The 5 Most Annoying Words or Slang of 2020 - Robert Jonathan's Blog (2022)

The Most Annoying Word or Phrase Is…

It’s been a tough year for everyone on many levels, but as this blog also inquired last year at this time, what word or words that gained currency or continued to in 2020 get on your nerves the most?

Well, based on a random landline and mobile phone survey using live interviewers of about 1,700 adults, the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, a.k.a. the Marist Poll, determined that the dismissive “whatever” is the most annoying word or phrase in casual conversation for the 12th consecutive year, with 47 percent making that selection, up from 34 percent in 2019.

The Marist Poll discussed its findings that revealed the top five most annoying words:

Whateveroutpaceslike(19%) by more than two-to-one followed byin my opinionwith 13%. In this era of virtual meetings,you’re on mutereceives 9%. Another 9% selectactually… Regardless of region of residence,whateveris thought to be the most annoying word or phrase around: 54% in the Northeast, 51% in the West, 45% in the South, and 40% in the Midwest. Women (52%) are more likely than men (42%) to abhorwhatever.”

Last year, no offense but came in second, dude in third, literally in fourth, and actually in fifth place.

Earlier this year, came up a list of the 94 most annoying corporate buzzwords. Here is the top ten:

  • synergy
  • value-added
  • take ownership
  • let’s talk about this offline
  • reach out
  • circle back
  • onboarding
  • low-hanging fruit
  • proactive
  • outside the box

{Note: Keep reading for the words of the year listings]

Banished Words List

Michigan’s Lake Superior State University has released its46th annual listof words/phrases that, going forward into 2021, theoretically/satirically should be banished from the English language. The trend is evident, as LSSU explains:

“Enough already with COVID-19! People across the U.S. and around the world let Lake Superior State University know that they’re tired not only of the coronavirus pandemic but also of hearing, reading, and talking about it—especially when the communication is bad or excessive,COVID-19 terminology monopolized submissions for LSSU’s annual Banished Words List this year. Out of 1,450-plus nominations, upwards of 250 of the words and terms suggested for banishment for overuse, misuse, or uselessness relate to the coronavirus. In fact, seven of the 10 words and terms that LSSU is banishing for 2021 are about it….

“LSSU has compiled an annual Banished Words List since 1976 to uphold, protect, and support excellence in language by encouraging avoidance of words and terms that are overworked, redundant, oxymoronic, clichéd, illogical, nonsensical—and otherwise ineffective,..

“A large number of nominators are clearly resentful of the virus and how it has overtaken our vocabulary. No matter how necessary or socially and medically useful these words are, the committee cannot help but wish we could banish them along with the virus itself. Coincidentally, this list arrives as does a vaccine—the committee hopes this proves a type of double whammy..”

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Here is the LSSU list:

  • COVID-19
  • social distancing
  • we’re all in this together
  • in an abundance of caution (various phrasings) — perhaps the most overused of all
  • in these uncertain times
  • pivot
  • unprecedented
  • Karen
  • sus
  • I know, right?

Additional Words or Slang Not to Live By

Like a comfortable hoodie, certain words/phrases fit a situation and provide a shorthand way to get your message across. They may or may not constitute as annoying words.

However, a lot more of them have entrenched themselves in everyday conversation and the lexicon as cliches or fillers. Some even have outlived their “shelf life” and “sell-by-date,” although your conversational mileage may vary.

In no particular order, here are some additional banishment candidates — and there’s a lot of them — that this blog has collected. Remember though, your mileage may vary.

  • Stay safe (a phrase that has become nearly devoid of all meaning)
  • merch (as in merchandise)
  • honestly, to be honest, to be honest with you, to tell you the truth, or any of its derivations [a big red flag; usually subtext for just the opposite–sometimes referred to as a perception qualifier]
  • I’m not gonna lie [another tell]
  • Let me be clear, let’s be clear, or clearly [usually means the opposite]
  • in fairness/to be fair
  • national treasure [usually a fawning way of describing some overrated pundit]
  • you’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts
  • community or tribe [when discussing consumers who purchase a particular product]
  • so [when used as the first word of a sentence–often incessantly used by entrepreneurs who appear on theShark TankTV show]
  • literally [which is typically vocalized when the speaker actually means “figuratively”]
  • wrong side of history
  • winning/breaking the Internet
  • pump the brakes
  • it is what it is
  • at the end of the day
  • there is no there there
  • epic
  • singing Kumbaya
  • influencer [as in social media influencer]
  • thought leader
  • absolutely [instead of a simple “yes”]
  • disruptive [a positive in the context of start-up-venture hype]
  • no problem [instead of saying “you’re welcome”]
  • I mean [dropped repeatedly at the beginning of a sentence]
  • thank you [instead of an expression of gratitude, it’s used when signifying agreement with what the other person has just said]
  • first-time caller/long-time listener or thank you for taking my call [on talk radio]
  • it’s all good
  • my bad
  • my truth/your truth/my journey
  • conflate
  • pivot (flagged by LSSU as well)
  • check all the boxes
  • snowflake
  • microaggression
  • safe space
  • transparency
  • I get it
  • binary choice
  • basically
  • amazing
  • totally
  • awesome
  • awesomesauce
  • throwing someone under the bus
  • having someone’s back
  • you know what I’m saying (usually framed as a question)
  • I don’t have a dog in this fight
  • that dog don’t hunt
  • the gift that keeps on giving
  • skin in the game
  • comfortable in their own skin
  • step up my/your/his/her game
  • game on
  • bring it
  • how ya doin’?
  • you know
  • like
  • Google it
  • that’s a great question
  • actually
  • adulting/adult supervision
  • lean in

Pressing the Reset Button on These Words

Here is the other side of the coin also from a Michigan educational institution. Wayne State University’s annualWord Warriors initiativethat assembles a list of words “especially worthy of retrieval from the linguistic cellar.”

