Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

January 28, 2008

Some Colloquial Phrases that are Now Officially "Broken"

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 1:12 pm

First there’s “broken” as in Mitt Romney’s “Washington is broken”. It’s moronic tough-manager speak, the kind of mangaer speak that allows a person who runs, say a predatory buy out operation like Bain, to buy and break up companies and fire workers because the institution is “broken”, forgetting how many people with jobs then become “broke”.

Then there’s the phrase, which has taken root in the blogoshere, if it didn’t originate there: “Not so much.” I used to like it. I don’t think I’ve used it but I can’t be sure, but in any case its sell-by date is gone. (By the way there’s a third phrase that ought to be eliminated: “sell-by date”, with its faint aura of pretentious anglophilia has had it’s sell-by date, I’m declaring , right now).

Stilll I’d love to know who first came up with “not so much”. I’ll even enable Comments–I must admit I just got SO tired of the same old repetitive political rants, so don’t think you’re going to sneak any off-topic stuff on this post. I’ve tolerated it before but now, not so much.

Not so much: It was good, kind of funny the first two hundred times you heard or read it. Not so much now. Please, it’s jumped the shark (which phrase itself has LONG ago jumped the shark).

Not so much, “not so much”, anymore,people. It no longer has street cred (another phrase that has lost its street cred–I feel like I’m in a maze of phrases that are all, in one way or another, broken).

Anyway I think it would be interesting if commenters suggested other phrases that are “broken” and if anyone has a theory of who first said “Not so much”.



  1. Here’s another one that should go: “Wait for it.” Also, “cloud-cuckoo land.”

    Yes! And saying something obviously contrafactual and then adding “Oh, wait….” has about had it, although I admit to having used it.Off topic: “John Shade”: best pseudonym so far..

    Comment by johnshade — January 28, 2008 @ 1:46 pm | Reply

  2. If you’re feelin’ down and out/ Your soul is sold, your record broken/ Getting not involved so much/ Feel like a tarnished token/ Alien to your closest pals/ No succor from your Dad or Mama/ No one knows you, down and out:/ Go out and work for Our Obama!

    Sneaky, but funny.

    Comment by charlie finch — January 28, 2008 @ 1:58 pm | Reply

  3. The first one I can remember using “not so much,” at least to a good effect, was Borat (pre-movie on the HBO show).

    As for phrases to retire, I could probably come up with a list of at least a hundred. Here are two: “drill down” as in “give some actual consideration to something” and any use of the prefixes “micro” or “macro” standing alone.

    Yes, I agree. What about “bring the funny” or bring the crazy”–a little more shelf life, or EXP?

    Comment by Press Millen — January 28, 2008 @ 2:48 pm | Reply

  4. Let’s lose “at the end of the day”, too

    Definitely. “Atthe end of the day” has long past the end of its day.

    Comment by Bill Altreuter — January 28, 2008 @ 2:56 pm | Reply

  5. If the ridiculously overrated Jon Stewart wasn’t the first to use “not so much” in that irritating whine of his, he certainly lifted the phrase into cliche heaven.

    My biggest pet peeves as an editor are “issue” as a euphemism for “problem” and “stakeholder” for “person who has a vital interest in something.” As far as I’m concerned, if you call someone a stakeholder he’d better have just finished a good meal or just slain a vampire.

    Yes, good ones.

    Comment by Martin Gidron — January 28, 2008 @ 3:14 pm | Reply

  6. “You think?” and “Tell me about it” are cliche-onyms. I’m tired of “You think?” already but “Tell me about it” has a longer tradition worth honoring still.

    I agree on both counts

    Comment by huxley — January 28, 2008 @ 7:39 pm | Reply

  7. This particular one sickens me every time I read it but:
    “I threw up a little bit in my mouth” [i]really[/i] needs to go. It was snarky the first time a hipster used it to describe a blogosphere band. Now it’s the most overused line on the internet.

    Yes. I think I first saw it in Will Ferrell’s Dodgeball. Any earlier refs?

