We’re getting close to the time of year when Lake Superior State University in Michigan (among others) releases its annual banished-word list, but why should we wait? There are some words and phrases that deserve being put out to pasture far earlier, which should have happened to some before they even came into being.
I doubt there’s a writer or editor alive who doesn’t have a list of words that provoke retching, chills and overall nausea (or is that flu?). And if you don’t have at least one word that drives you to drink, you must tell me your secret.
There are words that we cannot use in print in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, either because of AP style or our own house style (vulgarities are generally verboten, as are words like vomit and fart). At times the rules may seem arbitrary or stuck in the past, but we do have a wide readership to take into consideration.
In many cases, it’s a matter of not passing the breakfast test … be honest: would you want to see the word “vomit” while eating your eggs?
Fellow blogger Robert Bruce of Nashville, Tenn. (and the site 101Books.net), often writes about words and phrases that annoy him and that should die a horrible death, including such gems as “awesome sauce,” “just sayin’,” “YOLO,” “deets” and “totes.” I definitely have to agree with him, and would add these from my personal list:
- “To be sure,” “at the end of the day,” “in the fullness of time,” etc. As introductory phrases, these add little to nothing to a sentence other than more words and an air of pomposity. Even more, they just make me want to take the speaker down a few notches.
- “Swath,” used to indicate a large area. Some people really, really hate the word “moist”; this is my “moist.” But unlike that particular word, swath has no good one-word synonyms. Now, if we’re talking about the width of an area cut by a scythe, that’s different and wholly acceptable.
- “Make no mistake.” Does this even need to be said, or are there times when people should intentionally make mistakes (and if it’s intentional, can you really call it a mistake)?
- “I’m sorry if …” When apologizing, just stop at “I’m sorry.” Continuing with “if I upset you” or the equivalent might as well be “that you’re such a whiner, but it’s not my fault that you are.” Take responsibility for your actions, and actually apologize. Just say “I’m sorry,” unless you want a shoe shoved in a very uncomfortable place. If you do, please remove yourself from my sight.
- “Winner winner, chicken dinner!” Sure, it rhymes, but it’s just plain annoying, and I’m sure the chicken’s not too happy about it, either. It’s even more annoying to me than that kid in grade school who thought that “super-duper Looper pooper-scooper” was a winner. I’ve still got my eye on you, kid. (I’m pretty sure it was Cory … he was always coming up with gold like that.)
- “Synergy.” Like most jargon, it’s the quickest way to put me to sleep, and cheaper than Ambien. If that’s the sort of thing that happens when you think outside the box, I’ll stay in the box, thank you very much.
- “Libtard”/“Rethuglican.” These insults are prolific on comment boards, and pretty much disprove any pretense to intelligent discussion, which is one reason you won’t see them in published letters on the Voices page. Occasional insults do make it through, but not these, and those that are used are generally not applied to a specific person. You can think that guy’s a total asshat, but you just can’t say it in a published letter (I know, I know, I’m horribly mean).
- “Amongst”/“Amidst.” There’s almost never a good reason to use these … unless you really want to tick off someone who likes the English language and doesn’t live in Elizabethan England. It’s “among” and “amid,” please.
- “Verbing” of nouns. Call me a stick in the mud, but “author,” “transition” and “friend” (among others) are nouns, so stop using them as verbs, especially when there are so many verbs that say it better. Yes, this sort of thing has been around for centuries (Benjamin Franklin once told Noah Webster the practice was “awkward and abominable”), but it seems to have reached critical mass now. Some nouns just are not meant for such treatment, and they just won’t take it anymore.
- “War on (fill in the blank).” If you read last week’s column, you know my feelings on war rhetoric being used for things that in no way equate to actual war. If you took that column to mean that I command an army of jack-booted thugs (one person apparently did … I don’t know whether to laugh or be scared), remember I have only a large cat with claws and a bad attitude … and he only responds to commands when he wants to. Considering that he’s had multiple vet visits recently in a small amount of time, that’s pretty much never right now. Of course, it was pretty much never even before his recent health crisis, so …
Regular readers know that we edit all the letters we publish—most only minimally, but a few more extensively to fix things such as misspellings and factual errors, or to make it clear that it’s opinion (and still some readers can’t tell the difference … I just can’t help them). In fact, one of the quickest ways to ensure that your letter won’t be printed is to refuse to allow it to be edited. Another way is to harass staff; just don’t do it. We don’t respond to bullying … except perhaps to put your letter at the very bottom of the pile (actions have consequences, you know).
Sometimes, though, the errors in a letter are on purpose for comic effect, as is the case with Becky Mitchum’s letter, printed below. And yes, we do indeed get letters like this and worse.
Bad writin’ all good
My husband and I have been subscribers to the paper for many years. Several flawed headlines and poorly written articles of late had us laughing over our morning coffee. A recent headline inspired me to write my own bad text:
Sometimes the news can depresses us but lets see it half full not half empty. Dear friends who also seen Saturdays headline “Postal chief who fought agency decline to retire” and other really bad grammer taglines lately isn’t these great? Because example like these really make people whose can’t write not feel so bad about theirselves if she can’t really write so good herself. It make me really relived to see because if someone who get paid for writing can really write so bad then my free writing cant be so bad either but I will say and take issue with the facts that I pay for a subscription to this paper which who hires such bad writers and so that is what isn’t good but I am an optamist and always looks on the brite side so thats what I choosing to do now to and I incourage you too do it two. Hapiness really is a choice we can sit around and gripes or we can say “hay, the economy really suck and Christmas are coming and I could use some extra cash so maybe I can get me a side job writing for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.”
So no, before you ask, I wasn’t asleep when I edited the letter.
I was, however, being slept on by an 18-pound cat who was very annoyed by my snickering. I’m off now to find the Band-Aids and antibiotic.