This is the time of year I anxiously await Lake Superior State University’s banished words list, but alas, its planned release Tuesday afternoon came a little too late for my deadline, so I’ll take that up next week (spoiler alert: my nomination, its’, didn’t make the cut). This week, the focus is on you.
Yeah, you. The one in the pajamas and bunny slippers who reads the dictionary for fun.
Over the past couple of months, my fellow word nerds (we are legion) have sent me words and phrases they love, and those they’d love to go away forever.
A couple of weeks ago I received an email from Global Language Monitor that made me gag: an announcement that “woke” is the 2019 Word of the Year for English worldwide, based on analysis of language trends. I’m still waiting for this particular word to be on the banished list. Patty Wingfield must feel as I do, as she wrote me in November, “Here are a couple I hope go away: 1. Woke, 2. Existential threat (both the word ‘existential’ and the phrase).”
I think any word used overmuch will quickly grate on nerves, and “woke” has certainly done that for me. One of my columnists is a fan of using it with scare quotes … grrr. For him and all the others who use this: Why not just use “socially aware”? Woke as an adjective is ungrammatical and can quickly make reformed grammar grouches relapse into nitpickery. I don’t like myself like that, so please stop it.
I said please.
Sorry about “existential,” though, Patty, especially since Dictionary.com named it its Word of the Year. John Webster was one of the people happy about that, as it’s a favorite of his: “I perk up every time I see it or hear it because, I’d venture to say, that 95 percent of the population doesn’t have the slightest notion what it means or its implications … . Whenever I see it, the image of the famous painting The Scream appears in my mind.”
John’s not above a little grouchiness over words, though. “Oh, I know that the dictionary says it’s OK to use the word gauntlet as in ‘He ran the gauntlet.’ But I let out a cheer when I see or hear use of the more correct ‘gantlet.’ ‘He ran the gantlet.’ After all, a gauntlet is a glove.” That’s one that drives me nuts too, and I make sure to use the correct one. Lord knows I don’t want to deal with Thanos and his infinity gauntlet.
Shelley Buonaiuto named her Words of the Year—impeachment, environmental and social justice—while also citing words that distressed her. “Word that gives me the willies: impunity. Looked up stochastic terrorism: That gives me the willies, too. And ‘immigration’ is churning up monumental feelings of distress.”
I’ve had my share of icky feelings over “stochastic terrorism,” defined as using language, usually in a public forum such as social media, to incite random people to carry out violent or terroristic acts that are statistically likely but individually unpredictable, thus giving the inciters the appearance of legal deniability.
And I just shuddered again. Gosh … can’t imagine why …
David Kelley despises “trickeration,” saying he cringes when football announcers use it. “There is no trickeration, just a cool play that fooled the other team; this word should be forever banned.” He also is no fan of “customer service”: “Can a term still be around for something that no longer exists?”
But David … your call is important to us …
Greg Stanford told me his all-time pet peeve “is when folks state ‘I could care less’ when that is the exact opposite of the sentiment they mean to express! Of course ‘I couldn’t care less’ is what they think they are saying.”
That’s the same pet peeve as several of the editors at the paper. On a philosophical note, though, I posit that perhaps one can care less … especially if one lives in the White House. Every time I think they can’t go lower, they do. 😉
Don Dragland took aim at my compatriots on the editorial page, weighing in on “a couple of phrases the paper uses much too regularly for me. Inky wretch. Ouch! That’s like fingernails on a chalkboard for me. The other is gentle reader. Who or what is that? Maybe you can explain that to me. I get the feeling they’re both carry-overs from the days of Paul Greenberg. That, and the references to H.L. Mencken.”
Heard, Don, though getting any writer to kill his darlings is awfully hard. There are words and phrases I use a lot that will have to be pried from my cold, dead hands. And my ellipses. I just can’t quit ’em …
Judge Grisham Phillips had a whole passel of words, phrases and grammar usages he wants to bid adieu, including “Aha moment (cute the first 10,000 times I heard it),” “very unique (can ‘unique’ ever be modified? Perhaps ‘almost unique?’),” “at the end of the day (what exactly does that mean?),” and “having said that; that being said; that said (an interesting phrase the first 10,000 times I heard it, but not since).”
“Why not just use ‘nevertheless,’ ‘regardless,’ ‘still,’ ‘even so,’ or some similar wording,” he wrote, adding, “I have attorneys in court that say ‘irregardless.’ In fact, I have attorneys who do all the things I’m complaining about here. When a young person asks me what classes she should take to prepare for law school, I suggest English for obvious reasons, and math, because math teaches one to think logically.”
Ah, c’mon. You never met my college algebra teacher, who managed to wipe four years of high school advanced math from my mind.
At the end of the day, the quadratic equation just evaporated.
Speaking of teachers (good ones), Teresa Luneau wrote of one of my columns, “I did a little joy dance when I came to the section on its’ because I once had a student who turned in a paper about his Aunt Glady’s. (Then there was the one about the World Serious, and another on the Bullet Surprise, not the Pulitzer Prize. But I digress.)”
Joe Jeffers wrote, “The it’s/its issue was the most common error my chemistry students used in lab reports. Usually by the end of the year, I had broken them of the habit. I’m now retired, so it’s the job of my replacement. There is probably a resurgence, however, given that spellcheck on iPhones defaults to it’s when its is entered.”
My iPad generally gets it correct, luckily. My Android phone, though, laughs at my attempts to type on its tiny keyboard. I think it’s in league with Siri, who always mishears my dictation. No, Siri, I didn’t say, “that right at Philippi to Merrick insta have a choice.” I sometimes don’t make much sense, but that … just no.
Art Pfeifer eschewed talk of banishment, instead focusing solely on a favorite: “Yes, new words pop up regularly. But can any word, old or new, outshine my favorite? Right. Syzygy. Unbeatable and mysterious.”
I’d argue for “persnickety,” but he’s got a point.
In closing, dear friends, I wish you a very happy new year. I’d do it personally, but as you read this, I’m probably (hopefully) still sound asleep, perhaps grumbling a little bit over the people who think that shooting guns at midnight is a good idea. Let’s all hope for a more peaceful year. It can start as soon as someone’s phone is taken away.