    Comment by Mordechai Shinefield — January 28, 2008 @ 8:22 pm | Reply

  8. Feeling sensitive? Not so much (anymore)
    McCain a conservative? Not so much (ever)
    Romney a flip flopper? Not so much
    Romney responsible for everything Mormons do? Not so much
    Ron Rosenbaum a conservative? Not so much
    Is this an interesting post? Not so much

    Witty comment? Not so much

    Comment by aloysiusmiller — January 28, 2008 @ 8:30 pm | Reply

  9. I “totally” agree…

    Comment by Mike Manges — January 28, 2008 @ 11:17 pm | Reply

  10. Dear Ron:

    I humbly submit:

    “not a problem”
    “it’s about the work” (or really any of the hangings in the “it’s about…” phraseology gallery)
    “too much information”
    “Oooo-kay” (that really smug, all-knowing-inflection one, you know the one I mean?)

    I’m still kind of in love with the all-purpose “what happen?” though, which I guess may have derived from the Puerto Rican experience here in Manhattan.

    Keep up the good work Mr. Rosenbaum, I’m just a huge fan of both your work and the Stumpy stories.

    Good suggestions. I particularly like (dislike) “It’s about…” And thanks.

    Comment by roy frowick — January 29, 2008 @ 12:42 am | Reply

  11. These no doubt qualify as (barbaric) neologisms rather than colloquialisms, but I offer them up for consideration: (1) “gift” being turned into “gifting” (e.g., “what are your gifting plans for the holiday season?”) (sorry to be a Scrooge), and (2) “deliverable” used as a noun meaning “final product” (e.g., “when do they want us to produce a deliverable?”). Sorry if I am being off-topic or a curmudgeon.

    Barbaric neologisms qualify.

    Comment by Manwithoutqualities — January 29, 2008 @ 1:44 am | Reply

  12. “My bad” should not be uttered off a basketball court. “It’s all good” should not be uttered at all.

    Agree re “my bad”. Kinda still like “It’s all good” (if spoken rather than written). What about “Peace out”?

    Comment by Tyrone Slothrop — January 29, 2008 @ 1:50 am | Reply

  13. I don’t like ‘make no mistake’ and I don’t know what they mean when politicians who hire speech and ghost writers talk about finding their ‘voice’.

    I agree it’s right to be guarded against people who routinely emply catch phrases, but it’s not the phrases ‘so much’, it’s why they use them.

    It’s a way to avoid dealing with matters concretely. Explaining how to get the health care system so people who are actually sick can pay their bills, for example. That’s just a lot harder to do than saying the system is ‘broken’ or an alternative is ‘socialized medicine’.

    It’s also bad writing and bad style. As a writer and critic Ron, your probably more attuned to this than most. However, I think in Romney’s business world (see Dilbert’s web site for up to date buzz words btw), it’s chic to deploy the latest jargon. It shows your up on the latest set of memes.

    The worst offender in regards to this sort of language, if you ask me, is McCain, who I do respect, but every time I hear him talk about what a straight talker he is, as opposed to just talking specifically and honestly, (about strolling around Bagdhad for example), I’m just that much happier I’m voting Democratic anyway.

    (To play the ‘Devil’s advocate’ for a moment: Do you think there’s a place for euphemistic, vernacular, folk language in the campaigns? Maybe they are too free with it? If I was to say who I’m rooting for in the next election, I would say, ‘I don’t have a dog in the fight’ yet, but I am going for Obama/Hillary/Edwards, in that order, though I’m just want the Republicans out of the White House.)

    Finally, I am a big fan of the blog Ron, if the discourse isn’t at a very high level recently, my guess is is that it’s, well, it’s an election year (a long one) at the end of a really bad eight years. Maybe people are focusing too much on the next President, and expecting too much, so when they see something negative about their guy, they react unthinkingly. That and the blogosphere just gets rude.

    Keep on my man!


