RS: Whatever, anyway, you know, it is what it is and at the end of the day. The folks who conduct the Marist Poll chose terms they thought were not only overused but also dismissive, says senior editor and writer Jared Goldman.
AA: "And 'anyway'?"
JARED GOLDMAN: "That I think is used a lot of different ways. I think it's often used to ostentatiously change a subject. When someone is going on about something, the person speaking with them might say 'ANY-way ... '"
RS: "Well, with 'you know,' that's used so often, you hear it all the time in people's speech, and it seems to me that 'you know' is basically a filler of space. Is that your take on 'you know'?"
JARED GOLDMAN: "Yeah, I think so. I think that's definitely a big part of why people use 'you know.' I think also when they can't find the words themselves and are trying to get the person they're talking to to supply them with the words. I think it's also used there. But, yeah, I think you're right, it's most often used as a way to collect your thoughts when you can't figure out what words to use."
RS: "And 'at the end of the day'?"
JARED GOLDMAN: "Yeah, 'at the end of the day,' we thought it was annoying because when someone uses that, they might be saying 'Well, we've been talking about it in these terms, but I actually know what the answer is. I know how to sum up this subject. At the end of the day this is what's important.' So I think someone who uses that habitually, it can be very annoying when they do so."
AA: "How about the 'is what it is'? That doesn't jump out at me as a term that I hear very often. Where are you hearing that?"
JARED GOLDMAN: "I've heard it in meetings, and also when I've been in a long conversation with someone about some kind of problem that can't be solved, I think in an effort to stop talking about it and just stop expending energy on an intractable problem, someone just says 'It is what it is.' I think it's also a way, if you're being criticized, to say 'You know, you can criticize me all you want, but it is what it is.'"
AA: "Like Popeye's 'I am what I am.'"
JARED GOLDMAN: "Yeah, I'm not going to change."
AA: "Now turning to the results, tell us what the Marist Poll found."
JARED GOLDMAN: "The highest proportion of people thought 'whatever' was most annoying. That came in at forty-seven percent. 'You know' was second, at twenty-five percent. 'It is what it is' was third at eleven percent. 'Anyway' was fourth at seven percent. And 'at the end of the day' got two percent."
RS: "So who were the people that you polled?"
JARED GOLDMAN: "It was a random survey, nine hundred and thirty-eight people, all over eighteen."
RS: "And did you see any differences among the American public or among the demographics of the United States?"
AA: "Maybe by region. Were there regional differences?"
JARED GOLDMAN: "Yeah, the biggest difference we saw was that Midwesterners seemed to be significantly more annoyed by 'whatever' than people in the Northeast. Fifty-five percent of people in the Midwest said 'whatever' was most annoying to them, and it was only thirty-five percent in the Northeast. And in the Northeast, 'you know' seemed to be more annoying. Thirty-two percent of Northeasterners said that was the most annoying, and in the Midwest it was only nineteen percent."
RS: "When you look at this poll, what do you think it really tells us about either our language, how we feel about our language, who we are as Americans when we use these so-called annoying phrases?"
JARED GOLDMAN: "I think people would like to have conversations in which the language used is more precise, in which people really think about what they're going to say. People don't appreciate it when other people aren't willing to put energy and thought into what they say."
RS: "What's been the response to the poll?"
JARED GOLDMAN: "We know that people have their pet peeves when it comes to conversation, but we didn't expect people to really respond so strongly. Well, one of the ways they responded was by commenting on the Web site and leaving the words that annoy them. 'Like' especially was disliked by quite a few of them. 'No problem' instead of 'you're welcome,' 'the bottom line,' 'literally.'"
AA: Jared Goldman works at the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. Tell us the words or phrases in American English that annoy you.
RS: Share your comments at voanews.com/wordmaster. And that's WORDMASTER for this week. With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.