Words to despise

Where can I get a royal robe like that? Image found on mastermarf.com.

Where can I get a royal robe like that?
Image found on mastermarf.com.

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.

Barf, puke, vomit ... most family morning newspapers probably don't print those words. We certainly don't.  Image: H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile/Getty Images.

Barf, puke, vomit … most family morning newspapers probably don’t print those words. We certainly don’t.
Image: H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile/Getty Images.

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.

    Actual swaths of grass cut by a scythe; imagine that! Image found on Scythe Connection.

    Actual swaths of grass cut by a scythe; imagine that!
    Image found on Scythe Connection.

  • “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)? 1350165019145_6089540
  • “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.

    Sorry, Mom, you'll have to think in a different box. This one's taken.

    Sorry, Mom, you’ll have to think in a different box. This one’s taken.

  • “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.

    Yep, Nick Anderson still rocks.

    Yep, Nick Anderson still rocks.

  • “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 …

    I will CUT you!

    I will CUT you!


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.

How dare you wake me!

How dare you wake me!


29 thoughts on “Words to despise

  1. I am reading your column at the Little Rock Athletic Club and eating Poptarts while my son is working out with his swim team. I have been wheeze laughing all the way through it and then read your blog post and spit out my iced tea. I’m getting some strange looks from the members.

    I too despise the “verbing” of nouns. I’ll never forget my third grade son telling me his class “conferenced” with the vice-principal. I almost called the school, not about the conference but about the obvious indoctrination of children to educational jargon.

    The other day my 20-year old daughter used “adult” as a noun. In the interest of family harmony, I chose to overlook this atrocious example of “verbing.”

    Please feel free to consider me an honorary member of your group of “jack-booted thugs.” Oh darn, I’m wheeze laughing again.


    • I KNEW I heard something! I thought it was Luke! 😀

      “Verbing” drives me nuts, especially for words like transition and gift. If I’d heard “conferenced,” I probably would be getting ready to draw some blood. 😉

      We thugs will be meeting at the state Capitol during the legislative session to jeer and throw dictionaries every time the legislators and others use jargon and verbed nouns. Should be fun! 😀


      • I’m in!! Let me know dates and times. Seriously, I think the “Jack-Booted Thugs” should meet for coffee once a month to share word stories. I do some freelance editing, and I rephrase “verbed” nouns whenever possible. I get some doozies sometimes.

        Tell Luke I said, “Meow.” He seems to be having a rough few weeks.



        Luke says, “Rahr!” He’s been taking things in stride the past couple of days, now that he knows he doesn’t have to take (read: spit out) pills or go back for blood and urine screenings. He’s back to his abnormal self, which is a joy for me. 😀


  2. Do you all REALLY substitute ‘regurgitate’ for the perfectly swell ‘vomit’?

    Is ‘fart’ to be banned when EVERY man woman and child blow off a quart and a half every day??
    What now? Gaseous emission?

    How to handle ‘genitalia’? (Now, THERE is a mental picture;-)

    I prefer “social equipment” or the Brit favorite “wedding tackle”

    I shall continue to use ‘whilst’ as it bestows the image of speaking whilst holding a scepter, or chasing some Canterbury Tail.

    How coy must one be to avoid (what was it ,asshat?) Will ‘anal orifice’ serve?

    Do anyone think a discussion of racial problems benefits from the use of “N-word”?
    War-castrate-genocide-mutilate-behead-dismember-or napalm may all survive without being distributed as the O-word, K-word, P-word etc?
    May white folk demand equal protection from distress by requiring the label of W-F-word, or honkies becoming H-worders.

    I don’t think ANY word is a proper substitute for “turd” as in punchbowl.
    Try,”That went over like a portion of feces in a punchbowl”
    Don’t even think about ‘stool’…”He is bringing in a stool sample” creates a mental picture of
    a household furniture sales-dude toting chair-lettes.

    Tell me you did not actually ban “tote”…what’s next? Tump?

    BTW: When my ever-so-proper aunt Alberta, for a long while the head nurse at Mo-Pac hospital, told me ‘turd’ was the medically proper word, it defanged it me for life.


    • OK, I have to stop laughing about how to handle genitalia … far too easy to get in trouble with that. 😀

      Usually, “throw up” is used in place of vomit, though a few other euphemisms make it in as well, though not barf or puke. Not long after I moved over from the news side, I let a “vomit” go through (the rules are looser in opinion, so I thought I’d chance it) … I got a talking-to for that (nothing serious, just a reminder). 😦 And after the to-do over Lola and farts, I don’t even go there.

      Most of the time we can find a word that’s just as good or better, or just write around it. The medical names are usually fine (including feces, penis and vagina), but have to be important to the story. I sometimes wish I could use asshat in the paper (some people just deserve that title), but will be satisfied with using it and a few other terms on my blog.

