TRITE—Overused, worn out, lacking in originality
Just about anything can be trite: art, music, dance, food (think kale salads). But this blog is concerned with language, so that’s what we’ll focus on today. Read through these trite expressions and then vow to avoid them whenever possible. It will always be possible; just think of straightforward alternatives. You can do it.
- No sooner said than done
- By hook or by crook
- Busy as a bee
- A bolt from the blue
- Few and far between
- In this day and age
- Words fail me
- By leaps and bounds
- Better late than never
- A good time was had by all
- Breathed a sigh of relief
- From the ridiculous to the sublime
- It’s a small world
- Life and limb
- Sticks out like a sore thumb
- To all intents and purposes
- In the final analysis
In the final analysis, I hope you can see why it’s better to avoid these expressions.
When you’re angry or frustrated, are you beside yourself or besides yourself? Here’s the difference:
BESIDES means in addition to.
Besides me, only three people showed up at the meeting.
BESIDE means next to, alongside.
At the meeting, I sat beside a woman I had never met before.
However, the expression beside myself (with frustration, for example) strikes me as odd. Obviously, it’s idiomatic; you can’t physically get next to yourself, no matter how hard you try. But if you are sufficiently frustrated, you might feel as if you have been torn into two people. I’m just guessing here.
I’ve been wondering how the word joe came to be used in a slang sense for coffee. I consulted Evan Morris’ book The Word Detective to see what his theories are.
In fact, no one seems to know for certain. It may be that joe is somehow associated with the island of Java, since java is another synonym for coffee. In the 19th century, the Indonesian island of Java was a major source of the world’s coffee.
Joe is often used to refer to the average man, the common man (his female equivalent is Jill), and has been especially associated with the military (we all know GI Joe, slang for the common soldier long before he hit the toy store shelves). Because coffee is said to fuel the military, an association between common soldiers and their drink of choice is fixed.
Are you aware that almost every day you see one or more signs using quotation marks improperly?
“In business since 1979”
“Apple pie like your mom used to make”
“Call us for affordable repairs!”
No one ever said these things. They were made up to call attention to what the advertisers want you to remember.
Legitimate uses of quotation marks are when you are quoting the actual words someone else either said or wrote, or when you use a word knowing that your readers are aware you are being facetious or sarcastic.
For instance, if you write that your Aunt Edna is on a “strict” diet and then you go on to write that she eats strictly high-calorie foods, your readers understand your sarcasm. But in the last sign listed above, putting quotation marks around “free” seems to indicate that the delivery is, in fact, not free. It’s as if the company is poking you in the ribs and saying, “Ha! Not really.”
If you want to call attention to certain words, instead of quotation marks, you can use italics or boldface type. But please do this very sparingly.
I can’t say I’ve saved the best for last, but these are the only two remaining funny signs I haven’t yet posted. So say “Sayonara” to people’s attempts to master English—with perhaps not quite possessing a full understanding of that language. Whatever they have done, it’s better than any attempt at Japanese on my part would have been.
I think the backwards R is a nice touch:
And here is a bit of trilingualism: native Japanese speakers creating a sign using both French and English. A for effort: