A Literal Epidemic of Crutch Words

Here's a handy compendium of additional crutch words, those verbal (and sometimes written) pause words that we just can't seem to help using, even as we know we shouldn't. You know?

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Last week Joe Biden's excessive use of the word literally in his speech at the DNC had the word again the talk of the Internet. It wasn't incorrect, exactly, even if it wasn't the absolute cleanest of speech-making techniques, per se. I wrote a post explaining that, contrary to popular belief, his use of the term was hyperbole, an accepted meaning of the phrase, and I listed a number of other "crutch words" and phrases that we are wont to throw around too easily in common and formal conversation alike. Among those phrases: As it were, actually, basically, um, like, apparently. 

Of course, we didn't list all the crutch words, because it appears we're living in a crutch word epidemic. There are so many! Many of you got in touch to share your own hate-favorites as well as to complain about your experiences with coworkers who are always saying, "Let me be clear," or otherwise beloved friends who won't stop peppering their sentences with fascinating when you're pretty sure they mean anything but. Others complained that we were being too judgy about crutch words, and perhaps they're right, but whatever. Here's a handy compendium of additional crutch words, those verbal (and sometimes written) pauses that we just can't seem to help using, culled from your comments and emailed insights, along with a bit of our own. No adverb is safe, as one person informed me. She may be right. Right?

And so forth and so on. Via a dialogue in our comments:"I have a co-worker that uses and so forth and so on many times in a conversation. It's infuriating." "Yes! It's like the person is either leaving out part of the story that you may want to hear or just doesn't care much about what they're saying to you. Not a fan!"

Definitely. Definitely! Also: Absolutely.

Essentially. "A highbrow version of basically."

Exponentially. "How could you leave out exponentially, a crutch word that might be used accurately once in a thousand times? Something grows exponentially when it grows by the same factor repeatedly over many periods of time, as in compound interest or the population of rabbits in the absence of predators. The exponent can be negative as well, but when used as a crutch the speaker never is referring to that aspect!"

Fantastic. "I've noticed that a lot of people say something is fantastic but don't at all mean to suggest that the thing comes out of the world of fantasy and imagination. People say something is incredible but they don't meant it's devoid of validity, but mean they were unprepared for the event. People say something is unbelievable when the thing doesn't require belief at all, just a pair of eyes to see what's in front of them," explains one commenter.

Fascinating. Rarely used with earnest intent; prone to seeming patronizing even if it isn't. Try it, say fascinating like you think whatever it is you're responding to is, in fact, fascinating. It's difficult.

Going forward. Better to give an actual implementation/start date to which one will go forward, because save a time machine, we are not going backward. A commenter says of this one, simply, "Ugh."

If you will. One commenter marks it as the sure sign of a whopper, making an example of Dick Cheney: "They're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."

I'm not gonna lie. Oh, really? (Also: Oh, really?)

In fairness/to be fair. The thing about life is, nothing is, though your sense of justice in in the right place. But also, why be fair? Just be sure of what you want to say.

In the final analysis. This is the science/researchy way of saying At the end of the day.

Irregardless. Nonstandard!

It is what it is. According to one Poynter commenter, this "is the new crutch phrase I keep hearing. It serves no purpose." It is what it is, ergo, it is pointless.

Look. As a one-word command, bossy.

Kind of/Sort of. These are vague terms that allow you to be less specific and meaningful in all ways, and should therefore be cut as much as possible.

Mark my words. This should be unnecessary to say and has a bit of the aggressive impact of an actually/I told you so.

Obviously. Writes one reader via email,


Obviously, you missed one of the best crutch words to use to show how obtuse your conversation partner is and will always be.

Another writes that it's the most overused word in the English language. Obviously.

OK. "You left out (the worst) saying OK at the end of every sentence," points out a reader.

Per se. From a commenter: "I have a friend who basically says that in most of her conversations. She literally cannot get through one sentence without a per se. Apparently she finds it exotic!!!!!!!" Another brings up the cultural touchstone of "the little vampire kid from South Park."

Personally. This is for the sort of person who insists on writing that their retweets do not constitute endorsements. We know it's personal; you're the one saying it. And if your retweets aren't endorsements, what are they, actually?

Quite frankly. Another of the I insist I am being honest (the lady doth protest too much!) statements. "Quite frankly I enjoyed this article, but was disappointed that quite frankly was not used EVEN ONCE," says a commenter. "It is, as my hard work will prove someday, the most commonly used crutcherinio by literally a whole lot of people." [Points here for crutcherinio, which is not a crutch word, nor, even, an actual word.]

Right? "For what it's worth, you actually forgot the crutch word right? Used at the end of a statement-turned-question to validate how smart someone is," says a commenter.

So. "I know I have the written crutch of starting sentences with So. It's evident when I take a cursory glance of Facebook statuses or tweets. Now I've just gotta stop. They say knowing's half the battle, right?"

Take it to the next level. Requires you, and whomever you're speaking to, to know and care what almost always metaphorical level you're on in the first place. See also next level as an adjective.

That type thing. We'll let a commenter tell it:

My old boss used to say "that type thing" constantly. Was his catchall phrase for when he had no idea what he was actually talking about.

BTW, he's in jail now. True story.

That type thing leaves us with more questions than answers, you see.

The thing is. We are all guilty of this stuff. "Usually people say this when you've given a solution to their problem, or advice, but they want to continue whining about it. 'Yeah, but, the thing is...,'" says a commenter. "You can finish the rest."

The truth of the matter is... "I hate this one, as if the utterer believes they have a monopoly on truth, their truth," says a commenter.

Totally. (Also: evidently, like clearly, like apparently.)

Very. "Annoyed by very unique; very distinct.... something either is unique or is not," says a commenter. Another lists similar emphasis words, like too, really, and super.

Well. (Also, so, yo, dude, man.)

Whatever. As a one-word retort, just rude.

With all due respect. "I have always wanted to witness an encounter when someone says: With all due respect, sir... which is NONE," says a commenter.

Works for me. This is just a tossed-off attempted cool-kid version of OK.

You know? Y'know? You understand? The speaker who peppers his or her words with these phrases may be a)  Conversationally a bit insecure or needy, desirous of confirmation that his listener is on board b) Conversationally condescending using this rhetorical confirmation demand as a kind of semantic control tactic. c) Surreptitiously and sometimes obviously bent on bringing the point back to himself. Get it? A reader writes that he wonders how I missed you know and you see. "They drive me to tears when some folks use them to precede every other sentence they utter," he says. "Anyways what's the psychology behind this dire need to enlist the listener into one's own view point?"

Another commenter points out wisely that crutch words aren't all bad; they give people clues about the speakers. "If you pay attention to some of these words, they can tell you quite a bit about how someone communicates and how to get them to truly listen to you," writes morbyk. "When a person says 'I Hear you,' or 'that's telling em' or other references to the spoken word and sound, they are telling you that speech is the best way to communicate  and that you need to be sure they know you are hearing them.... If you regularly say 'I see'  to a person who says 'I hear you,' it can be a barrier to communication on the most basic level. And boy, was it hard to write this without saying actually.  Basic shouldn't count because basically is the crutch, word, right?!"

Another commenter writes, "I use most of those crutch words and I'm at peace with myself for using them.Vices should be embraced." Own it might be the appropriate phrase to demonsttrate this point.

In other crutch word news, on Tuesday there was another shout-out to one of our favorite hate words, literally, this time via New York's Vulture. Rob Lowe has explained the origin of his character Chris Traeger's much-repeated catchphrase in Parks and Recreation—it's literally, but he pronounces it lit-ruh-ly— "I think I just took a really big, probably very embarrassing swing at it and it stuck.” Well, that's how these things happen. Literally. Here's a video of more literally than Biden:

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.