It happened to all of us before. You’re writing a follow-up email, creating a presentation or preparing for a job interview. You want it to sound right, current, eloquent. You add a pinch of slang and spice it up with that idiom you love so much.Then you throw in a buzzword and leave everything to simmer. The result? A mash-up of overused words, terms and phrases. Yes, you followed the instructions. But so did everyone else.
You need to search for an alternative. Try harder—and make it simple at the same time. Confused? The following guide lists some of today’s most overused words, terms and phrases, and suggests a few alternatives (and deletions) instead.
Words that lost their impact
In this day and age, everything is important. Watching the news, eating your greens, taking some time off, and the email you just sent to the entire company. But when describing your weekly team meeting, an item in your hand-luggage or this blog post, try an alternative.
What to use instead: Essential, Educational, Meaningful, Serious, Influential, Decisive.
Whether it’s used in its simple present form, to indicate something that you are fond of (“I like this Asian restaurant”), or as a preposition (“they were like siblings, always hanging out together”), like is overused, over-gestured and over-counted on your social media feed. What’s the alternative? If you loved a piece of art, try describing it. If you notice the similarity between two items, state what they have in common. Not sure?
What to use instead: Alike, Related, Close, Equal, Identical, Much the same.
Even if you go by the widest definition of random: “a haphazard course; [...] without definite aim, direction, rule, or method” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary), you’re likely to either misuse or overuse it. If you haven’t paid for a premium subscription on a music streaming app, the songs in your favorite album will play randomly. But when you go on a road trip and stop by the first cafe you saw, it’s not a random cafe, it’s the one you found.
What to use instead: Accidental, Arbitrary, Incidental, Irregular, Unplanned, Odd.
A better alternative? Delete random altogether.
Literally just sounds great, doesn’t it? You’re literally going to march up to your manager, you literally drank the entire bar, you’re literally dying there. Here’s the deal: You’ve been using literally the wrong way all along. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, literally means “in a way that uses the ordinary or primary meaning of a term or expression”. So unless you just finished all the alcohol in the bar the other night, or were in a near-death situation, try avoiding this word altogether.
The over-excited superlatives
As an adjective, great means something that is above normal or average. For example, the Great Wall of China, or Catherine the Great, the fearless 18th century empress of Russia. As an overused word, it describes bags, vacations, people, meetings, and forgotten rock bands from the 1990’s. Want to describe the fun evening you spent with your mates? A beautiful item you just purchased?
What to use instead: Beautiful, Wonderful, Talented, Entertaining, Clever—and the list goes on.
It happens time and time again. You want to compliment your peers on a job well done, or a friend on a cleverly chosen venue. But overusing perfect makes things sound a little bit less sincere. Can everything be so peachy all the time? Probably not.
What to use instead: Excellent, Ideal, Impeccable, Superb, Accomplished, Faultless, Immaculate
When you watch a trapeze artist, a Beluga whale coming up for air or your baby walking for the very first time—that’s amazing. But if you’re looking for a general descriptor or superlative, why not go for more subtle-yet-reliable words?
What to use instead: Cool, Awesome, Wonderful, Pretty, Fun, Unusual.
There’s nothing special about using the same word over and over again. In fact, it might even sound like you have nothing better to say, or worse, think that your best friend’s newborn baby is ugly. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, unique means “being the only one [....] ; distinctively characteristic”. So if you’re describing something that really stands out, use unique, or rare, unusual, different, exclusive. And if that isn’t the case, say what it really is: beautiful, colorful, tasteless, or, in the case of your friend’s baby, takes after their dad.
The industry lingo
If you want to succeed in this world, your new product, program, project or creation has got to be innovative. But is it? Instead of overusing innovative, try to pitch your product or program in a more persuasive way. It might be new, clever, different. It might suggest a different approach. And if there is an innovation at the heart of what you just presented?
What to use instead: Ground-breaking, Original, Cutting-edge, New.
