We all have certain phrases that annoy us. There are also oddities that creep into the language that can use comment or correction. To that end, I propose a short list of ten annoying words and expressions. Sometimes words are misused, sometimes expressions exist that come to irritate.
Please accept this list in the humorous vein it is intended. I am playing the role of an irritated curmudgeon, but its just the shtick. Have some fun with me as I complain and add to my list.
So, can we talk? He’s my list of annoyances.
1. “With all due respect….” What this phrase usually means, is that the recipient isn’t going to get any respect. When you open an e-mail and it begins, “With all due respect Mr Jones..…’ Don’t you just wince and know that this message is going to be really bad? In a way, the expression is a form of lip service, as if to say, “I want to dispense with the silly tradition of having to accord some modicum of respect to you, given your title or position, and get on to what was really on my mind, namely, that you’re all wrong, and probably clueless as well. And of course, be assured I say this with all due respect…”
2. Decimate – Most people use this word today as meaning, “to utterly destroy.” So one might say, “Our culture has really been decimated by no-fault divorce.” But decimate does not mean “to utterly destroy.” Decimate means to reduce something by a tenth (Deci = ten). The word comes from the Roman practice wherein, after conquering a town that was guilty of some sort of uprising or rebellion, the Romans would line up all the men of that town in the public square, and kill every tenth man. In effect, the message was, “You mess with the Romans and this is what you get. It’ll be worse next time… Alas, trying to recover the original meaning of this word may be a lost cause at this point. The word may be destined to go the way of other Latin-based words such as “manufacture” which means literally in Latin “hand-made” (manu = hand, facere = to make). But now it means just the opposite. Other English based words have also reversed meanings, so that we drive in parkways and park on driveways. But, for the record, “decimate” does NOT mean totally destroy, it means to reduce something by a tenth.
3. Service – There is a tendency, especially from government officials, to take the noun “service,” and turn it into a verb. And so it is common to hear someone say, “We service our clients.” or, “We serviced 50 people last month.” No! People are served, not serviced. Perhaps you may speak of a car as being serviced, but people are served. It’s hard to know where this manner speaking came from, but I sadly suspect it crept in from the world of prostitution, where prostitutes often speak of “servicing” their “Johns” (i.e. clients). But for the record, we do not “service” people, we serve them, people are not “serviced” they are served.
4. Not unlike – This strange expression, in a way, cancels itself out as a double negative. For example, someone may say, “This car is not unlike that car.” Trying to figure out exactly what the sentence means may very well make your head explode. In fact, it strains the meaning of the word “sentence” which refers to a string of words which makes sense. Perhaps, in the sentence above, the person means to say this car is not like that car? Or maybe they mean just the opposite, since not + un means “is” doesn’t it? (negative + negative = positive). Then perhaps the sentence means this car is like that car? Like I say, it can make your head explode. To try to avoid making heads explode by not using the expression, “not unlike.”
5. Proactive – Another strange word that has crept into our vocabulary. How is “proactive” so different than active? One might argue that there’s a temporal dimension here. Hence one who is “proactive” is one who is actually ahead of his time. But usually we use the prefix “pre” in temporal references, as in “preemptive” or “prediction.” To be honest, in the sentence, “He is a proactive person” I’m not exactly sure what is really meant here. I think the speaker intends to indicate something positive, such that the person is sort of “ahead of the curve” or something. But honestly is just not all that clear what the word “proactive” means, at least to me. But, maybe I’m just being reactive.
6. Utilize – Why not just say “use”? This oddity is beginning to diminish, and none too soon. I live for the day when we no longer use “utilize.”
7. Intellectually dishonest – how is being “intellectually dishonest,” different from being just plain dishonest? Is not honesty or dishonesty always rooted in the intellect and manifest in speech? If there are some other types of dishonesty, such as say emotional dishonesty, or physical dishonesty, or verbal dishonesty, I have never heard such qualifiers attached. So if someone says, “You are being intellectually dishonest”, it seems to me that is just a highfalutin way of saying you’re being dishonest.
8. Dialog – Why not just say “discuss” or “discussion?” Thus when someone says, “I’m having a dialogue with someone”, why not just say, I’m having a discussion with someone” ?? An even more egregious form of abusing this word is to turn dialogue into a verb; so someone might say, “We are dialoguing about this problem.” But why not just say, “We are discussing this problem?” Turning nouns into verbs or verbal forms generally produces strange results. To quote a classic line from Calvin and Hobbes, “Your verbing is weirding me out. So, let’s talk, let’s have a discussion, but let’s limit the use of the word dialogue, and certainly avoid the strange construction dialoguing.
9. Using “so” as an interjection – This tendency is especially manifest in academic settings. It tends to be placed at the beginning of the answer to a question. And thus a question may be asked at an academic seminar such as, “What does the data show in relation to this problem?” And the scientist responds, “So… The data seems to say that things are going to get worse.” Interjections are sometimes used as delaying tactics as a person formulates an answer. But in this case, I’m suspicious that it tends to come more from the more from the relativistic climate of academic settings. And thus the interjection “So…” expressed gently and slowly, makes the person seem thoughtful and somehow not arrogantly certain of what they are about to say. So… I don’t want to come off is too nasty, but would you please stop saying “so” all the time?
10. “Are you suggesting…? ” This is a common expression that prefaces a question usually by members of the main-stream media. Thus a member of the media may ask someone such as me, “Are you suggesting that people who don’t follow the teachings of the Church are in error? There’s a part of me that wants to answer, “I am not suggesting anything, I’m saying it outright!” But here too the phrase seems to serve a relativist climate where people “suggest” rather than say, or claim. But let me be clear, as one NOT influenced by relativism to a large decree, when I am asked a question, I state an answer. I do not suggest an answer, and neither should you, at least when it comes to faith or morals. Do not suggest the faith, Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.
OK, can we talk?? Here’s my short list of annoying lexicon. What do you want to add?