"Annoying word" poll results: Whatever!

« previous post | next post »

Proving once again that peevology is the most popular form of metalinguistic discourse in the U.S., the media yesterday was all over a poll from the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, purporting to reveal the words and phrases that Americans find most annoying. As was widely reported, whatever won with 47%, followed by you know (25%), it is what it is (11%), anyway (7%), and at the end of the day (2%). As was not so widely reported, those were the only options that respondents to the poll were given, so it's not like half of Americans are really tearing their hair out about whatever.

For more on the poll and its media reception, see my latest Word Routes column on the Visual Thesaurus. And check out recent Language Log posts on whatever (here) and at the end of the day (here, here, and here).


  1. Carl said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 2:25 am

    Either recently "just sayin'" has become a catch phrase of some sort or I've been afflicted by recency syndrome. Either way, it's my current top peeve.

  2. Rubrick said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 2:40 am

    Poll results? Whatever. At the end of the day, it is what it is, you know?

  3. F said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 3:56 am

    If those were the only options, why don't the percentages add up to 100? Or was there, in fact, another option, "none of the above", which 8% of the respondents were intelligent enough to notice?

  4. Cecily said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 4:04 am

    If I was going to do a pointless poll asking which of five words or phrases people fond most annoying, I certainly wouldn't include "anyway" – yet 7% voted for it. Can anyone who dislikes it explain why?

  5. J. Goard said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 4:13 am

    "Whatever" is the only one of the choices that is inherently rude to the addressee.

  6. mollymooly said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 5:18 am

    @Cecily: "anyway" might be a control option. Or maybe some people prefer "anyhow".

  7. Cecily said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 5:27 am

    @mollymooly: Hmm. I'm not sure that such a ludicrously unscientific survey would bother with a control option – espeically when there were only 5 options.

  8. Matt said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 5:47 am

    My vote is for "actually"

  9. Acilius said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 6:06 am

    @Cecily: Some people have a habit of using "anyway" as a filler, to the point where it is fair to call it a verbal tic. I confess that I am one of those people, and that I have annoyed people by overuse of the word.

  10. Cecily said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 6:41 am

    @Acilius: It's hardly in the same league as "like", "kinda" or even "er um", so it still seems an odd one to pick for a list of only five.

  11. Faldone said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 9:16 am

    The might coulda included "anywho". Or is that "anyhoo"?

  12. Nicholas Waller said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 9:26 am

    I think it may be that some people find "anyway" actively offensive, which obviously depends on how and where it is deployed.

    Personally, I overuse "anyway" at the beginning of paragraphs in emails, when I've been rabbiting on at length about something of possibly minor interest. It's a sort of "that's enough of that" marker and is annoying enough when I read it back.

    Where it gets offensive is when, following some heartfelt comment or outpouring requiring a thoughtful response, other people kick off their next statement with "anyway" and start on a different subject. In this case it is short for "what you said is essentially irrelevant, boring or slightly potty" and we're not going to address it; let's move on to something much more interesting. In that sense it is like "whatever", except that "whatever" generally comes with an implied shrug and no further contribution.

  13. Catanea said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 9:51 am

    Perhaps Language Log would care to mount a similar poll with no items/words/phrases pre-selected? Only the stipulation that the language examined in English. And taking into consideration the self-selected respondents. Maybe there are associated blogs or other fora where the poll could be publicized?

  14. MJ Devaney said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 9:56 am

    I'm glad "literally" isn't on it; I've been annoyed recently by the game of gotcha people have been playing with this word, the joy so many people seem to take in knowingly exclaiming that if you state "I literally jumped out of my skin," then you had better be prepared to provide photographs. There's even a blog called "Literally," "an English language grammar blog tracking abuse of the word 'literally.'"

    [(bgz) Yes indeed, as has been discussed on Language Log, e.g. here, here, and here.]

  15. angela said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 11:39 am

    I find it incredible that no one has brought up: "no problem" as ubiquitous rejoinder to everything.

  16. Faldone said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 12:22 pm


    Perhaps you missed the email of August 5, 1996 that announced the change to "no problem" from "you're welcome" as a response to "thank you." It superseded the memo (sent by mail sometime in the late '30s) that announced the change to "you're welcome" from "think nothing of it." That one was probably before your time but you should of heard the stink that one raised.

  17. Acilius said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 1:03 pm

    @Nicholas Waller: I'm glad I'm not the only offender!

  18. Aviatrix said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 1:27 pm

    The response to "thank you" that makes me double take is "uh-huh." I have to forcibly remember that in some parts of the United States that means "you're welcome," to avoid thinking the people to be rude.