      As language evolves, the style rules sometimes change (Remember the Gazette‘s usage of “employe” rather than “employee”? Still bugs me.). I doubt, though, that most of the rules relating to bodily functions and racial epithets will change, which means we’ll just have to be creative about writing around them.

      Nope, “tote” isn’t banned, as long as it’s the verb … if it’s totes, meaning the shortening of “totally,” yes, please kill that off. 😛

      I’d sooner cut off my arm than get rid of tump … it’s just such a fun word to say. I’ll give you “whilst,” depending on the usage, but amongst and amidst will remain in my bad graces. But that’s just me being irritated by people who use those words to make themselves sound much deeper than they are when their depth is closer to a piece of Saran Wrap. 😀


  3. Okay, I apologize for continuing to use “war on women” even after the Democrats have supposedly dropped the usage. I can’t help it. I simply can’t think of a more accurate description of the ruthless, concerted, unremitting attacks on women’s reproductive and health rights.

    As for banished words, I look forward to that list every year and usually write about it. I’ve occasionally submitted words, too, because doing so gets them out of my craw and lowers my blood pressure.

    How well I police my own writing depends on my mood, I’m afraid. I’m retired, after all.


  4. Must be sheltered….Lola?

    Loitering on Loyola Avnue?
    Leaning on little aardvarks?
    Lots of lubricated axles?
    Little ole lumbering artists?
    I give.
    A friend used BFF in apparent error as loads of folk cackled whilst pointing accusing fingers.???


    • OK, absolutely love leaning on little aardvarks!!!

      Back in the early 2000s, the paper used to run the comic strip Lola, but it was pulled after one too many fart jokes; the straw that broke the camel’s back was the one where she likened grandkids to farts. 😀 We thought it was funny, but the powers that be thought it too coarse.

      Back to leaning on little aardvarks … as soon as I find some! 😉


  5. I’m working on a dialectical journal for my Comp Theory class and am pouring through scholarly journals. I just came across the word “concretize,” as in “…it concretizes the awareness that we’re communicating with someone” (Straub quoting Danis). As much as I enjoy reading most of these articles, I can’t help but notice many authors appear to take the phrase “verbing nouns” to a ridiculous level.


      • Academia is definitely not for me. I’m going to start a list of the obscure words these scholars use. I think some of them invent words. I’ve looked up several in the dictionary, and guess what?? The words aren’t there! I’m looking forward to taking Theory of Technical Communication. I hope these tech com scholars believe in brevity of language. Bring on the monkey!


      • Technical communication reminds me some other great oxymorons (and the morons who come up with them). 😀

        At one point I considered going on to get a Ph.D. in mass comm, but I ultimately decided I didn’t want to take a chance of becoming like so many academics … I’d miss having a sense of humor! 😉


  6. Colorado friend-girl coined,in childhood, two words which I have cherished.
    1. Nack’yums …these are the linen or paper squares tucked beneath silverware or wrapped around biscuits.
    Our entire family adopted it for years. It spread to folks who were barely connected to our tribe.

    At a very classy restaurant, intent on mopping up a glass of spilled orange juice, I intoned in my most masterful voice,”Excuse me…we need a few NACKYUMS over here.”
    Nackyums?!?! Chortle chortle “He needs NACK YUMS.”
    A galaxy of rolled eyes. I STILL use it but never without first checking out the company .

    The other, BUNG’ORN, originated to describe a state of brokenness. Twisted-cracked-smeared-burned-shattered..”Oh! Mah fanger is BUNGORN!” or “Thet mess of okrey is BUNGORN beyond fixin’ ”
    It has spread over vast areas of this country and several furrin’ ones.
    USE it, there will never be any question of your meaning and it’s fun to see it’s progression into the language.

    It would be kind to give Rita Marie McCullough credit.
    Colorado Springs maiden of renown and spinner to tall, outrageous tales . Croaked, but growing like Topsy in countless memories.


    • I love words that paint a picture, and these definitely do!

      Kinda reminds me of my grandpa, who called all food, store-bought or from the garden, groceries, and would always tell my brothers and me that Santa would bring us a bundle of switches if we didn’t settle down (usually after he got us all wound up … he was quiet but funny).

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Your grandpa reminds me of my dad. He used to get my kids wound up all the time.

    I’ve been editing a magazine between school projects, and many of the authors use “partner” as a verb. I finally stopped changing it (unless it’s overused in one article). I’m trying to be a kinder, gentler editor by finding a balance between my own strong opinions and the organization culture.


    • I do the same. There are some words and turns of phrase on the editorial and Voices pages that drive me nuts, but I leave them be for the most part. I am, however, chipping away at some of the style things that make no sense (very 19th century in some cases). One day …

      Liked by 1 person

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