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?

187 Responses

  1. Irby F. Vaughn Olympia, WA says:

    Finally, a web site I can put to use…I am not an English major or anything I am a retired printer technician….and I hate the way people destroy (decimate?) the language these days!! I’s if they walked out of school and immediately forgot all they learned (if anything) about word usage! I used to constantly pick on people at work for their unwitting outbursts of nonsensical phrases. My biggest peeve is of course ” like.” People tend to use it as a verbal pause. All ages use this but mostly younger teens. OMG drives me nuts, too! They don’t realize they are taking the name of the Lord in vain by saying this. I’ve heard this from 8 yrs old and up!!

    And another is “you know what I’m sayin?” I have always wanted to answer back” No, I am really stupid and have no idea what you are talking about!”

    I have many more but I’ll leave you with this one……I know—don’t string out periods to indicate a pause. Most of the time if one ,say, is at the door of a house and is waiting for someone to open, when it is opened, the person outside says “do you mind if I come in? , the person says yes come ahead. (they have just said they do mind if you come in! The word “mind” makes the difference. But no one seems to pay attention..

    I will leave you alone now. I must get to facebook and do some “liking.” Irby Vaughn

  2. Gregory says:

    There is a difference between “because” and “since” that is often overlooked. “Since” indicates a passage of time and is used (not utilized!) where “because” is appropriate.

  3. M.S.G. says:

    ” My bad” This expression is new to my ears and has the effect similar or
    not unlike the sound of squealing chalk.Heretofore I did not realize that I must make an effort to tolerate new usage of language as it evolves or devolves.It seems to be an inevitable situation…I need a hug.My bad? I dunno ; )

  4. Irby F. Vaughn Olympia, WA says:

    How the heck do northeastern children learn to spell when a teacher points to the board at the word car and says this word is Cah? and this word is pok as in the cah. thy put “r’s” where they don’t belong and remove them where needed? Irby Vaughn

    • Andrew says:

      That’s the same as South Eastern people in the England (London et al), the large city in the North East is NOT NewCARstle at all and the locals pronounce it by emphasising the second syllable.

  5. Helen says:

    I hate the so called word conversate. Also, the phrase “so fun.”
    Are we dumbing down??

  6. Harry says:

    One I really am getting sick of these days is “preexisting” as in preexisting condition.

    What does that mean, that a.condition existed before it existed? I can’t see any reason why “existing condition” can’t suffice just as well but I guess some lawyer at some point decided that preexisting sounded more like good leaglese and so now we get to hear that term endlessly.

    • Andrew says:

      Pre-existing is taken to mean something that existed before the subject under discussion began. Existing does not define any timescale. How else would you say that? ” a condition who’s existance pre-dates” perhaps.

  7. Lance says:

    Those who use “so” at the beginning of their interview answers tend to do so for all their answers. The tactic of starting any and all interview answer with “so” seems more a way to express disdain for the questions. It ties all answers together in a way of perpetuating a diatribe rather than a string of small answers. The interviewee wants to step out of the interviewee role and take charge, to say “I am just telling my long saga, and you are interrupting it with all your petty questions,”

  8. Lance says:

    As for “Do you mind if I come in?”, we tend to answer positively when permitting. It isnt consistent, though, as many people say “Not at all.”

    One tactic that drives me to drink is the negative question, such as “Is he not coming with us?” You have to make a definitive answer or it gets confusing: “Yes, he is not coming.”

    Nowadays, most people have dropped the “Yes” and “No” answer, especially women. They only answer in a verb-repeat pattern: “Did you see that movie?” “I did.” “Are you OK?” “I am.” “Does your brother like asparagus?” He doesn’t.” This is like Chinese language, where they generally offer two choices in the question: “Have / haven’t any money?” (Yao / Bu yao qian?) might be answered “Yao.” (Have) or “Can / can’t ride a horse?” (Ke yi/ bu ke yi qi yi pi ma?”) might be answered “Bu ke yi.” (Cannot).

  9. Lance says:

    Almost all Americans begin any new topic, especially on first starting a conversation after meeting someone with “so”. “So, did you see that game last night?”

    I think a better term for these is not “annoying expressions, but “buzzwords”, and there are dozens of articles online about that recently. Here is my short list:

    actionable (meaning unclear; perhaps “having the ability to move”) “We provide actionable strategies….” http://tinyurl.com/pxz7fta

    apocryphal (original meaning is “highly destructive”, but now used to mean “important”)

    aspirational (means related to something one might aspire to; used most often redundantly as “aspirational goals”)

    at the end of the day (means in summary — used for the same effect as “bottom line”)

    at this juncture (used to mean “now”)

    arguably (not related to a hotly debated topic, but more often simply “possibly” or “believed by some to be”)

    balls in the air (means possible changes)

    bankable (should mean “can be deposited with a bank”, but usually used to mean “valuable”)

    basically (like essentially, just overused)

    basis, as in “on a daily basis” (superfluous; it just means daily)

    bifurcated (should mean “divided into exactly two parts”, but often used to mean “having more than one aspect–and as many as you wish”)