  19. George Amis said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 1:41 pm

    Around here (central California) at least, the expression is often "Hey! No problem!". "No problemo!" is also common, although the word is "problema" in both Spanish and Italian, and "Not a problem" also has some currency

  20. Boris said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 1:48 pm

    I think "you bet" is theoretically worse than "uh-huh" as a response to "thank you". I tend to say "no problem" when someone is thanking me for something I actually did versus "you're welcome" in other cases. (I find "don't mention it" unremarkable as well, though I don't think I use it. I never heard "Think nothing of it", though it's close to one of the phrases available in Russian for such a response)

  21. Simon Cauchi said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 3:41 pm

    You also hear "no problem" in Greece, where the b is pronounced as a v. And, if I remember correctly, both the o's are open.

  22. Simon Cauchi said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 3:45 pm

    In Mexico — and, for all I know, perhaps other Spanish-speaking countries — the response to "Gracias" is "De nada", which isn't very far from "Think nothing of it".

  23. Simon Cauchi said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 3:52 pm

    @ Faldone: "you should of heard"

    ? Really! (Not quite the same as Gotcha!)

  24. Faldone said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 4:01 pm

    @Simon Cauchi:

    Don't spread this around, but the use of substandard language choices on my part is usually a signal that my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek.

  25. Brad said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 4:23 pm

    Given the occurrence of phrases like "de nada" or "nandemo nai" in other languages as a polite "Oh, it was nothing (you didn't have to thank me)", it is odd that "no problem", which could reasonably be taken as an abbreviated form of "Oh, it was no problem at all, (you didn't have to thank me)", is annoying to anyone.

    One might almost think that some people enjoy getting annoyed at how other people speak…

  26. Dick Margulis said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 5:12 pm

    I'm campaigning to have "perfect storm" added to peeve polls in the future. As in "at the end of the day it was a perfect storm." It's not unheard of for a book title to turn into a catch[22]phrase, and maybe perfect storm will become a permanent part of the language, but it smacks of fad to me. I feel like I hear it at least three times a week in NPR interviews.

  27. Christopher Henrich said,

    October 9, 2009 @ 7:19 pm

    One peeve that hangs around my yard and begs for scraps, but isn't really a pet, is "sea change" for just about any change in anything.

  28. david daniels said,

    October 10, 2009 @ 8:34 am

    I perceive a marked lack of transparency in the posts submitted thus far. This annoys me twenty-four seven. However.

  29. joanne salton said,

    October 12, 2009 @ 2:42 am

    I rather get the impression that it is the general fondness for peevology itself is a pet peeve of the LL team, but the follow-up posts of the non-LL team never quite seem to reflect this.

  30. Morten Jonsson said,

    October 12, 2009 @ 11:46 pm

    I like "it is what it is." I like how when it comes up, for a moment the focus of the conversation is suddenly on the thingness of the thing being discussed. And it shows what a depth of suggestion there can be in the most obvious possible tautology. If you choose to hear it that way, of course.

  31. Mr S said,

    January 7, 2010 @ 12:41 pm

    In the land of Media where its cool to be social and cool to have good hair, you hear a lot of annoying words and expressions being used incorrectly in most conversations or as I like to call it Media Guff, on a daily basis.

    The one getting on my nerve at the moment is 'Yadee Yada Yadaa' which is another form or bad variation of Etcetera ('or' and so forth'). Yadee Yadaa Yadaa' has only just risen from the bog of grammar eternal stench and is now being used in nearly every sentence as if its some new fashionable grammar tool used to fill in the durrr, nnnrrr, blank moments.

    " and so, I was putting together this media plan for client x who wanted to increase awareness, perceptions and yadee yada yada….. "

    sorry I think you missed out a bit at the end there, in fact a pretty vital bit that will more or less structure the entire media plan…

    " The book im reading is about radical pricing of the 21st century it sooo good for example it explains how Free is not quite what it seems or is perceived yadee yada yada…."

    and ? and ? and ? AND ?

    'Yadee Yadaa Yadaa' is even encouraging the thickets in the office to stand up and talk for a change, giving them some kind of confidence or fucking ability to say something which is semi useful to a retarded suicide bomber wanting directions to the nearest restaurant blow up his own face in the bog.

    Don't get me wrong, I like how words evolve, but I hate that along the pathway some words get trampled on by millions of grammar art farts using words completely out of context or even change the meaning of the word with little meaning of the word itself, to somehow 'fit in' a social environment

    " oh guys have you heard the latest expression for 'see you later' it sounds something like this 'raaddee yaaaj'"


    oh guys have heard the latest expression for 'Etcetera' ? its 'Yadee Yada Yada' how cool …

    I rest my case.
    Thank you for reading.

  32. Kunthea said,

    May 24, 2014 @ 8:48 am

    Hello everyone,

    Im a student from Cambodia. Last few days I made a mistake with an official email by using "anyway"in the begining of my paragraph. The official staff didn't reply my email because of it. My fiance who is an Australian sent that officer another email and he got the response. "anyway" that bad to use in email or writing? I have studied English for years, but I haven't taught the use of it. I thought it was just used for expressing something that I just remember to say. Didnt know it did this
    big mistake.

RSS feed for comments on this post