I first encountered the most hated and useless cliche in the English language, I suspect, on The Apprentice. In the dark, faux-Godfather environs of Donald Trump’s on-the-carpet boardroom (actually, a set used exclusively for TV purposes, I suspect), the hair-challenged one would size up a challenge and inevitably get around to saying The Dreaded Phrase: “At the end of the day,” followed by “you blew it.” Or whatever.
But it was always the soon-parroted-by-every-contestant “at the end of the day,” which seemed odd, since some challenges ended by early afternoon, while others spanned more than one day, so where was the relevance of saying “at the end of the day”? It made me wonder, did this phrase have any meaning whatsoever? Or was it just stilted, stupid padding for those with little else to say — those who mistakenly thought they sounded cool to be repeating the same phrase over and over?
Bingo. That’s all it was. But that didn’t stop this meaningless mush from becoming a catch-all term which said nothing. In monkey-hear, monkey-say fashion, zillions of Americans soon fell in love with it and fell in line with “at the end of the day.” Even big-time journalists and those who should know better have kept saying it incessantly for years, littering their discourse with “At the end of the day . . . ” as if it were tantamount to clever, astute, insightful observation, and not just another useless catch-phrase like “Where’s the beef?” Arggggggh!
Please. Make it stop. Or do you like embarrassing yourself? We might as well all be saying “groovy” or “far out” in every sentence instead, and acting as if — at the end of the day — everything is A-OK. “Oh yes. We’re not illiterate. We’re not slaves to cliche. We’re just speaking normally. And at the end of the day, everyone does it, so where’s the harm?”
As my mother once said, if everyone jumped off a cliff, would you jump, too? And of course, I wouldn’t. Nor will I say “at the end of the day” at any time in normal discourse. If I absolutely must say something to that effect, I might say “in the end” or the oratorical-sounding “in conclusion,” though not the equally long and stilted (same number of words and syllables) “When all is said and done.” Or say nothing to that effect, because the idea is to suggest conclusion, and a conclusion itself can simply be stated. Instead of saying, “But at the end of the day, you blew it” why not just say “But you blew it”? What really blows instead is tossing in “at the end of the day.”
Such phrases convey virtually nothing. You could omit them and the sentence would have the same meaning. The ultimate cliches, they’re just time-killing tactics to stretch things out and sound — I don’t know. Erudite? Hip? Though how hip and erudite can you be when you’re aping the Donald by way of every nitwit talking head on TV?
So please, can we all acknowledge that it’s an embarrassingly cliched and annoying phrase? And then, if we widely single it out for disdain, ridicule or outright scorn (all work for me), then maybe when people use it — and they will — it will sound even more painfully corny, dated and dumb, not to mention irrelevant and unnecessary, and it just won’t fly. Then maybe, just maybe, we can get back to expressing ourselves with originality and eloquence, one word at a time, rather than parroting six-word pet phrases which have been done to death already. And then (hey, not a bad word “then”) we’ll all be better for it.
P.S. — This just in from NBC’s The Biggest Loser, which aired the week of Nov. 17: Trainer Bob said the phrase “at the end of the day” THREE TIMES in the show’s first 20 minutes! I mean, really — get a vocabulary and get a life. Groovy!
P.S.S. — And this just in from a commentary track for Tropic Thunder: Writer-director-actor Ben Stiller says “At the end of the day” three times during his commentary with co-stars Robert Downey Jr. and Jack Black, while Downey says “At the end of the day” twice and Black not at all.
P.S.S.S.–And this update via ABC’s The Bachelor, which aired Feb. 16. While professing her love for daddy bachelor Jason, Canadian bridal contestant Jillian delivered frantic filibusters which included the phrase “At the end of the day” THREE TIMES (one of which was repeated in a later recap.) Talking like that, she sounded like she was giving a speech, not dispensing sweet nothings. For his part, Jason had been using the much better “in the end,” but Jillian finally rubbed off on him, and he, too, started saying “At the end of the day,” as well as peppering sentences with “like,” as Jillian did incessantly.
P.S.S.S.S.–The plague of monkey-hear, monkey-say blather continues in a July 2009 CBS interview with GOP strategist Ed Rollins. He says “at the end of the day” at least FOUR times in one interview about Sarah Palin’s resignation — and twice in one sentence. To wit:
“So, at the end of the day, she’s still gotta earn her stripes.”
” . . . at the end of the day, no one knows why.”
“I think, at the end of the day, I’ve been in the business four decades, I’ve never seen a governor ever walk away from the job at mid-term, and I think, at the end of the day, that’s what’s gonna affect her.”
Kind of digging that phrase, aren’t you Mr. Rollins? But as a result, you sound as eloquent as a mynah bird who mindlessly repeats words with no sense of their meaning. In this case, if you left the phrase out of the sentences above, they’d still say the same thing or close enough. Or you could say “ultimately” instead, or something else, but you don’t. You “at the end of the day” yourself into somebody-stop-me absurdity.