All year long, Wayne State take suggestions from the general public, as well as its from administrators of its Word Warriors website, for “beautiful” words to rescue “from the brink of obsolescence.”

The 2020 top-ten list in Word Warriors’ 11th year (get your dictionary ready) is as follows:

  • Cachinnate
  • Coruscate
  • Gewgaw
  • Luculent
  • Mullock
  • Perendinate
  • Redolent
  • Seriatim
  • Somnambulant
  • Velleity

2020 Dictionary Words of the Year

Merriam-Webster,, the Oxford Dictionary, and the American Dialect Society all announce their often politically charged words of the year on or about New Year’s Eve or before.

This year’s selections are different given the focus on the worldwide COVID-19 public health crisis and related lockdown orders, so you can guess what’s coming.

According toMerriam-Webster, “pandemic” is the 2020 word of the year with online lookups spiking by an astounding 115,806 percent on March 11, the largest single-day increase of the year.

It's the story of the year and now the word of the year.

'Pandemic' is our 2020 #WordOfTheYear.

— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) November 30, 2020
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Apart from “pandemic,” Merriam Webster also compiled a top-10, plus one, words of the year list as follows:

  • coronavirus
  • defund
  • mamba
  • kraken
  • quarantine
  • antebellum
  • schadenfreude
  • asymptomatic
  • irregularities
  • icon
  • malarkey also chose “pandemic” as its word of the year. “Searches forpandemicskyrocketed 13,575% on compared to 2019,” the organization explained.

Heavy searches occurred for various other COVID-related words which it explains in more detail on its website announcement.

2020 has been, well, a lot … and so is the #WordOfTheYear2020.

— (@Dictionarycom) November 30, 2020

Month by month in 2020, the trending words were as follows:

  • pettifogging
  • acquit
  • quarantine
  • social distancing
  • conspiracy theory
  • defund
  • Karen
  • doomscrolling
  • absentee vote
  • superspreader
  • unprecedented

“Unprecedented” — which appears on the LSSU list above — was digital dictionary’s separate people’s choice 2020 word of the year, followed by the recurring “pandemic,” and “lockdown.”

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With the last 12 months being unprecedented in domestic and international events that drove rapid language change primarily because of COVID, Oxford Dictionary lexicographers explained in a 38-page report that “2020 is a year which cannot be neatly accommodated in one single word of the year.”


With everything that has happened throughout 2020, we concluded that this year could not be summarized by one single “Word of the Year”.

Download our Words of an Unprecedented Year report for the full story. #WOTY2020

— Oxford Languages (@OxLanguages) November 22, 2020

The BBC’s top-10 list is as follows;

  • lockdown
  • COVID-19
  • megxit
  • fraud
  • plandemic
  • social distancing
  • plastic
  • stay safe
  • cancel
  • mute

In its first-even virtual annual conference, theAmerican Dialect Societyannounced its 31th annual word of the year on December 17, 2020. The event is usually held in person in the first week of January.

About 300 remote attendees selected “Covid” (what else?) was as its 2020 word of the year, which traditional includes vocabulary items that extends to phrases.

Ben Zimmer, the ADS chair of its new words committee, as well as a Wall Street Journal columnist, explained:


“A year ago, the wordCoviddidn’t even exist, and now it has come to define our lives in 2020. The selection recognizes how ubiquitous the term has become, from the time that the name for the disease caused by novel coronavirus was dubbedCovid-19by the World Health Organization back in February. That was quickly clipped toCovid, which then appeared in phrases likeCovid crisis,Covid relief, andCovid vaccine –and evenCovid baking,Covid hair, andcovidiot. It has become a stand-in for the entire pandemic and the societal impacts that we’ll be experiencing for years to come.”

Down with Uptalk

Circling back to annoying conversational techniques, let’s take a minute to chat aboutuptalk or upspeak, a phenomenon that linguists often describe more formally as high rising terminal.

You’ve heard it all over television, and from there it has seeped into day-to-day life. This is the tendency for a speaker to end a declarative sentence as if it is a question. In other words, uptalk is a habit of finishing statement with an interrogative tone, if not an invisible question mark. Somehow this has become cool.

If you ever watched the Australian version of Shark Tank, for example, it seems that practically every entrepreneur ends each sentence of their investment pitch with a rising intonation at the end. Uptalk is rampant in the U.S. too, of course.

Uptalk makes the speaker appear uncertain, indecisive, or equivocating about even about the most trivial of matters. It also seems to make the speaker sound like he or she is desperate for affirmation from the listener.

Having spread like a verbal virus, if that reference isn’t inappropriate given recent and current events, perhaps minimizing uptalk would be a most welcome New Year’s resolution.

Ex-CBS journalist Connie Chung reported on uptalk way back in 1994, but it appears that the video has been pulled from YouTube.

In the clip below, Joe Rogan discusses uptalk with neuroscientist Andrew Huberman. I f you listen closely, Huberman himself seems to uptalking at the very beginning of the clip;

Circling back (sorry for the corporate buzzword listed above) to Michigan yet again, the University of Michigan “Words Matter Task Force” in the IT department came up with a list of about two dozen problematic words/phrases, along with a list of more inclusive replacements.

Agree or disagree with these lists of annoying or acclaimed words? Comment below or on Twitter or Parler. Happy New Year.



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