As writers, we try to put down on paper exactly what we mean to say. The goal, generally, is clear, concise communication. When it comes to verbal communication, we’re often not as fastidious, sometimes preferring to say everything besides what we mean to say. In honor of that tendency, I’ve compiled a list of ten meaningless expressions that I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of hiding behind at one time or another. If your goal is clear, concise communication, avoid these like the plague. However, if your intention is verbal subterfuge, this one’s for you…
- We’re sorry for/We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.
I find that this is a statement commonly used by people, businesses, or organizations whose lack of competence, planning, etc. is currently inconveniencing their customers and they typically could care less and plan to do nothing to eliminate similar blunders in the future.
- Thank you for your patience.
Just so you know (see #4), this is not an admission of fault, but a general acknowledgement of the public’s patience, generally at a time when the public has no choice but to be patient (i.e., when something we are waiting for and have paid for is (1) late, (2) cancelled, or (3) not coming). Rather than thanking us for our patience, how about stop trying it.
- Sorry if I offended you.
This is a poor excuse for an apology. Apologies should be specific and sincere. They should not resemble the line in that Take That song: “Whatever I did, whatever I said, I didn’t mean it….” Not good enough. I’m sorry, you should know what you did and apologize for that and keep your smug statements to yourself.
- Just so you know…
This phrase tries to pass itself off as a harmless FYI, but it is usually delivered with the nastiness of a smack down (I’m not sure why). It’s usually not a news bulletin that follows, but a rude instruction.
- This isn’t going to hurt.
Commonly told to small children just before they are stabbed with a needle. It is never true. They never tell adults it isn’t going hurt, because this lie works exactly once.
- This will only hurt a little.
Any poke, prick, stab with a needle hurts. And pain is relative. The way I like to measure it is how I felt before being jabbed versus how I feel after being jabbed. Pain level before jab=0. Pain level after jab=10. There’s no such thing, in my book, as hurting a little.
- It’s not right for our list, but maybe another publisher will feel differently.
- It’s not you, it’s me.
This should be fairly self-explanatory, but just in case it isn’t, allow me to assure you, it is you. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be right for someone else…
- Please don’t take this the wrong way…
This means there isn’t going to be a right way to take it…What follows is going to smart. Sorry.
- I’m not trying to be nosy, but…
I think people think this makes their insolence cute. Sort of like when Lady Rosamund told the Dowager on Downton Abbey: “I’m afraid you’ve read somewhere that rudeness in old age is amusing. And it’s quite wrong.” Actually the Dowager’s zingers are quite amusing. But being asked personal questions by a total stranger is slightly less so.