." "I literally just saw the most beautiful piece of art ever." "She literally was the only server at my last job who could handle the work." Depending on how this word is said vocally could add fuel to the fire of annoying-ness to the listener. Lit-er-al-ly stretched out extra-long could sound, well, extra annoying. So, we must be careful. Literally.
2) I feel that. "I feel that" is a phrase my college women seem to favor more than my guys. Perhaps that is because communication literature tells us that women operate using more rapport talk and men use report talk--which deals less with feelings. Whatever the case, the "I feel that" was a bit newer to me, but I sure heard it loud and clear this semester. Here is how I heard it: for example, instead of saying, "this airport is set up weird." One would say, "I feel that they set this airport up weird." Or, "I feel that it is going to be really hot today." Or, "I feel that the ancient Romans would have been really hot." To the reader I may seem like I'm being a bit picky, but imagine if someone started a majority of his or her sentences with, "I feel that." It takes power away from what really is and places it in someone's feelings, which can seem a lot weaker. Interviewers and supervisors do not want to know what you feel; they want to know what you know and what you have done.
3) Awkward! This was a new one for me which makes me think it may be coming from some popular outlet like a TV show. My students were calling everything "awkward" even when it wasn't. If they saw a bus parked on a plot of grass, it was "awkward." If there were too many people in a car it was, "awkward." If a waiter brought the wrong drink it was -- wait -- "awkward!" The problem here is that most of these situations do not even qualify for awkward. Awkward is when you see your ex at the supermarket with their new partner and you are uncomfortably forced to talk to them. Awkward might describe (among other things) that person who asks you how much money you make a year. These situations are more closely described as awkward. Google defines awkward as "causing difficulty; hard to do or deal with -- e.g. "one of the most awkward jobs is painting a ceiling"; "some awkward questions." While it may be picky, if we continue to overuse awkward, it is going to lose its strength as a word -- remember the word "whatever?"
4) Wait! This command, "wait", seems to be leading off a lot of sentences these days, and it seems a bit out of place. For example, "wait, what year was this created?" Or, "wait, when do we have to be back at the hotel?" Or, "wait, how many items are going to be on the test?" One has to be careful with the word "wait" because it is typically used as a command, and we definitely do not want to tell people to "wait" when they should not have to. Plus, most of the time we use the word this way the person with whom we're talking, is not going anywhere. Wait is not one of the biggest overused offenders, but take caution when using it because you do not want to be the one going, "wait, what?" because that could sound a bit out of sorts.
5) Finally, and probably accompanied by my shortest explanation is the phrase, "oh my god." I always harbored a secret thought that once the mainstream public got a hold of "OMG" and valley girl stereotypes were exploited to a breaking point, the use of "oh my god" (all words spoken) would just go away. It hasn't. Guys and girls alike are still excessively using this phrase in exclamation over various items and emotions. It has its place and can be used with some caution, but the fact still remains that when said all the time -- it simply sounds like the valley girl caricature of the 1990's. So, guys and girls--be very careful when using OMG -- after all Usher sang an entire song about it, so surely it's done, right?
So, in a world where it seems 140 characters is the maximum typed length anyone will sit long enough to read, it appears glaringly paradoxical that people fill their speech with lengthy words and phrases that do not mean anything; forcing the listener through pointless gasps of nothingness. Of course, it is not just college students doing this. People who want to sound smarter use big words unnecessarily -- if even correctly. People who want to sound authoritative use stern language -- even if it is not believable. Language misuse is everywhere. Fortunately for me I do not spend time with those people. Instead, I am one of the lucky folks who gets to work daily with young, fun, energetic, smart, and optimistic college students. My purpose in writing this today is to make sure that the outward world also knows this about them -- and the quickest way to demonstrate that is through speech. Literally.