This morning I was reading New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman’s mostly scathing review of the design of the brand-new 1 World Trade Center, when I came across this passage:
Like the corporate campus and plaza it shares, 1 World Trade speaks volumes about political opportunism, outmoded thinking and upside-down urban priorities. It’s what happens when a commercial developer is pretty much handed the keys to the castle. Tourists will soon flock to the top of the building, and tenants will fill it up. But a skyscraper doesn’t just occupy its own plot of land. Even a tower with an outsize claim on the civic soul needs to be more than tall and shiny.
Emphasis mine. I’ve always hated the term “pretty much,” at least when used in a newspaper article, and I’ve noticed it appearing more and more of late:
— Jay Pinho (@jaypinho) November 24, 2014
So I decided to compare it to a couple other terms whose common denominator is their collective insistence on near-meaninglessness:
Note: The tool I used to obtain these figures, Chronicle by NYTLabs, doesn’t differentiate between words/phrases found within direct quotes versus those penned by the reporter him/herself. In the excerpt I quoted above, Kimmelman used the phrase “pretty much” himself, but certainly a portion of the increased usage of these terms in recent years is due to their inclusion in direct quotations, which is (to some extent, anyway) more forgivable from a writing perspective.