This question was posted in Jose Carillo’s English Forum a few days ago by a member who goes by the username Justine Aragones: “I wonder why most college debaters always use the phrase ‘at the end of the day.’ Is there any way to minimize such use or totally avoid it?”
My reply to Justine:
It’s really no surprise that many college debaters, even the finest of those who joust in the long-running TV debate competitions on ANC, use “at the end of the day” much, much too often for comfort. They have the misguided notion that very liberally spicing their talk with that figurative expression for “ultimately,” “in the end,” or “after all” is a sign of wisdom, discernment, and sophistication. Being young and mostly impressionable, they have become unwitting copycats of the wrong adult role models for spoken English.
Indeed, the high incidence of “at the end of the day” in college debates is abetted by the fact that even the highest official of the land, perhaps one out of four legislators and public officials, and probably the same ratio of TV talk-show hosts, news anchors, and guests use “at the end of the day” with such annoying frequency. They are embarrassingly unaware that this expression has been repeatedly condemned over the years as the most irritating cliché in the English language.
In a 2004 survey conducted in 70 countries by the London-based Plain English Campaign, “at the end of the day” ranked first among the most hated English clichés worldwide. The group’s spokesman commented about that finding: “Using these terms in daily business is about as professional as wearing a novelty tie or having a wacky ring-tone on your phone. When readers or listeners come across these tired expressions, they start tuning out and completely miss the message—assuming there is one.”
Again, in 2005, in a poll of 150 senior executives in corporate America by the temporary staffing company Accountemps, “at the end of the day” ranked first among the 15 most annoying clichés. And in 2006, in a poll of 10,000 news sources that included 1,600 American newspapers, the Australian-based database company Factiva found “at the end of the day” at the top of the 55 most overused English clichés.
In truth, adverbial phrases like “at the end of the day” are not meant to call attention to themselves but just to flag an important point to be made by the speaker. As such, they must be used sparingly to avoid irritating the listener or reader. For many college debaters and public speakers, however, such phrases have become a pernicious semantic crutch, creating such a strong dependency that the speakers encounter serious difficulty speaking their minds without it.
But yes, now that you ask, there’s definitely a way to minimize the use of “at the end of the day” or totally avoid it.
First, high schools and colleges should conduct a no-nonsense program to instill awareness in their students that clichés like “at the end of the day” aren’t desirable English.
Second, public officials from the national level down to the local governments should undergo an English reorientation program designed to, among others, curb their predilection for using “at the end of the day” and other dreadful clichés in public speaking engagements and media interviews.
And third, TV and radio network owners should seriously consider penalizing talk-show hosts or news anchors with hefty fines for overusing “at the end of the day” and such clichés, and to never again invite talk-show guests who habitually spout them more than, say, twice in a row during a particular show.
Only through draconian measures like these, I’m afraid, can we put an end to the plague of “at the end of the day” in college debates and in public discourse as a whole.
Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum at http://josecarilloforum.com. Follow me at Twitter.com @J8Carillo.