    boots on the ground (people who do the obvious work, such as a work force in a factory, or delivery staff)

    bottom line (should mean the difference between all costs and all revenue in a business, but often used figuratively to mean “in summary”)

    brand (should mean the trademark name of a physical item, but used to mean company name or popularity–“develop the brand”)

    cast a wide net (broad approach to anything– see “target” for converse)

    cognizant of (two dollar word for “know of”)

    compelling (incorrectly used to mean “interesting” — usually referring to a story)

    conditionality (means conditions–one of dozens of “-ality” new formations)

    continuum of accommodation : no idea what it means, but used often by common ‘taters– see http://tinyurl.com/av88sbj

    conventional wisdom (should mean “status quo belief”; typically used to mean any belief, suspicion, or presumption that is widely held)

    counter-intuitive (means against what you might expect)

    culture (has many traditional meanings; new meaning is “corporate environment”)

    demographic (should be an adjective, but as a buzzword, it is a noun: any age group or income group — They are the demographic we need to reach.”)

    disconnect (buzzword when used as a noun to mean failure, incomplete understanding, lack of continuity — truly buzzy since it has so many meanings)

    DNA (used to mean many things, such as “inclination”, “preference”, or “commitment” — “Travel is in my DNA.”)

    down to a science (very old buzz-phrase. to have some process “down to a science” means to have some process “well-under control” or “well-learned”)

    downside (used to mean disadvantage or negative aspect)

    driving (original meaning is “cause to go” as in driving sheep or driving a car. New meaning is “producing an increase in” as “The company’s report is driving profits.”)

    dry powder (original meaning would be dry gun powder– odd, since wet gun powder is useless. New slang meaning is cash or assets easy to liquidate “We should keep some dry powder for acquisitions.”)

    dynamic (as a noun) should be an adjective meaning “active”. As a noun, it means “strategy” or “plan”.

    ecosystem (original meaning is an area in nature that has a particular group of plants and animals; used now to mean “system” or “work arrangement” or simply a company)

    engage (should mean make a reasonably permanent connection, but as a buzzword, to communicate with or to elicit a response from someone; most often used to describe advertising: “Our advertising engages our customers” or just to sound cool: “…we get an opportunity to raise that engagement level.” –actual quite from some guy on Bloomberg TV)

    engaging (meaning “interesting” — usually referring to a personality)

    epiphany: originally, the Catholic church’s festival to remember the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles (some sects consider that to be the birth of Jesus, others consider it to be the visit by the scholars from the East (the magi); now, any revelation, or any awareness of something important.

    essentially (should mean “vitally”, but often used to mean “mostly”)

    factoid (means fact)

    flagship (should mean “single leader at the very top”, but used to mean “important” or “noteworthy”, as in “one of our flagship stores”)

    foreseeable future (The future is never foreseeable.)

    from a _____ perspective…” (means “concerning _____”, as in “From a profit perspective”)

    game changer / game changing (several meanings, such as a change in direction of a business or technology; an advantage; a new concept; anything new)

    going forward (in the future. Example of unnecessary use: “Being overweight in some sectors may not be the best strategy going forward,” as if one can have a strategy for going backward. “What will Google do going forward?” as if one could do something going backward.)

    graphic (used to mean “shocking” and applied to an image or video; real meaning is “of or related to writing”)

    groundbreaking (should mean “activity related to initiating the construction of a new building”. Used to mean “significant”)

    grow (used as a transitive verb meaning “to cause to expand” and typically applied to a business: “He wants to grow his paper route.”)

    iconic (should mean “of or like a religious symbol”, or like a figure to be adored, but typically used to mean “popular” or “well-known”)

    imperative (should mean commanding, but used to mean important)

    in flux (should mean in motion, but used to mean in an uncertain condition)

    in retrospect (used for anything in the past — “In retrospect, he was a good college student.”)

    in terms of ____ (means “regarding _____”)

    infinitely (should mean continuing forever, but used to mean actually: “infinitely solvable”)

    iteration [used to mean versions (noun) — real meaning is repeat (verb) the execution of the same set of instructions a given number of times or until a specified result is obtained: “The solution is obtained by iteration”)

    juncture (used to mean “now”, “moment” or “stage of progress”– real meaning is junction or connection)

    known quantity (used to mean anyone or anything that is well-understood, well-known, or important: “He is a known quantity” — real meaning is literal: any amount of something that is known)

    level playing field (as oddly as “level playing field for getting a loan”)

    long story short (A lazy way to say “a long story made short”. It means, here is my summary.)

    mano a mano (Spanish for “hand to hand” and is thus a pretentious way of saying “hand to hand” — five syllables instead of three–often used incorrectly to mean “face to face”)

    mantra (used to mean simply motto)

    marginalize (overused; should mean leave to the sise, but used to mean disciminate against)

    metrics (for statistics–nothing at all about the metric system)

    monetize = Who knows? Maybe capitalize, maybe liquidate.

