Penkava: Is my vocabulary irritating you? Whatever.

Being a writer, my survival pretty much depends on words. Well, words and frequent trips to the bakery that sells paczki year-round.

But our spoken vocabulary, that’s something different. We all may not have a weekly column in the newspaper, but we all talk, some of us more than others, and, evidently, some of us more irritatingly than others.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us. We all have people who we know and love but drive us crazy with their annoying word-hoard of language and slanguage and buzzwords and twaddle.

Their vocabulary rolls off their tongues and jolts us like the combination of fingernails on a blackboard and the alarm call of a cotton-top tamarin monkey. We become theasaurically traumatized and lexiconically concussed.

So what are the most irritating words we use? It just so happens that Marist College recently released its annual list of the most annoying words and phrases in America. Let’s do the countdown of the top five idiomic irritants…

5. “You know what I mean?”

This is something people say to confirm that the listener is in agreement with what they just said, as in…

“So the lady in front of me in the checkout line is searching through her purse. It’s taking forever, you know what I mean? It’s like, is this really happening, you know what I mean? And finally she pulls out a wad of coupons, and I’m freakin’ out, you know what I mean?”

OK, we really understand what you’re saying, but thanks for checking our comprehension throughout your fascinating story, if you know what we mean.

4. “Literally”

Although this word can mean truthfully and factual, it often is used in a figurative sense to intensify a statement…“I ate so much meat I could literally poop a steer.”

“The play was so boring I literally wished I was at the dentist getting a root canal.”

OK, but our heads will figuratively explode if you use that word again.

3. “No offense, but”

This is often said before we say something truly offensive…

“No offense, but your car reeks of moldy French fries.”

“No offense, but your family is a bunch of greedy, money-grabbing, stomach-stuffing morons.”

OK, no offense, but your use of this phrase is a dimwitted attempt to make an insult socially acceptable.

2. “Fake news”

This used to mean purposely fabricated news stories, but now it’s a ploy to describe anything you don’t happen to agree with or a pathetic attempt to reinvent reality.

“Honey, that stuff that the kids are saying about me eating their Lunchables, that’s all fake news.”

“Hey Flavius, that’s all fake news about Antony and Cleopatra, right?”

OK, but without fake news we couldn’t really appreciate the real stuff, whatever that is, right?

1. “Whatever”

This reply can be anything from the universal answer to any question to the arrogantly dismissive response that basically says, “I don’t really care.”

“Frank, what’s Isaac Newton’s second law?”

“Well, Bill, I think it’s the second law of whatever.”

“Hey Misty, could you turn down your music?”


“Did you just whatever me?”

“Dad, it’s just an expression.”


OK, but when you use that word, we’ll just counter with “Whatever infinity” and swiftly and perpetually win the argument.

So, when it comes to annoying words and phrases, it is what it is. With all due respect, at this moment in time, I’m just saying that at the end of the day most of us could care less, believe you me, that, irregardless, if you catch my drift, we’ve all been there, done that.

Sorry if I bummed you out with annoying stuff.

My bad.

• Michael Penkava taught a bunch of kids and wrote a bunch of stuff. When someone told him they liked his column about annoying phrases, he said, “Now that’s what I’m talking about!” He can be reached at

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