It Goes Without Saying? Don’t Say It Then

It Goes Without Saying? Don’t Say It Then

Few phrases annoy me more than “it goes without saying”. If it goes without saying, you don’t need to say that. We’re all busy people. Get to the point.

Picture by Anthony Easton

You could make a weak argument that the “it goes without saying” (and its equally irritating sibling, “it should go without saying”) is being used for emphasis, or for rhythmic effect. That’s rarely the case though. It’s more often blather, inserted by someone who hasn’t bothered to read over their work afterwards.

Take this sentence, which showed up as the top result when I searched for “it goes without saying” on Google News this morning:

If you’re making the effort to connect two spaces, it goes without saying that, in almost all circumstances, you should run the same flooring between both zones.

The same point can be made more effectively without the bloat:

If you’re trying to connect two spaces, you should almost always run the same flooring between both zones.

You can create emphasis more concisely with “obviously” or “clearly” or “evidently”. But even that might not be needed. Any time you use this phrase, ask yourself: would the meaning change if I deleted it? Does adding that phrase make the sentence read better? The answer to both will be “no” most of the time.

Lifehacker’s Mind Your Language column offers bossy advice on improving your writing.


    • When people use “literally” in that context you still understand it semantically and that’s enough. That’s the power of language. When you correct people that use literally “wrong” you don’t come off as being intelligent, you come off as a pedantic douche.

      • Not true. I never think of people as being pedantic or douches for making that correction.
        However, I do think of those being corrected, the ones who used “literally” wrong”, as cretinous.

        • Literally in these contexts is used as a form of hyperbole. If someone says “I ‘m so hungry I can eat a horse!” are you also going to “correct” them on that too? Also saying something like “I’ll figuratively/metaphorically

          • Wrong. The whole point of the word “literally” is to distinguish what you’re saying from hyperbole.

            “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse” is hyperbole.
            “I’m so hungry I could literally eat a horse” means you’d eat a whole horse if it was put on a plate in front of you.

            If you wanted to emphasise or amplify your hunger, “literally” is the incorrect tool. You’d need to say something like “I’m so hungry I could eat two horses”.

          • Exactly what Tim says:
            “The whole point of the word “literally” is to distinguish what you’re saying from hyperbole.”
            That’s exactly it. That is the only reason for its use.

            The reason for the mistake is mindless imitation: A lot of what we say is pretty thoughtless copying from other people, it’s the normal state of things, but it makes us sound stupid. When we take time to think about what we’re saying we don’t tend to come out with crap like that as often and we sound a little more intelligent.

    • I love the running joke in Archer with literally. Where characters will correct each other with “Literally?”
      “Well figuratively”.

      Also huge thumbs up to Sam above!

    • ” I wonder if I might crave your momentary indulgence in order to discharge a by-no-means disagreeable obligation which has, over the years, become more or less established practice within government circles as we approach the terminal period of the calendar year, of course, not financial. In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, Week Fifty-One and submit to you, with all appropriate deference, for your consideration at a convenient juncture, a sincere and sanguine expectation — indeed confidence, indeed one might go so far as to say hope — that the aforementioned period may be, at the end of the day, when all relevant factors have been taken into consideration, susceptible to being deemed to be such as to merit a final verdict of having been by no means unsatisfactory in its overall outcome and, in the final analysis, to give grounds for being judged, on mature reflection, to have been conducive to generating a degree of gratification which will be seen in retrospect to have been significantly higher than the general average.”

      That is to say, at the end of the day, you reminded me of Yes Minister 🙂

    • I’ve read that this is one of the most hated phrases. I don’t get it though. Maybe it’s just not overused in the circles I run in… but it has a clear meaning, and does change the meaning of the sentence. I guess I’m picturing it being used as follows: I don’t care how you get to the end result, but at the end of the day I want XYZ to happen.

      I think ‘It goes without saying’ is OK in certain sitations though. Certainly it can be overused, but unfortunately there are a large number of things that should go without saying, but due to people being stupid or lazy (or both), we have to keep saying them. Therefore, ‘it goes without saying’ places emphasis on the fact that you should already be on board with whatever I’m about to say, even though you’re not. So listen up.

  • This is far from the worst phrase to exist in common parlance. Not to say that its use should be encouraged – that goes without saying – but the way “I could care less” is used offends me by its very existence. Eradicate that piece of linguistic cancer and we can start talking about lesser evils.

      • I’ve always heard people say they “couldn’t care less”, rather than could. It makes more sense, as if they “couldn’t”, they care as little as possible.

        Also, in regards to the article, that would be fine if it was used to mean what it does. It’s often used when it SHOULD go without saying, but it needs to be mentioned to account for the lowest common denominator.

  • “In the programming industry, it goes without saying that one should profile as early and often as possible”

    This is how the phrase should be used.

    But ultimately, Angus correct. I think it was George Orwell who said that when writing, one should examine every word and phrase, and determine what value they add to the overall work.

  • Ah, this is one of my pet peeves as well (add “at the end of the day” and “it is what it is” for a couple of other meaningless time fillers – once I heard someone briefing others with the classic “At the end of the day it goes without saying that it is what it is” Bingo!).

    Anyway, some time ago in a meeting I was bored and feeling a trifle mischievous so I interjected to make a point amidst all the waffle with an “It goes without saying” and stopped.

    It took one “And?” from someone and about 5 seconds more dead air before one person finally twigged and burst out laughing while another couple looked confused, another angry (what is his game?) and the rest remained as bored as I was.

    I’m sure I’m guilty of similar stuff myself but hopefully avoid the worst of the verbal nothingnesses.

  • – At the end of the day
    – On the same page
    – Moving/going forward
    – Hands-on
    – Literally (when the person actually means ‘figuratively’)
    – Keep your eyes peeled (what does this even mean?)
    – Just now
    – Part and parcel
    – Push the envelope
    – Think outside the box
    – Touch base (one of the worst)
    – Utilise (just say ‘use’)
    – With all due respect
    – No offense
    – Ballpark figure
    – To be perfectly honest
    – Mind in the gutter
    – The straw that breaks the camel’s back
    – Crowd-sourcing

    I loathe most literary clichés, but I can understand why they’re used.

  • Anyone that needs to se the word “douche” in any form of communication is advertising that they have been brainwashed by too much poor American TV.

  • I think rhetorically when you’re trying to clarify something it isn’t that bad. “So I assume it goes without saying that …. ?”

    It’s best to get all assumptions out in the air if you’re not totally sure others in the team have thought them out.

  • While we are on the subject of things we hate, I can’t stand the use of double (and, god forbid, TRIPLE) negatives. ‘I didn’t do nothing.’
    ‘I ain’t got no clue.’
    ‘There’s no way that I don’t think that that wasn’t a fumble.’

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