Social Question

ETpro's avatar

What causes people to adopt an overused word?

Asked by ETpro (34472points) August 14th, 2010

Usually, it’s a simple word or phrase such as “like” or “you know what I mean?” but it can be far more strange.

Back when my wife and I were newlyweds, we had an apartment in a complex in Santa Barbara. The building superintendent/maintenance guy had a heavy Italian accent, and somehow had adopted the word “eventually” as a pet word. You never knew when it was coming, but eventually, whether he was talking about a leaky faucet or a scheduled inspection, the word “eventually” would eventually get into every single sentence that came out of his mouth. It often didn’t even make any syntactic sense, it just eventually got tossed randomly into the sentence. Perhaps it helped him eventually stop one thought and move to the next. We eventually started calling him “eventually” when talking between ourselves.

My wife just mentioned him, and it made me wonder what strange thought process causes us to adopt an overused word or phrase, and why are we personally so oblivious to it? What do you think causes it? What does someone’s having an overused word tell us about its user’s thought process? Does the choice of word tell us anything, or is it adopted randomly, through some sort of imprinting process at the time the need for a “crutch” word or phrase arises?

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15 Answers

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

I’m not sure what causes it, but I know that I am guilty of it.

Austinlad's avatar

Maybe it’s like constantly wearing an old shirt or pair of shoes… it’s as simple as just being comfortable.

Seek's avatar

Ugh, this friend of my husband’s says “actually” at least twice in every sentence. Once in a while he throws in “ultimately” for flavor.

“Actually I thought they actually did really well, actually. They used to be really bad, actually, but they got this new drummer and they ultimately became much better, actually.”

We blame it on the weed.

ucme's avatar

Exactly. I know exactly what you mean. I have exactly the same experience with a neighbour of mine. You illustrate this point exactly as I would have done :¬)

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

In the example of the superintendent, clearly the word served the instrumental purpose of indicating some non-specific future point when repairs might be expected to be completed.

Some words come into popular over-usage as a result of use in a quirky or catchy advertising campaign, popular song, book, television programme or movie or by some celebrity of the moment.

Many people like to appear to be aware of current trends and adopt a word to fit in with those whom they perceive to be “cool” or “with it” to use example expressions from the past.

Humans are social creatures that like to act like others in their herd.

ETpro's avatar

@TheOnlyNeffie What word is it? Don’t force us to guess. :-)

@Seek_Kolinahr Actually I have a friend who overuses “incredible” to an incredible degree. And he actually smokes an incredible amount of weed, so you might actually be right.

@ucme I know exactly what you mean. :-)

@Dr_Lawrence Thanks. That makes good sense. Maybe the super was just hedging his bets. Even if he was fixing something at that very moment, he would say it would eventually be fixed. That way, if he botched the job (which he often did), he had not lied.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@ETpro I don’t know, it changes often. Lately it’s “actually.”

ETpro's avatar

@TheOnlyNeffie You actually have to be kidding, right? :-)

perspicacious's avatar

I don’t know but there are literally a ton of them.

Jeruba's avatar

I think in many cases they become a mindless filler, a habitual stalling device to fill a void.

For about a year and a half, I worked in a cubicle next to a software test engineer who talked on the phone with the developers all day long. He was virtually incapable of uttering a sentence that did not contain the word “basically.” I thought murderous thoughts between six and forty times a day. I don’t think “basicness” had anything to do with even 1% of what he was talking about. It was just the verbal equivalent of ground peanut hulls and corncobs in your dog food.

ETpro's avatar

@Jeruba Thank you for that very colorful way of describing a verbal filler in concrete (or at least cellulose and crude fiber) terms.

Trillian's avatar

Removed by me. Unintentinally offensive.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

I suddenly feel so stupid.. haha.

ETpro's avatar

@TheOnlyNeffie No need to feel that way about having an overused word. Like I mentioned, one of the brightest guys I have ever met, a fellow with an incredibly robust vocabulary, used incredible just about every time he wanted to say something was big, large, ample, etc.

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