"Back in the day" and other empty phrases | OPINION

Do you ever get that situation when you come across something that annoys you and then it keeps popping up more and more?

Good. I thought it was just me being a grump.

I’m struggling with one of these situations this year: the amount of TV and radio people who say “back in the day.”

What day? Yesterday? Last Tuesday? 2500BC?

I first started to notice the phrase on one of my favourite TV shows American Pickers.

Co-presenter Mike Wolfe uses the phrase three or four times per episode as some sort of effort to explain that the rusty junk he rummages through was from another time.

“Back in the day this used to be part of an Oldsmobile…”

It seems to me to be lazy.

If he’s the old wares expert he should say what “day” he’s referring to.

Until recently, I’d always assumed the phrase included at least one other defining word.

The defining words at least give context, such as back in the days of dinosaurs, or back in younger days. Or back in my day.

The non-specific phrase has become a contagion, especially in Australia.

Hardly an hour goes by without someone dropping it. It has also sidled its way into print.

I’m also not the only one annoyed by it. In the past couple of years, there’s been a lot of online chat about what it means, where it came from and why it’s spreading like smallpox.

The best explanation – to me – comes from a blog titled Grammarphobia.

Its authors suggest that while the phrase was not unknown as far back as the 1940s, as a mainly African American term referring to people’s fondly recalled younger days. 

It didn’t leak into mainstream American English until the late ‘80s and has since exploded.

There have been at least three films called Back in the Day, four TV series, one musical, a comic strip and at least 10 recorded songs, mainly by rappers.

Ahh, the ’80s. Back in the day.

I’m not an English purist (but you knew that didn’t you?) and usually have no complaint about evolving language, as long as a new word or term’s meaning is commonly recognised.

“Totes amazeballs” is a good example.

It’s a fun term for something that is usually mildly new and interesting.

But “back in the day” is such a hollow and pointless waste of vocal cord vibrations.

People chuck it about seemingly in an effort to sound so up with modern lingo.

It ends up being linguistic foam packing; something to be said while the speaker is trying to think of something else to say. A word “ummm”.

It has been a candidate for the Oxford Dictionary’s list of 10 most irritating phrases, but I don‘t think it’s made it just yet.

Seems it has been edged out by such verbal floss as:

  1. At the end of the day
  2. Fairly unique
  3. I personally
  4. At this moment in time
  5. With all due respect
  6. Absolutely
  7. It's a nightmare
  8. Shouldn't of
  9. 24/7
  10. It's not rocket science

Back in the day, a cadet journalist would have been rapped over the knuckles for stuff like this.