Monday, 21 January 2013

A Non-Literal Crutch

I like to think I keep fairly up-to-date with new word creations but have to admit I only came across "YOLO" by accident when half-watching The Big Fat Quiz of the Year 2012 on Channel Four at the end of last year.

A week into the New Year and I'm reading about a recent study in the US by Marist, revealing “YOLO” is one of America's least favourite words ( Since reading the Metro feature, I'm unable to stop saying “whatever” (unsurprisingly another word voted “most annoying”) for several days afterwards and actually experience someone saying “YOLO” to me in all seriousness – a student asks to borrow a pen and I warn him it'll lead to an “equipment comment” to which he replies: “Oh well, YOLO!”

I'm well aware words like “basically” wind a lot of people up but realise I have no idea what these types of words are called. Virtually every phenomenon in the world has a name, especially in linguistics, so I'm surprised it takes me so long to uncover the information I seek. A friend suggests “earworm” ( but this term seems to exclusively be applied to music that sticks in the head without any obvious prompting, not isolated words.

The answer finally surfaces and sounds somewhat misleading... Words like “literally” are called “crutch words”, a term referring to expressions peppered throughout our language that act as verbal or written pauses, allowing us time to think or accentuate our meaning. Sometimes these words have somehow lodged in our brains, resulting in repeat usage, adding little meaning. Sometimes we use them incorrectly but even if we don’t need them at all, we're likely to unintentionally and quite irritatingly persist in churning them out.

To check how many crutch words you use, for an extensive list visit:

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