10 Slang Phrases that Should be Retired Right Now

By August 8, 2011Communications

If you know me well, you know that I made a resolution at the end of 2010 to be fist-bump free. It wasn’t so much a chore for me — I’m not a fist-bump giver, proactively. Nor am I much of a high-fiver. In fact, I loathe both of these practices. The swearing-off of the fist-bump was designed to discourage the behavior in others, resulting in some awkward moments in 2011 (I’m leaving people hanging all over Central Virginia).

The fist-bump is closely followed by numerous phrases (and certain terms) that should be forceably removed from our collective communications immediately. If you’re still firing these off with frequency, particularly in business communications (e-mail offenders are rampant), it’s time to do a little soul searching and catchphrase cleanup. If you catch me using any of the following, feel free to call me out.

  1. You go, girl.
  2. NOT!
  3. Ai’ight.
  4. Calling anyone “girlfriend.”
  5. Don’t go there.
  6. Winning.
  7. Epic fail, fail, or fail-ing in general.
  8. Brain fart.
  9. Whatever.
  10. Anyways. (Yes, with an “s” — please stop.)

Any to add to the list?


  • msprolesmartin says:

    Whatever, girlfriend. What an epic fail. NOT! … Seriously – you go, girl. I must have had a brain fart to even think that – but don’t go there with the blonde jokes! Anyways, this is a real win. …. Ok … waiting for my extra points – Ai’ight?

  • Marijean says:

    @msprolesmartin points awarded. I think I’m gonna be sick.

  • Alice says:

    This is interesting. I mean, in fact, habits of common civility that are better established—handshakes, nodding, saying “gesundheit,” “please,” “thank you,” “yes, ma’am,” etc., began as arbitrary actions that caught on. While I can agree that things that are based on someone else’s tragedy (“winning”) or are caught in a really limited pop-culture idiom (“schwing!”) are worth abandoning, I’m not sure you aren’t tossing some reasonably healthy babies out with that bathwater, Miss Thang (oh yes, yes I did).

    Further, it’s notable that the origins of almost all of the examples you listed are minority cultures. I’m not sure that means anything in particular, but it does prompt me to consider, anew, the paradox of marginalization and cachet that seems to come with minority status.

    Another thing that stands out is that the purpose of many of the examples is to make contact, to acknowledge on another. I think there’s a bit too little of that in common practice these days and I’m likely to err on the side of encouraging it. We could use more instances of acknowledging that other people exist, even if it’s at least partly unconscious.

    All of that said, I’m feeling twitchy that you overlooked, “TMI,” using “impact” as a verb, “synergy,” “at the end of the day,” using “calendar” as a verb, “heads up,” leverage/leveraging,” “on the same page,” “dashboard indicators,” “low-hanging fruit,” “viral,” “outside the box,” “suck,” “made of ____ (win, yes, lose, wrong),” and my current personal Hell-maker: “epic.”

    Hypocrite? I? I prefer to think of myself as “nuanced.”


  • msprolesmartin says:

    MJ – not sure I can even look myself in the eye after typing all that!

  • Marijean says:

    @Alice oh excellent comment Alice. I have to say, that’s the first time anyone has called me Miss Thang, so the exceptional use is applauded. I’m all for current slang and familiarity and the acknowledgement of the existence of others, naturally. I think it pains me, though, when people step too far out of their culture/generation to try to be hip (all the cool kidz are doing it!). There is, I think a whole separate category for business jargon that should be killed — you started a good list here.

  • carolineemerson says:

    As long as I can still use my Fonzie thumbs up ans “Aaaaaaaaayyyy!” exclamation in meetings, I’ll be fine. @Marijean

  • carolineemerson says:

    @Marijean As long as I can still use the Fonzie “thumbs up” and “Aaaaayyy” exclamation in meetings, I’ll be fine.

  • Alice says:

    @Marijean Wait… Umm… Whoa, sister. Are you ACTUALLY TRYING TO SAY that you don’t find it utterly charming when a former-frat-boy CEO says “True dat,” or fist bumps instead of hurling his body on the floor and gatoring?Sweet heaven above.

    What’s next? You’re going to say that flip-flops and midriff-bearing tops on the elderly aren’t to your taste? You’re going to rail against Taco Bell as not being authentic? You’re going to suggest that people who live in cities don’t really need Range Rovers? You’re going to call out those of us who spend our time in catty commentary regarding reality television?

    Honestly, woman, if you cut any closer to the bone, people may forced to communicate genuinely.

    As if.


  • Alice says:

    @carolineemerson@Marijean That made me chuckle loudly enough to resume my status as, “That weird lady who laughs at her desk.”

  • Alice says:

    Hey, in all seriousness: the place where I could not agree more is the place where these kinds of shorthand expression supplant substantive communication. It’s particularly confusing in situations where clarity and information delivery are important. The ante rises when you factor in that slang references do not always convey across cultural lines—even invisible ones.

    My beloved A2 and I ran into this around two phrases, recently: “Dog Days,” and “Let’s play it by ear.” I take the former to mean miserably uncomfortable summer days. We were planning a trip for me to visit her and I suggested a particular date range to which she replied (via text) “Dog days.” I understood this to mean that another time would be better. She was only commenting that it would be hot. I take the latter to mean that there are some variables we can’t control and/or information we don’t have in the present moment, so we can make a tentative plan and bracket for the fact that variables or information may require us to make a change in it. I still put the appointment in my calendar. She thinks of playing it by ear as something even less concrete than that, and wouldn’t put it in her calendar.

    This can be create some challenging moments in a personal relationship, but has the potential to cause much more difficult problems in other kinds of communication. Lacking the rules-breaking finesse of VW’s “Think Small” campaign, slang can send people on divergent paths and undermine faith. Doubleplusungood.

    I support a double standard. If I’m in the car with my dear friend and she is telling me a story about something that covers a topic for which we have a deep shared frame of reference, I might choose to reply with a brief, “Word,”* or “I’m just sayin’…” I’m ok with this because it doesn’t disrupt the flow of her narrative, affirms that I’m with her, and feels casual and natural within the language space of our relationship.

    In any other setting, however, I try to be more thoughtful. Twitter’s text limits, the culture of text messaging, and FB status updates do nothing to help in this regard, but I’m working to cultivate a personal challenge regarding pithy clarity. When I can be bothered. Which isn’t all of the time. On the other hand, so far, I’ve managed to avoid saying “FML” in university budget meetings. (There are days when that counts as an accomplishment, given the influence of various students in my daily office life.)

    Next challenge: verbosity. 🙂

    *Though to someone else, I might seem a bit Vanilla Ice saying, “Word,” the fact is that I was a professional musician when that piece of slang hit the streets and it was germane within the musical circles in which I traveled. In other words, it’s authentic to my experience. I do not, however, throw gang signs when I say it and (most of the time) my pants aren’t too droopy.

  • Marijean says:

    @carolineemerson I have total respect for that. Also? I think you’d look really hot in a leather jacket.

  • Marijean says:


  • KenMueller says:

    Seems to me that you’ve given me a few “Whatever”s in the past.

  • Alice says:

    @KenMueller@Marijean (pssst…. MJ, you know that there is only one way to reply to this…)

  • Alice says:

    @Marijean I suppose you’re right. After all, neither of us specified authentically WHAT…

  • CHEManager_EU says:

    You forgot when people punctuate something annoying/offensive/etc. with “just sayin’.”