Unnecessary qualifying phrases

October 2019
Phyllis Shragge

When I think about it, as far as I can tell, unnecessary qualifying words and phrases, and that type of thing, are destroying verbal language, and all that stuff.  Many educated, intelligent people sabotage themselves by using crutch words that detract from what they’re saying, and things like that.  You know what I mean.

General extenders are a distraction, that’s for sure. Let me tell you, at the end of the day, we should aim for verbal succinctness, and so forth.

The truth of the matter is that when you spout verbal garbage, you make a bad impression. Like I was saying, unnecessary words and phrases, especially phrases that include the word stuff, are a scourge on spoken language. Let me tell you, unnecessary qualifying words and phrases are more than blips in conversation; they are like nails being scratched on a blackboard, and stuff like that.  Seriously.

What can you do when a close friend or family member overuses fillers in everyday speech? Suggesting he stop saying basically, or stop adding all that stuff to the end of a sentence, may not go over well. He might interpret your suggestions as disparagement, a criticism of his intelligence. But should you zip up your lips and say nothing?

When I was a young girl, I had the habit of saying "you know" at the end of a sentence. My mother was determined to rid me of the habit. Each time I said you know, she interrupted me by saying, “No, I don’t know.” Needless to say (I added a qualifying phrase, but here, it fits), I was annoyed. No, I was more than annoyed; I was furious. However, as the weeks passed, my mother’s perseverance helped me delete the phrase you know from my vocabulary. 

When we write, most of us are careful about our choice of words. (This diligence may subside over time, however, as we continue to communicate through texting and tweeting.) But with the spoken word, carelessness abounds. Why are we so unsure of ourselves when we speak?  Why do we need to add Let me tell you to the beginning of a sentence, or and all that stuff to the end?

It doesn’t take much to destroy the impact of a sentence. Can you imagine Socrates saying: “The unexamined life, like, is sort of not worth living,” or Einstein exclaiming: “I mean, try not to become a man of success but rather to become a man of value, or something like that.”

(And don’t get me started on misuse of pronouns. You wouldn’t say, “Him walked to the store.” So why would someone say, “Jennifer and him walked to the store.”) 

Back to the original premise: Our use of language says so much about us.  When we use general extenders, we give a negative impression.  If we are sloppy speakers, are we sloppy thinkers?

If you catch me adding basically to a sentence, or if you notice that I am tacking on the phrase, and that type of thing, please pretend you are my mother and point it out.

I may be furious that you are correcting my use of language, but in the end, I will be glad that you made me aware of my verbal tics. Please be my watchdog.  I do not want to succumb to the crutch word habit.  

All I can say is, words are important ... and all that stuff.

Phyllis Shragge is a local writer, mother of five, and grandmother of four.