Shirley's Articles / Business Writing

The World’s Most Irritating Phrases

Article reproduced with permission from The Plain English Campaign

At the end of the day… we’re fed up with clichés!

So says The Plain English Campaign.

Plain English supporters around the world have voted “At the end of the day” as the most irritating phrase in the language.

Second place in the vote was shared by “At this moment in time” and the constant use of “like” as if it were a form of punctuation. “With all due respect” came fourth.

The Plain English Campaign (an independent pressure group launched on 26 July 1979) surveyed its 5000 supporters in more than 70 countries as part of the build-up to its 25th anniversary.

Spokesman John Lister said over-used phrases were a barrier to communication. “When readers or listeners come across these tired expressions, they start tuning out and completely miss the message – assuming there is one! Using these terms in daily business is about professional as wearing a novelty tie or having a wacky ringtone on your phone.

The following terms also received multiple nominations in the survey to find the most irritating phrases:

  • 24/7
  • absolutely
  • address the issue
  • around (in place of “about”)
  • awesome
  • ballpark figure
  • basically
  • basis (“on a weekly basis” in place of “weekly” and so on)
  • bear with me
  • between a rock and a hard place
  • blue sky (thinking)
  • boggles the mind
  • bottom line
  • crack troops
  • diamond geezer
  • epicentre (used incorrectly)
  • glass half full (or half empty)
  • going forward
  • I hear what you’re saying..
  • in terms of…
  • it’s not rocket science
  • literally
  • move the goal-posts
  • ongoing
  • prioritise
  • pushing the envelope
  • singing from the same hymn sheet
  • the fact of the matter is
  • thinking outside the box
  • to be honest/to be honest with you/to be perfectly honest
  • touch base
  • up to (in place of “about”)
  • value-added (in general use)

In the weekly e-newsletter from The Plain English Campaign, they reported:

The widespread coverage of the survey (including an appearance on the front page of The Times and national television pieces on BBC1, BBC News 24 and Sky News) suggests we have struck a nerve, opened a can of worms, heard what people are saying, scored a home run, and any other cliché you wish to use!

John Lister took part in interviews for radio stations in Ireland, Canada, the United States, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Given the subject, it’s probably not surprising that only one presenter ended an interview with the phrase we hear so often in these situations: “more power to your elbow”.

We received so many suggestions since publishing the list that we are thinking of holding a similar survey each year to see which of today’s fresh buzzwords have become tomorrow’s tired clichés.

We also received several emails that simply read “Get a life.” We’re not sure if these were intended to be general comments about us or nominations for clichés!

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Shirley is an international bestselling author. She has established herself as a leading authority in email and business writing skills. Her international bestseller Model Business Letters, Emails & Other Business Documents 7th edition sold over half a million copies worldwide and has been translated into 17 languages. Her book Email Essentials reached #2 in the USA for publishers Marshall Cavendish International. Find out more about Shirley at

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