In the Encyclopædia Britannica, an ecosystem is “the complex of living organisms, their physical environment and all their interrelationships in a particular unit of space”. Not too long ago, this term referred to reefs, beehives or the Savannah. Then it was hijacked by the tech industry and today it is used to describe business partnerships, co-working spaces or financial networks.
What to use instead: Industry, Community, Network, System, Co-dependence, Inter-relations.
We’re in the ASAP era, where everything should happen as soon as possible. We’re in such a hurry, that we only have time for the abbreviation: Ey-Sup. But what does it really mean, and is your possible also my possible? If you want something done today, say it. If it’s urgent, state it. And if you want to give the person on the other side of your outbox a bit of space, use alternative phrases.
What to use instead: At your convenience, When you’re ready, What would be a reasonable deadline?
12. At the end of the day
According to Grammarphobia, at the end of the day has been used for decades, and first citings can even be traced to as early as the 1880’s. It’s used to preface the speaker’s point or to highlight the “most important aspect of the situation” (Collins Dictionary). But no matter how long we’ve been using this phrase, we certainly have been using it too often. Yes, it might sound sophisticated, or literary (No, that book and wonderful adaptation are called The Remains of the Day), but why not go for a simpler option?
What to use instead: All things considered, Eventually, All said and done.
13. Hit the ground running
There’s an exciting debate going on regarding the origin of hit the ground running. Is it paratrooper lingo, marine slang or cartoon-inspired? But no matter whether you see yourself landing on the beach somewhere, or as an animated character being thrown off a speeding car —you can say you’re ready without using this expression.
What to use instead: Be prepared, Make the necessary arrangements, Prepare in advance.
According to Wikipedia, the earliest use of State of the art was in the beginning of the 20th century in an engineering manual that described a very modern engine (with art referring to technics). These days, there’s nothing modern or innovative about using this phrase over and over again.
What to use instead: Modern, Fresh, Creative, Updated, Sophisticated, Current.
15. On the same page
If you sing in a choir, it’s a good idea to be on the same page with the rest of the singers. After all, you don’t want to miss your big mezzo moment. The same goes for reading the Haggadah, where one should always know how far they are from finally devouring Matzo Balls. But when it comes to agreeing with your peers or syncing before a meeting, try the following:
What to use instead: In agreement, Think alike, Agreed, Like-minded.
16. Get the ball rolling
Get the ball rolling is such a beautiful, graphic phrase. You’re about to roll the ball (preferably a croquet ball, where this expression originated) all the way to a victorious game or a successful project. But in the writing game, you’re definitely losing points over originality. When it comes to your work environment, wouldn’t it be better to simply use the following phrases?
What to use instead: Start, Kick off, Get started, Roll-out.
17. Game changer
Yet another great idiom, originally from the world of sports, this phrase now describes every new product, business decision or political statement. But can the game change that often? Probably not.
What to use instead: Original, Sophisticated, Smart, Promising.
Words you can simply delete
When you don’t know where to begin, basically comes in handy. “Basically, this meeting is about moving forward to the next phase of our project”. But is it really basic, essential or elementary? Try removing it—and if the meaning has not changed, simply delete it.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, actually means “in fact or really”. Just like basically and honestly, one should question the need for using this word. Does it add anything to the meaning, the tone or the accuracy of your sentence? If it doesn’t, remove it.
If you want to sound credible, avoid using honestly. “I honestly think you should go for the red sneakers” sounds like you’re telling the truth, but your listener might wonder about all the other things you said that weren't prefaced by honestly. The same goes for to be honest and its amplified version, to be brutally honest. If you’re telling the truth, no need to highlight it. Say it like you mean it, and you’ll be the trusted speaker you want to be.
Writing in a fluent, current and original way isn’t an easy task. But if you’ll avoid some of the trends, buzzwords or simply redundant words on this list—your writing will probably be one step ahead of the game. (Woops!)
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Rutie Zuta, Content Team Leader at Wix ADI
Loves words, sentences, paragraphs and everything in between. As a journalist, would get excited about current affairs and chasing politicians. As a content specialist, gets equally excited about content, product, platforms and putting it all together.