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SCOT BELLAVIA: 4 Phrases People Should Stop Using

Maybe these are grammatical pet peeves, or maybe I’m onto something more profound. Either way, here are four phrases people should stop using.

Opens Up: I had the misfortune of watching The Today Show every morning at a past job. My desk faced the TV in the main lobby head-on but was too far away to hear the audio. I hated to care, but the headlines were the only way I knew what was happening on the programming. I noticed that ‘opens up’ was the choice verb phrase in the lower third, where the guest’s name and reason for being on the show are written.

Opens up sounds like it should refer to a tell-all exposé, but it was inserted into the lower third whenever there was a guest. It could have been an athlete describing their latest win or an author promoting a new book. Sometimes, even the hosts interviewed each other! No matter what the topic, they were all “opening up.” Urgency wanes with repetition. It’s like my high school classmate who highlighted every line, literally, of his textbook. If everything’s considered pressing, nothing stands out. (i.e. really is . . .)

To anyone reading who writes lower thirds for a living, reserve that enticing verbiage for the celebrity talking about their cancer diagnosis or the woman rescued from a cult. Stars of “the Crown” can’t open up about the second season.

I have to believe: This is followed by a desire for something contrary to obvious evidence. It’s a rejection of a reality that is too hard to admit. The speaker removes themselves (consciously or subconsciously) from this uncomfortable truth, so they don’t have to deal with it. But it’s usually a situation in which they could play a crucial role in its resolution.

Example: I have to believe my son isn’t doing drugs. The money I’ve been giving him is for his school books.

I was raised to think: We can thank our school teachers for our book smarts, but our parents taught us values and worldview. Anecdotes abound where parents, or church leaders perhaps, squelched doubt and opposition to force-feed beliefs. But, as we become more independent, these authority figures shouldn’t be why we think what we do. When we say, “I was raised to think…” and what follows is a critique of a childhood lesson, we’re blame-shifting, admitting that we hold our current beliefs in reaction to what we used to believe.

Additionally, if actions speak louder than words, our parents may not have even intended to teach us the things we learned. Though we say, “It was how I was raised,” we mean, “It’s how I perceived the way my parents taught me the things I think they taught me.”

I would say: When asked a hypothetical like. “What would you say to someone who thinks A?” the automatic response is, “I would say B.” The interlude of ‘I would say’ may give the speaker time to think, but it’s time wasted. “I would say” weakens the argument because it distances the speaker from the reality of the discussion. While they might not be talking to a person who thinks A, they are still contending with A. Instead, speak with confident conviction. Omit ‘I would say,’ and skip to what you would say.

Reader, you decide which is a more compelling conclusion:

A. I have to believe that you will reconsider what you say now that I’ve opened up about these phrases. But, for those who think I’m hypersensitive about semantics, I would say, “I think words matter because I was raised to think that our words are an outflow of what’s in our heart.”
B. In Matthew 15, Jesus said that what comes out of a person’s mouth comes from their heart. While these may be familiar turns of phrase, they aren’t just fillers; they mean something. Our words reveal our beliefs; therefore, be careful to say what you want to say.

Scot Bellavia

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