    Comment by Ed — January 29, 2008 @ 2:20 am | Reply


    Date: Sun, 20 Jun 2004 22:08:07 -0400
    Reply-To: American Dialect Society
    Sender: American Dialect Society Mailing List
    From: Jesse Sheidlower
    Subject: Absolute “not so much” = “not really”
    Comments: To: [log in to unmask]
    Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii

    A friend has observed the recent (?) currency of the phrase
    “not so much” used absolutely, i.e. without any following
    correlative prepositional phrase or complement, in a meaning
    something like ‘no; not at all; not really’. He said he first
    noticed it as something the Leo McGarry character on _West
    Wing_ says. We have only a few examples:

    2004 _Hotdog_ Apr. 10/1 A romantic thriller?
    Interesting. Starring Josh Hartnett? Not so much.

    2004 _N.Y. Times_ 15 June B1 (headline) The Killer Gown Is
    Essential, but the Prom Date? Not So Much.

    It sounds perfectly natural to me, so of course I can’t think
    of when I first heard it. Anyone have any grammatical or other
    observations? Larry? Arnold?

    Jesse Sheidlower

    Comment by Leon Crunk — January 29, 2008 @ 7:36 am | Reply

  15. what about “empower”.
    or is it “impower”

    It’s empower and I’d say that like “enable” or “enablers” it’s “on the bubble” which itself, I think is now officially off the bubble.

    Comment by paul kramer — January 29, 2008 @ 9:45 am | Reply

  16. I know I’ll tangle with the pc police on this, & you many not even print it, but what about “back in the day” & “you go girl”?
    Re “what happen” (which I’ve never heard) I seem to remember that when I was a teenager in the 50s we said “Wha hoppa?” No idea where that came from.

    I think everyone (over)uses “back in the day” and “you go, girl.”

    Comment by susan — January 29, 2008 @ 11:40 am | Reply

  17. One more: I don’t know whether the ironic or unironic use of “speaking truth to power” is worse so to save time let’s ban them both.

    Yes, it’s begun to grate on me too, it’s so self-congratulatory

    Comment by johnshade — January 29, 2008 @ 1:57 pm | Reply

  18. Pick up any magazine and you will find a couple right away. This week’s “New York” magazine: “Think…” and “on steroids”, as in “Mitt Romney: think Howdy Doody on steroids”

    Yes, though I must admit I think I ‘ve used it

    Comment by charlie finch — January 29, 2008 @ 2:07 pm | Reply

  19. The first time I remember hearing “not so much” pre-dates all of these: the character Paul on “Mad About You” (1992-1999) used the phrase.

    Could be a winner here. Late or early in that period?

    Comment by Yankev — January 29, 2008 @ 3:19 pm | Reply

  20. @ susan: The entire practice of white people ironically using slang from rap songs in a square way is over. It was funny for a few moments (and those moments were in “Office Space”), but that time is long past. I’m not talking about kids who use slang from their favorite music, which is natural, but hipsters and boomers who think it’s funny to refer to “bling” or “pimping” etc., etc.

    Comment by jaime — January 29, 2008 @ 9:19 pm | Reply

  21. Could boots on the ground be shown the door?

    Comment by Banjo — January 29, 2008 @ 9:28 pm | Reply

  22. It doesn’t matter who said “not so much” first. Its sudden and astonishing ubiquity came with Borat. And at the end of the day, Borat’s sell-by date has passed, as has the phrase. If I’m wrong, it’s my bad.

    Comment by mokami — January 29, 2008 @ 9:41 pm | Reply

  23. I quote someone else, but the Internet is a fine thing. How’s your Romney obsession going?

    In the continuing adventure of reading Proust to my wife at bedtime, we’ve gotten well into The Guermantes Way and are comfortably ensconced in Mme de Villeparisis’s godawful party, where everyone is busily engaged either in sucking up or in putting down. The Duchesse de Guermantes (with whom the young narrator is hopelessly in love for no reason except that she is the Duchesse de Guermantes) is being catty about Robert de Saint-Loup’s mistress, an actress named Rachel, and says (in the Moncrieff/Kilmartin translation we’re reading) “And then, if you’d heard the things she recited! I only remember one scene, but I’m sure nobody could imagine anything like it: it was called The Seven Princesses.” Another guest, the Comte d’Argencourt (the Belgian chargé d’affaires), responds, “Seven Princesses! Dear, dear, what a snob she must be!” Even though we’re reading the novel in English, I often check the original (which I keep on the night table by the bed), and here I found that Argencourt actually says “Les sept princesses, oh! Oïl, oïl, quel snobisme!” On the next page, the Duchess mocks Rachel for “uttering a sentence, no, not so much, not a quarter of a sentence” and then stopping “for a good five minutes,” to which Argencourt again responds “Oïl, oïl, oïl!” (the translation has “Oh, I say”).

