Last November, the folks at Oxford University came out with a list of “top 10 irritating expressions” in the English language, by which I suppose they meant the English language as it’s employed in their corner of the English-speaking world, and not necessarily in what used to be the backwaters of the Bard’s dominion, in places like India and the Philippines.
“Irritating” is, of course, a matter of cultural and personal predisposition. One man’s joke — such as the “Barack the Magic Negro” song that top Republicans passed among themselves — could be another man’s slur, and what annoys an American—such as a Pinoy texting in the middle of conversation — might be perfectly normal to the other fellow.
So the Oxford list might cause some of us to just go “Eh?”, but it’s always interesting to see what ticks off other people. Now let’s see which among the following words or phrases feels like a bug in your ear:
1. At the end of the day
2. Fairly unique
3. I personally
4. At this moment in time
5. With all due respect
7. It’s a nightmare
8. Shouldn’t of
10. It’s not rocket science
Well, come now, that wasn’t too bad, was it? We hear these expressions hereabouts now and then, but not that often, so they don’t grate on us as they might with the English. For example, we hardly ever say, “It’s not rocket science,” because, well, we don’t have rocket science in this country. Indeed we have our own, uhm, fairly unique ways of putting things and of getting annoyed by them.
I’ve compiled my own list of irritating expressions in English as we Filipinos use the language among ourselves, with others, over the airwaves, in the office, in conferences, and in the papers. I’m sure you can add to this list — do send me your pet peeves — and this comes with the caveat that the annoyance may be entirely mine. If they don’t bother you, then don’t lose any sleep over them; Lord knows we suffer enough aggravations in this life and in this country without having to be upset by wrong or awkward prepositions.
(Speaking of which, a reader wrote in recently to say how he or she — there was no name in the email address — failed to appreciate whatever I was doing in my column-piece on getting a La-Z-Boy, because I had committed the grievous error of saying “in the mall” instead of “at the mall” in my first sentence. I said I agreed that “at the mall” was probably the preferred and “correct” form, but I also asked him/her to Google the whole phrase “in the mall” to see how it’s entered common usage. Language — unfortunately or otherwise — isn’t graven in stone like math, perhaps to the distress of ruler-toting schoolmarms; one billion people saying “1+1=3” isn’t going to make it so. But if enough people—including influential writers and editors in places like Newsweek and The New York Times — say “different than” instead of “different from,” which I’m sticking with only because it’s what I’ve been used to, then the language will change; it already has. This might as well be the place for me to remind readers that while I do teach English and while I deeply value and enjoy language as a writer, I don’t think of myself as a stickler for rules, as some would like me to be. I cringe at bad language and poor grammar, but there are far worse things in life to fret over, and some of the worst damage to English is being perpetrated by some fools in Congress who insist on an English-only policy when they can barely speak or write it. I once had to sit through a hearing where a congressman held forth on “the youngs, the youngs of this country!”)
But here’s my list of the 10 most irritating Pinoy expressions in English — irritating not necessarily because they’re wrong (although some are), but because they’re everywhere you look and listen.
1. “In fairness.” The most popular phrase in Pinoy showbiz, where fairness is apparently in great demand. Every time I hear this, my mind goes, “In fairness to whom or to what?”, but you never get to hear the other end of the phrase, so much so that you begin to suspect that the speaker really means “In fairness to me!”
2. “As far as.” I don’t mean “as far as the eye can see,” but “As far as accommodations, everything is already taken care of” (or, more likely in these parts, “taken cared of”) or “As far as Manny Pacquiao, either Hatton or Mayweather will be okay for his next fight.” As in the above, I keep looking for the missing “is (or are) concerned” after “as far as” — but it looks like that’s as far as most people will go.
3. “At this point in time,” the Pinoy version of “At this moment in time.” I can recall precisely when I began hearing this wondrously redundant expression over the airwaves — during the coverage of the 1986 EDSA revolt and its aftermath, from which point (in time?) it became a staple of reporters and broadcasters. Why not just say, “at this point” or “at this time” or the even more economical “today” or “now”?
4. “Remains to be.” Not in the sense of “It remains to be seen if Filipinos will finally vote for the right person,” but rather “The deposit remains to be unclaimed” or “This painter remains to be unappreciated by the critics.” “To be”? Not to be!
5. “Wherein.” I don’t know how this word crept into the vocabulary and overran the place, rather like the carnivore snail someone imported that ate up all the other garden creatures both good and bad, but you hear it everywhere, taking over where (or wherein?) the good old “where” (or, sometimes, the more precise “whereby”) should suffice. Hear this: “The house wherein the hero was born will be turned into a museum.” Want to have some fun? Google these two words together: “wherein” and “Philippines.” You’ll find choice examples like “He entered the University of the Philippines wherein he studied Medicine.”
6. “Demand for.” I’ve already written about this before, but obviously no one in government and corporate officialdom reads me, so we still have signs screaming “Demand for your receipt!”
7. “Literally.” Don’t people know that “literally” means, well, “literally”? I’ve heard people say “I’m so hungry I could literally eat a horse!” Really? I tried horsemeat once, in little nibbles—no, it didn’t taste like chicken — so I guess I could say “I literally ate horse,” but literally eating a horse will require hunger the size of Africa.
8. “Whatever.” You ask someone a perfectly good question you’ve taken minutes to compose, and that person shrugs her shoulders or rolls his eyes and says “Whateverrrr….” Don’t you just want to strangle that person on the spot?
9. “Wholistic/holistic.” First of all, just how do you spell this thing? Does it come with a W or not? The medical dictionary defines “holism” (no W) as “the conception of a man as a functioning whole. But then you have websites devoted to “The Wholistic Pet” and “Wholistic Health Solutions” (which, incidentally, sells the Home Colon Cleaning Kit). This word (with or without the W — whatever) seems to be one of those warm and fuzzy buzzwords that came in with New Age music, organic tomatoes, and NGOs. (I’ll talk about “stakeholders” some other day.)
10. “Multiawarded.” It’s No. 10 on this list, but it tops my list of Ugliest Frankenwords in the Universe. Of course, it’s popular because it does the job of saying “He (or she) has won not just one but many prizes!” Anyone should be happy to be multiawarded, and I should be honored that this word’s been often applied to me in introductions and such — but it isn’t false modesty at work when you see me wincing at the word. “Prizewinning” will do. Or, better yet, “many-splendored.” But that would no longer be me.–Butch Dalisay, Philippine Star