Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

For Worthwhile Communications, Avoid Junk Talk

The food equivalent of junk talk. At the risk of sounding like a school marm, I’ll mention Gresham’s Law. It is an economic theory that bad (debased) money will drive out good money.  I think it also applies to communication.  Some people use so much junk communication that they have diminished their ability to write or speak in a way that is effective, persuasive or that shows depth of thought. 

I define junk communication as catch-words and phrases that circulate widely and are considered witty or thought provoking, but that do not show any  intellect or originality. My view is that they are appropriate among friends as conversational fillers or quick ways to express a thought or get a smile. But, they are not appropriate for thoughtful  communication–and certainly not in a professional setting.

The issue isn’t that these are horrible on their own (although some are!).  It’s that using them to excess prevents you from communicating in a real sense.  And, frankly, they put you at the communication levels of those with whom you probably do not want to be equated.  Off-set the occasional use of them by ensuring that most of the time you express yourself at a level that represents you in the most positive manner.  And never, never use them because you think they will make you sound “with it”.  They won’t.

Let me give you some examples. Some of these were contributed by business people in a class last week, others are from friends or gleaned from my own experiences. 

  • Wassup? (That’s an old one that is still being used, unfortunately.)
  • What’s up with that?
  • Hel-lo?????
  • Whatever. (This is what the young man at the hotel desk said to Russell Crowe, that caused him to throw the phone. I don’t blame RC–as his other friends and I call him.)
  • As if. (This is close to the Not!!) of twenty years ago.
  • That made me vomit in my mouth a little. (To indicate how gross a comment was–as though that comment isn’t gross.)
  • I almost spit out my coffee! (To indicate how funny a comment was. This is very popular with those who write on forums.)
  • Things that make you go hmmm. (A phrase designed to indicate the writer or speaker is pointing out something interesting.)
  • OMG!!!!! (This, along with all the other instant messaging and text messaging initials, has had a tremendous–and I think, negative–impact on communication. Some people even say the initials.  In the last week I have had people say, “OMG!” and “LMAO!” I can understand saying, WTF? But, since it isn’t very soul-satisfying to say it that way, you might as well forget it.
  • Fugget it. Or, fugget-aboud-it.
  • Get over it. (You might say this behind someone’s back, but you’ll never get good results if you say it directly to someone.)
  • What a beyotch. (The word beyotch, as a way to say the bad word better, doesn’t sound any better.)
  • Sooooooooooooo (whatever the next word is): Sooooooooooo funnyyyyyyy! Soooooooo saddd. Soooooooooo sorrrry.)  I thought I was the only one who received business messages with “soooooooooo” in them.  Last week several people commented on how much like a teenager an adult sounds to write it like that  in a business email. I agree!
  • My bad. (This vague apology is often said with a tone that implies, “but it’s not really important.” It isn’t interpreted as a sincere apology.)
  • You go girl. (Another catch phrase that is sooooooooooo last week.)
  • Chill. (I don’t care for this word even when it’s used to mean, “Be cool.” But, in the last month I’ve heard it used by professional level people to describe someone who is calm, flexible or in control, or used to be. “He used to be so chill and now he’s a PITA.” “Don’t worry. He’s chill.” I asked the person who used that last phrase, why he would use it in a business setting. He looked perplexed and said, “My  kid says that all the time. You know what I meant.” The fact that I could figure out what he meant didn’t make him sound intelligent to be talking like a twelve year old.
  • Awesome!
  • It’s to die for. (Really? You really would die for that salad? Or that dessert? Really? Why not say, “It’s good enough to die for”?)

Yes, I use some (not all) of these catch-phrases myself now and then, and I know you probably do as well. But, let’s recognize them for what they are and what they are not. They are not communications that allow us to build relationships by sharing our thoughts. They don’t substitute for genuine questions or expressions of concern or appreciation. They don’t demonstrate that we are well-read and able to express ourselves in an interesting manner. They don’t inspire respect or confidence from others.  Like junk food, they have their purposes–but should be limited and not habitual. 

