What are you saying?


I met with a friend the other day to catch up after the December holidays.  She was telling me about her travel to Phuket last year (gosh I just realised so many people I know were in Phuket over the December holidays.  Seems like South Africa was well represented there).

Anyway, as she was telling her story she suddenly said “Needless to say ….”.  And the moment she said it I stopped her and asked if what she was about to say was going to be a waste of my time or that she was going to bore me with a load of hogwash and was it worth my while to listen.  Well the look on her face was priceless and I had to smile.  She knew I was onto something and left her lost for words.  She hadn’t realised what she said and that the phrase was meaningless – it literally discounted everything that was to follow. Of course, we had a good laugh and began to talk about the junk people say in the hopes of impressing those they are talking to.

That is why I thought this is a perfect opportunity to blog about those ridiculously unimportant, “hifalutin”, phrases (sometimes waste of words) that people use thinking they are making an impression and sounding good.  Yes, I do too from time to time and that is why I can laugh at some of the stuff being said.

I am going to take a light-hearted look at some of the phrases which I hope will leave you smiling and probably second-guessing yourself when you do utter these phrases.  Some of my dearest friends are guilty of using some of these statements too and they will know who they are when they read this.

So let’s get to it.

 “Needless to say” – why bother to say anything if that is what you are going to start with.  You are in fact letting the other person know that you are now going to waste their time by saying something that doesn’t really need to be said.  So, don’t waste their time. Don’t say it!

“It goes without saying”– Really? Then why say it? It is going to go, whatever it is, somewhere, sometime – no words needed.

“The fact of the matter is” – Oh joy, this is such a meaningless statement.  Just say what you need to say – there is no matter of fact to discuss.

“To cut a long story short” – Usually by the time this statement is said, a long story has already been told and another long story is going to follow – nothing short about it at all! Can you relate?

Another favourite is “Before I get started” – Oh wow!  The very fact that you have said or written it, means you have started! Think about it – start is the beginning of something, there can’t be a “before” once you have started.

These are just some of the phrases we all use from time to time.  Yet so unnecessary when all you need to do is get to the point and say what you need to say, right?

When speaking or writing, less is best.  Keep it simple. At least everyone will understand you. Yes, everyone, not some, not a few.

  • New and improved – Which is it? New or improved?
  • Fair and equitable – Is it fair or equitable? Use one or the other, just not together.
  • Unexpected surprise – Really? Whoopee! I didn’t see that one coming.
  • Each and every – I know you want to prove a point, each or every would be good.
  • Begin to start – You can either begin or start, I’m not sure how you can begin to start?
  • Component part – Yes … moving on.
  • At this particular point in time – Surely you mean now? Or just now, or now-now?
  • At the present time – Yes our politicians love to use this statement
  • At that particular point in time – Do you mean then? Or when?
  • In close proximity – Aren’t you close or near?
  • My personal opinion – Usually an opinion is personal or are you giving me someone else’s opinion?

We should also avoid using transitional phrases (or simply in-between phrases) from beginnings and endings such as:

  • Secondly – okay so this is the second point, we know that because you already stated the first one.
  • Another point to consider – Really? What was the first point? Did I miss it?
  • As we shall see in a moment – Ooh I can’t wait. When? I am waiting in anticippppppation!
  • Furthermore – Hmm? Go on ….
  • In addition – So what you are going to say follows what has just been said, right?

Some people tend to overuse adjectives and verbs – again, this helps them be more emphatic or helps them to make their point clear.  Have a look at these:

  • The radio blared loudly – Is it blaring or is it loud? If it is blaring, it is loud.
  • He clenched his teeth tightly – Yeah, trying to picture clenched not being tight
  • He grinned widely – Really? Can’t you grin narrowly?
  • Moped dejectedly – Not sure how much more dejected you can feel when you mope
  • Many students – how many is many? “Students” is already plural and that means many. Do you agree?

Remember, when writing, keep it short.  In today’s busy world, people don’t have time to read long, windy emails or messages.  When I get a long-winded message or mail, I immediately lose interest.  Short and sweet and you have my attention.

One of my favourite and unforgettable examples I like to use when training on writing is this email I received from the CEO’s PA (yes, who would have thought) and the message read, “Will you kindly please book me a boardroom ….?”  Yes I can book the boardroom but a simple ” Please”  is good.  “Kindly please”  – I am not sure how please can be kind, can you?  It is polite enough to say “Please book me a boardroom …” without using any additional words to make it look good or sound as though you are begging.

In an article on the web, Gene Wales put it so well.   He said, “When communicating whether through graphic, written or verbal do it as if you are sending a telegram to a moron at USD 10,000 per word.” That is hectic!

Remember, where you can use one word in place of a phrase or a few words, do so.  Cut your text by 50% when moving from print to screen.  7-10 words per sentence is ideal.

I hope you had a good chuckle at some of the above examples.  Have you used any of them? Do you know of anyone who has?

If you have some new phrases/statements that you have heard, please feel free to share them in your comments.  I would love to hear from you.