What's in a phrase? For some, irritation
Whatever, at the end of the day, it is what it is, you know?
That could be the most annoying sentence in America, according to a poll released Wednesday that ranked irksome words and phrases commonly used in conversation.
Clocking in at No. 1 was the ubiquitous “whatever,” which 47 percent of those polled by Marist College found to be the most annoying. “You know” came in second, with 25 percent saying it was the worst, while “it is what it is” was chosen by 11 percent.
“Anyway” (7 percent) and “at the end of the day” (2 percent) rounded out the five choices.
“They’re such ditzy phrases,” said Josh Campos, 27, of Manhattan, who was not involved in the survey. “(They) sound stupid.”
Experts on speech patterns say most of those phrases serve as verbal tics or space fillers; in other words, things to say when you don’t have anything to say.
“When people say ‘you know,’ they’re not really listening to what they’re saying,” said Jezra Kaye, a speech coach based in Brooklyn. “They don’t know what they want to say. It’s really unconscious.”
Kaye said she tells her clients to ask a friend to tap them on the shoulder every time they use insidious phrases such as “you know” and “like” and try to break themselves of the habit.
“It’s just something you have to do cold turkey,” she said.
The opinions of those surveyed varied by region, with people from the Midwest – 55 percent – taking most umbrage at “whatever,” while Northeasterners found “whatever” and “you know” about equally annoying, 32 percent and 35 percent, respectively.
Mary Azzoli, of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, attributed those numbers to the frequency with which the phrases are used. She said Marist staff came up with the list and asked people to rank them.
“These were words or phrases that were dismissive,” she said.
Among the most famous recent examples of the use of such grating phrases is Caroline Kennedy, whose interviews shortly after being mentioned as a potential Senate appointee earlier this year were loaded with “you knows,” a habit many say helped sink her chances.
“She came across as not having confidence,” said Jeffrey Davis, who advises executives on public speaking.
Tony Johnson, 22, of Brooklyn, admitted he is a prime offender when it comes to irritating speech.
“I’m a big ‘you-knower’ and I always thought ‘whatever’ would just be a fad but it has stuck around,” he said.
Phoebe Kingsak contributed to this story