Common conversational expressions, colloquialisms

I have been compiling a list of phrases and expresses that I hear often but never see in writing. I’m doing this because I want to make my writing more conversational and less didactic, y’know, to bring my writing more in line with my talking. Maybe it will give people some ideas; I’d like to know what other ones people can think of.

‘[never] used to’
(as it) turns out’
‘how come’
Winds/wound up
‘bring (it) up’
‘as it so happens’
‘has to do with’
‘a lot’
‘the thing of it’ or just ‘the thing (is)’
I noticed that ‘did’ is used a lot instead of other verbs like ‘write’ when naming for example authorship, ie Who did the Da Vinci Code? It was done by Dan Brown. Note the passive construction which actually does pop up.
Certain topical constructions pop-up that never do in much writing, ie the following…
‘as far as (it) go/es’
‘when it comes to’
‘About’ and ‘with’ phrases show up frequently. ‘What about..?’ and ‘How ’bout..?’ are common.
‘Put (down)’ as a way of saying ‘write’ or ‘answer’ i.e. “I put, “The Hessians were a…'” and ‘went’ instead of ‘said’ ie “…And I went, ‘What are you doing?'” ‘Put’ can also mean speaking, as in “When you put it that way…”
‘Tell’ for discern/distinguish/see, and ‘looks’ for seems/appears. ‘I think…’ tends to appear very frequently too in answers to questions or statements. The phrase “I can’t say…” or “I can’t speak to that…” are obviously related but much less common. ‘Told’ is very frequent, mostly when you are telling people who you told what.
‘Take it’ is often used to state conjecture/speculation/opinion/understanding. Ie “The way I took it, he didn’t really want to come.”
‘The way’ appears absolutely everywhere btw.
‘Call’ appears frequently as in “bird calls”, “phone calls” and “What is this/he/she/it called?” but mostly meaning ‘to call [someone on the telephone]’. However, ‘called’ or ‘cried’ as in the sense of yelled/hollered are mostly for writers I think.
‘how are things going’

I would love to hear some if you think of any. These are mostly in addition to the basic grammar words like ‘which’ and ‘because’, contractions, and words like ‘stuff’ and ‘thing’, but if you have a pet word please mention it. If you love grammar and using more words rather than fewer, bring up the words that annoy you! 😉

(by Gregg
for group greggshorthand)

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10 comments Add yours
  1. This reminds me of a book that said the stenographer is to record what the speaker should have said, not what he did. I suspect he meant just tidying up the grammar, but even that is dangerous. Too many words are misused these days, often in the name of "formal grammar", by people who think longer and rarer means more formal.

    One of the reasons I took up shorthand was to write fiction. A business stenographer doesn't need contractions. Regardless of what the dictator actually said, she'll expand it. Court reporting probably varies widely with jurisdiction and era. Normal English is easier to read than a dialect. Recording a dialect will make an intelligent person with the dialect sound unintelligent. In fiction, though, they're definitely needed.

  2. That's some insight there. I didn't know that about stenographers. I think the way I used to write was a mix of several things, but mostly it felt like I balanced succinctness with meaning unconsciously, and shorthand gets rid of that need. For instance, a lot of my sentences are either shorter or longer now, because a lot of English feels like it relies on intonation which is lost in writing, and other sentences are longer but use lots of vague everyday words to get across a point. I still prefer this kind of writing because it's much more spontaneous and natural. I like to think it would make Orwell proud; he really championed the use of everyday language, or at least a style. I think it's funny that this sort of thing is considered "frilly" when really it feels very plain. So much of modern writing feels distracting or embellished it seems, and for what? So that it can be hard to read? Anyways, I'm still no there yet but I hope to be soon. Thanks for the input.

    I thought of another example, 'got' as a passive or to mean 'to be able to' or to mean "to have obtained or received", i.e.. "I got to ride the elephants". Or "I got attacked by a monkey". Or "I got a new bike for Christmas".

  3. Absolutely, English does rely on intonation. I'm a storyteller — as in tell a story live, without notes, to an audience. There are many styles, and some of us also do authored stories, where we have to use the original words yet make them sound fresh. I tell one story written in Victorian English. My kids know when I'm preparing it, since I speak differently that week. It's attitude as much as word choice.

    Words that annoy me:

  4. You have to use a light hand when you tidy up other people's grammar in writing. Fixing verb-subject agreement ("they was") is pretty safe, but changing the words is playing with fire, except when it's clear they meant another word (sesame street bun?).

    Many people seem to lack confidence in what they say, so they dress it up to sound more impressive. It usually manages to sound like they're talking through their hats.

    "Go/went" as an all-purpose verb seems to work fine in speech, but in writing, I still prefer "say/said" if that's what you mean. No need to reach for a longer word, though.

    I second the nomination of utilize. Decimate used to annoy me, until it annoyed other people enough that they quit using it much.

    "The thing is is that" drives me up the wall. One "is", please.

  5. Cricketb: That's cooool. 🙂 I didn't know anyone did that anymore. What kind of occasion do you tell stories for, if you don't mind me asking? And Victorian English!

    I think 'utilize' would be 'use', if I were talking. 'Decimate' is too abstract for me to guess what I would use for it.

    Nisew: I second that on the confidence thing.

    I think people over-use 'literally' and 'actually.' It's like it's no longer good enough for people to say things and mean them. Or maybe that's just my brothers girlfriend.

    The thing on the "is is" makes me chuckle, but I can read it and hear it at least. It kind of reminds me of "that that" which is really funny-looking but surprisingly I did really use when talking, at one time.

  6. I forgot about 'literally' and 'actually'. Good call. Sometimes 'literally' is also used when it's clear from the context that the person meant 'figuratively'.

    I knew someone who seemed to have a permanent stutter with the phrase "The thing is that." If it had been once in a while, I might not even have noticed the double 'is', but when it's regular and frequent it stands out.

  7. I usually tell authored stories. Kipling is good, but his stories need editing. I recently bought a book of Japanese folk tales that looks promising, but they were collected by a British gentleman at the height of the Empire — when the British way was best. I tell them "based on" rather than claiming they're accurate.

    Some tell personal stories or immerse themselves in a specific culture's tales. One trained as a bard in Finland before immigrating. Several tell stories about their parents and grandparents, including Russian Mennonites and a French-speaking bride on the prairies during the Depression. Another researches witnesses to historical events, like the diary of a great general's daughter. I wish my kids were old enough. This sort of history is more valuable than the texts we had in school.

    I mostly tell to adults during storytelling concerts. I also tell in schools and seniors homes. Several guild members have told all over Canada and internationally. (I lucked out with this guild. Many great mentors.)

    When reading to a few kids, repetition and long convoluted words can work. When telling to an audience, even of experienced adult listeners, you need to simplify both the language and the story, and to reinforce key ideas. The audience can't slow down or interrupt or flip back a page to check something.

    There's a real difference in the language.

    Another great thing is we start using stories in everyday life. At job interviews, I don't just list my three greatest strengths, I tell micro-stories demonstrating those strengths.

    Utilize is misusing something, such as a knife as a screwdriver, or the word utilize instead of use.

    Decimate means remove 1 in 10. Romans did it to captured enemies. Now it means leaving 1 in 10.

    Decimating the utilization of utilize would be a good start.

    My kids love 'actually', and have recently been weaned off 'literally'.

  8. As someone who made his living using his shorthand, I had bosses who wanted me to fix bad grammar and then there were the lawyers who–whether it was right or wrong [and there were times it was plain, old wrong]–wanted exactly what they had said. In those incorrect cases, my reference initials came OFF the letter.

  9. Nisew: I remember things like the TruTV ads that go, "Not reality–Actuality'. Those are kind of too cute. And misusing or sarcastically using words is always annoying. Heck with irony! Right?

    Any catchphrase is annoying. 😛

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