Have you heard any catch-phrases lately?

May 17th, 2009 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development | 9 comments


  1. OK. What about, “I THINK not!” That has been around for years, but I know someone who says it all the time. She says, “Talk to the hand.” She closes business emails with, “TTFN” That’s ta-ta for now, if you didn’t know it. She also says, “It’s to die for”, like you mentioned. She just got in trouble for telling someone, “What part of “I don’t have time” do you not understand?” She thinks she’s really intelligent and up to date, but she sounds ridiculous with those things, and she says them a lot!

    Now I’ll be watching myself all the time. Mike

    Comment by Mike | May 17, 2009

  2. Tina says: That was certainly a quick comment after the article was posted, Mike! I’m glad you mentioned those catch phrases, because they could certainly go on my list. They are hackneyed and not suitable for a professional setting. I have confidence that you would never make remarks like that. 🙂

    Comment by TLR | May 17, 2009

  3. Hi Tina! I always check your site when I get to work. I don’t comment a lot, but I read everything. Mike

    Comment by Mike | May 17, 2009

  4. I don’t know how to say this, so you might need to edit it. But, a thing I notice is that some people talk as though they are gangstas, mostly for fun, but to make a point or when they are complaining about something. I don’t even know how to describe it, it’s just weird. This is so habitual with a couple of people I know, that they will lapse into it even in serious conversations. It sounds really uneducated and lowlife.

    I had to stop myself from saying, “Duhhhhhh!”. I didn’t mean it as an insult, but I really hurt someone’s feelings one time when I did that and I swore I never would again. Plus, it’s the kind of thing a disrespectful teenager would say, and I didn’t want to be lumped into that category at my age! Phyllis

    Comment by P.A.H. | May 18, 2009

  5. 1. I like the picture and I’m going to ask my wife to make a sandwich like that for my dinner.
    2. You must have ESP. Some of us were discussing this last Friday. It seems like a lot of intelligent people have sunk to the lowest level of talking and writing.

    I get emails from 70 year old people writing things like,

    how r u? i’m doing fine.

    I wrote to one guy and told him if he was so frail he couldn’t type the whole word, he should probably just go back to bed.

    We’re having great weather right now, except for the wind, so you can come up here anytime.

    Comment by Wiseacre | May 18, 2009

  6. I hear the phrase, “Excuse me???” too often at work, usually by young women. It’s said with a tone that is really aggressive and even frightening to a few people. I agree with the person who said some people sound like gang members. But of course, they want to be treated like professionals.

    I like your approach to the things that go on at work. Thanks!

    Comment by R.K. | May 18, 2009

  7. I see most of these as harmless habits, that admittedly do not show the speaker at a high level of communication. Sometimes that doesn’t matter but I agree that in a business setting or a serious conversation it matters.

    I hate to tell you that I delivered an entire sermon entitled, “What’s Up With That?” I spoke about several confusing events as recounted in the Bible. After reading the selection I would stop and say, “What’s Up With That?” It was a big hit with the young people, but my family felt I sounded unlike myself!

    Blessings! Don

    Comment by Don R. | May 20, 2009

  8. Tina says: Thanks to all of you who commented or sent an email with your thoughts.

    The point I hoped to make is that some phrases and terms are so over-used they’ve lost their appeal and wittiness, and some are simply not appropriate in business settings or business communications. Say what you mean in a clear way to avoid confusion and to represent yourself as a professional.

    We could all benefit from consciously and purposefully expressing ourselves in ways that present us and our ideas more positively–in any setting.

    Comment by TLR | May 21, 2009

  9. Good post and on target with the comments people make that make them sound very uneducated or unprofessional. Do one on Business B.S. sometime. We play B.S. Bingo and staff meetings. I know, we shouldn’t. But it’s a big temptation after hearing someone say, “That’s low hanging fruit” or “Don’t silo that.”

    Comment by Sean M. | June 4, 2009

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