Words, words, words!
I’m so sick of words
I get words all day through
First from him, now from you
Is that all you blighters can do?
—“Show Me,” My Fair Lady
OK, I’m not so sick of words … they are, after all, kinda my job. Some words, on the other hand, make me cringe … and apparently are crazy-making for several of our readers.
Frequent Voices page guest-column contributor Pat Laster had a few words and phrases that drive her up the wall: “Basically,” “tasking,” “you people,” and “it occurs to me,” “whatever,” “So …”
I’m right there with her on most of those, especially “tasking,” another of those “verbings” that irk me. Like “transition,” “task” should stay in the noun world.
Tangentially related for me is the use of “charge” when referring to something someone has the responsibility to do. If it’s “in charge of,” that’s one thing, but to say someone is “charged with” something implies there’s a criminal charge. (Don’t believe me? Try a Google image search and see what comes up for that phrase.) In that case, I’d stomach a “tasked with” … just don’t make a habit of it. I’ll try to control my gag reflex.
Howard Hughes (who I recently discovered was the former boss of one of my neighbors back home … small world) wrote: “I thought of a couple of words and phrases that make my skin crawl. They are ‘at the end of the day,’ ‘moving forward,’ and ‘mindset’.” Howard, you’ve been reading my mind.
My aversion to “to be sure” as an introductory phrase has been mentioned before, and these three from Howard tend to prompt just as much eye-rolling on my part no matter where in the sentence they’re located. “At the end of the day” adds very little to a sentence … other than six words, which I guess would be important if you were being paid by the word. “Moving forward” is one of those PR/spin doctor phrases that grates on me and makes me want to punch the speaker backward. And “mindset”? More jargon, more annoyance.
Karl Hansen is irritated, like me, with the needless sanitizing of some language:
“Among other inane expressions I get so danged tired of reading, one stands out. The references to ‘our fallen soldiers (cops, sailors, etc.)’ really chap my hide. Having seen some soldiers fall—and not arise—that grates on me horribly. Those fellows died. Fallen soldiers get up … and keep on charging. Dead soldiers are dead forever, and you can never make that OK with the soldier’s mom, wife, orphaned kids or with other soldiers who saw it occur and know the smell of burned cordite and warm blood!
“So let’s dispense with the little garbage words that mask reality and the horrors of war. As long as we continue to sanitize it, we’ll never realize the horror of it to the participants and their people.”
Politically correct euphemisms typically add nothing to the conversation but confusion and annoyance. There’s politeness (such as our newspaper’s breakfast test, because there are some things you just don’t want to see while eating), and then there’s unyielding adherence to euphemisms largely deployed for political reasons. Sometimes it’s better to just use plain language, if only to avoid the nasty glares and head smacks from people like Karl and me.
There are words readers love, though it’s always more fun to complain about the abhorrent ones. Some bring memories of the past, like for James Barré:
“Our little dog Penny loves to share a chair with my wife. Today Penny was sitting on the floor looking up expectantly, ready to jump up and snuggle. Trouble was, there was not enough room for her. I told my wife to ‘scootch’ over and give her some room. I have no idea from what dark recess of my brain that sprouted from, but my response was totally automatic. Probably haven’t used that word since I was 12 years old and that was many, many, many decades ago.”
Sometimes it’s those words from long ago—like “tump” for me—that always make me smile. Perhaps it’s the memories of growing up in the country and the simpler times that they evoke.
Dick Price is perfectly fine with “swath” (one of my least favorite words), “unless pronounced to rhyme with bath or giraffe.” I’ll forgive him for that weakness as long as he keeps amusing me.
Another friend, who shall remain nameless so as not to give away his age, misses “great words that have died; words like ‘Yikes’ and ‘Jeepers,’ as well as phrases like ‘Holy Toledo.’ ”
I have to be honest; I use “yikes” a lot, and the Oxford English Dictionary pinpoints its usage beginning around 1971 (though a few other sources say mid-1950s), so it’s a relatively young ’un, etymologically speaking. “Yoicks,” on the other hand, dates back to the 18th century.
As long as you’re using “yikes” rather than “yoicks,” you’re not as old as you think!
And if you use “zoinks,” you’re probably Shaggy.
You’ve likely heard by now that Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow this Groundhog Day, meaning spring will soon be on the way … if you put much stock in predictions from chubby woodchucks.
Had he been here in Arkansas, he probably would have seen his shadow unless it was during the brief rain since it was sunny for a large part of the day. Of course the high was about 70° (the average high for Feb. 2 in these parts is 53°), so winter doesn’t seem too inclined to stick around here … in Colorado and other spots, on the other hand, I’m sure there are people who would be more than happy for an early spring.
I can’t say when spring weather will get here to stay, nor can Phil, but spring will be here on March 20. That’s what my calendar says, anyway. If Wilbur the Woodchuck reappears in my backyard, I’ll ask him what he thinks.