    Impressive reference, not sure it’s on point because isn’t “not so much [as a quarter of a sentence]”–an implied comparative which is not quite the same as the deadpan denial of the contemporary phrase? Enjoyed the passage though.

    “How’s your Romney obsession going?” (really well after his loss tonight, thank you), however, reminds me of”how’s that working out for you?” which is a borderline shopworn hipster-manque phrase of the sort we’re talking about.

    Comment by Mark Van Wagoner — January 29, 2008 @ 10:32 pm | Reply

  24. Did “no worries” get a nomination? Also, here’s one that hasn’t yet jumped the shark, but I predict it soon will. Keep your eye on it. You heard it here first: “Note to self.”

    “Note to self”: yes! I’ve used it but never again, no worries.

    Comment by Ed Fields — January 30, 2008 @ 9:42 am | Reply

  25. A phrase that is often abused is “take a break” as in “I’m going to take a break from comments.” To take a brake is to rest, however, sometimes it is used when one simply wants to avoid hearing opinions that may differ from one’s own.

    At Abu Ghraib some of the prisoners finally broke from having to listen to endless repetions of the same bad music. You may think your comment is uniquely brilliant but if you have to read the same cliches over and over again for hours you might even tire of your own thoughts and want to take a “brake”(sic)

    Comment by Syd Boyd — January 30, 2008 @ 10:51 am | Reply

  26. Shifting deck chairs on the Titanic is well past its sell-by date.

    Comment by Captain Smith — January 30, 2008 @ 1:30 pm | Reply

  27. Thank you for pointing out that the time has long past to stop using phrases such as “street cred”. Now can we get rid of “Having said that…” and “That said…” It sounds absurd when people say it, but now they’re starting to write it!

    Comment by Bob Vander Ploeg — January 30, 2008 @ 4:22 pm | Reply

  28. A note on stakeholder– not only is it tired, it is generally misused. A “stakeholder” is properly a term of art, used in equity to describe a neutral party who takes temporary possession of a disputed sum of money or thing of value while the merits of disputing parties claims in the funds or property is adjudicated. In other words, it is someone who does not have a stake in the dispute.

    Also, people should stop using “begs the question” because nobody uses it properly.

    Comment by Bill Altreuter — January 30, 2008 @ 4:36 pm | Reply

  29. I’ve always been under the impression that the phrase ‘not so much’ goes way back and has Jewish origins.

    Comment by Phil — January 31, 2008 @ 12:25 pm | Reply

  30. How about “news cycle”, the paper boy on his route

    Yeah, “winning the news cycle” is like lots of political consultant speak posing as serious theory, like “driving the negatives.”

    Comment by charlie finch — January 31, 2008 @ 12:27 pm | Reply

  31. I think it’ll be found that “not so much” goes back a long way–it’s the ordinary way of saying that one attribute applies less than another, so it’s a short step to using the phrase on its own when appropriate. I agree that its vast overuse is a creature of the present decade, though.

    I’ve been puzzled by the growing tendency to use “more so” to mean “more” (“he votes for Democrats more so than Republicans”).

    And the tendency to insert “well” to emphasize a point that’s supposed to be obvious (but, these days, usually one that isn’t) is, well, kind of painful.

    I agree ‘well’ in the above context is overused but I have to admit that I still like it. After all, aren’t some new locutions worth keepling, like, say “after all”?

    Comment by Dell Adams — January 31, 2008 @ 7:46 pm | Reply

  32. I realize that this thread is also probably broken, but I just have to add “the usual suspects”. My husband & I are heavy users of this cliche.
    Also, I’m disappointed that no old buffer or buffess came forward who remembered saying “Wha hoppa?”.

    Comment by Susan — February 2, 2008 @ 4:33 pm | Reply

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