    nuances (should mean small details, but used to mean any important things)

    on any level (from any point of view; no matter how it is considered)

    opus (means “work”, but is often misused in place of “magnum opus” meaning “great work”)

    orders of magnitude = a lot, as in “That’s two or three orders of magnitude more than before.”

    organic / organically (used to mean natural / naturally “We can grow our business organically.”)

    ostracize (means banish, but often used to mean “ignore”. Either way, it is overused.)

    out perform (should be a transitive verb, but often used intransitively to mean “perform outstandingly” as “That stock will out perform.”)

    over the course of (overused; should be just “for” as in “over the course of the last few years”)

    over-arching (used to mean “very important”)

    personify (should mean made to be like a person, but used to mean “represent” as in “a flagship store that personifies the brand”)

    perspective (as in “from a profit perspective…”) means “concerning”

    pop (used to mean appear exciting or eye-cathing, as in “His presentation really popped.”

    premised on (based on)

    prescient (means “know before”, but is sometimes attributed to a letter or statement rather than a person, and thus may mean “revealing”)

    qualitative (as a noun)

    quantitative (as a noun)

    raise the bar (increase quality, but often miss-used, such as “I wanted to raise the bar on the options available” said by Jessica Heron of stelladot.com. She means “increase the number”, not raise the bar, and thus a blatant grasp for a buzzword.)

    ramp (verb– start or increase “We will ramp a new factory” or “Production is ramping”)

    ramping up (began as slang for “introducing as a new area of business”, but now may also be used to mean “increasing”, as in “profits are ramping up”)

    range (used to mean “narrow range” as “Markets are trading in a range.”)

    red flag (any cause for caution — should be yellow flag used in auto racing to mean “be cautious”. Red flag means “stop everything now”.)

    repurpose (not yet–and I hope never will be–in any reputable dictionary) used to mean used in some new fashion

    resonate with (attract or elicit appreciation “Let’s see what resonates with our customers.”)

    retrospect (used for anything in the past — “In retrospect, he was a good college student.”)

    sea change (should mean a monumental change, but used for any significant change, thus gross hyperbole)

    self-fulfilling prophesy (used to mean “something bad will happen”)

    seminal (means seed-like or having possibilities; typically used incorrectly to mean “significant”)

    sibling (means either brother or sister or both; used when either could be correct, but we don’t know whether brother or sister alone is correct.) This becomes a buzzword when the gender is known. EXAMPLE: “Perry’s agent, Adam Plotkin, told the Chicago Tribune that Perry’s brother, Michael Dean, had received a lot of calls about his sibling’s “death.” “ (from http://tinyurl.com/kp5d5s8 Since the storyrefers tohis brother, it can’t be about his sister.)

    sort of (should mean “somewhat”; typically used as a filler: “Dell is sort of offering a new product” — Cory Johnson, Bloomberg TV)

    street smart (originally meant “learned from living on the streets”; now used for anything learned outside school)

    surreal (original meaning is exaggerated realism; typically used incorrectly to mean “surprising” or “interesting”)

    take (something) to the next level = any improvement or increase

    take-away (used to mean “important point that should be noticed in a longer discourse”; original meaning is food order packaged to take out of a restaurant)

    target (focus on a narrow view or narrow range– see “cast a wide net” for converse)

    terms, as “in terms of ____” (means “regarding _____”)

    through the roof (should mean “raised beyond expectations”, but typically hyperbole for “considerable” or “noteworthy”, as in “brand recognition was through the roof”)

    tipping point (seems to mean “threshold” or “beginning of a period of rapid change”)

    über (German meaning is “over” or “above”; used by Americans to mean ultra, superlative, or just “cool”; from Bloomberg TV: “…the über movie chain” about iMax)

    up the ante (should mean requires more money to enter a game, but used for anything that is more)

    upshot (seems to mean “result”, but is used only in the phrase “the upshot of” something)

    watershed (original meaning: 1 an area of high land that divides rain run-off into two or more directions of flow. 2 an event that marks a change of course for a person or entity; nowadays used as a buzzword for “important”)

    wheelhouse (used to mean “sphere of expertise”)

    win-win (just overused for any situation that isn’t harmful to the main parties involved)

    venue (means a location for an event)

    • Kevin says:

      “Short” list? So much for definitions, eh? I guess it’s all relative.

    • Andrew says:

      Aspirational targets are not “targets” but targets that intend to stretch and challenge, for example students. I set a target as something I expect them to achieve, whereas an aspirational target is something they might achieve if they stretch themselves, work harder or strive to improve.

      Aspirational target = challenge

      p.s. I agree with Kevin!

      • Yoj says:

        Not sure where your definition of apocryphal came from, as I’ve always known it to mean “lies” and couldn’t find any reference to destructive. Maybe you meant deceitful?

        a·poc·ry·phal (-pkr-fl)
        1. Of questionable authorship or authenticity.
        2. Erroneous; fictitious: “Wildly apocryphal rumors about starvation in Petrograd . . . raced through Russia’s trenches” (W. Bruce Lincoln).

        Apocrypha are statements or claims that are of dubious authenticity. The word’s origin is the medieval Latin adjective apocryphus, “secret, or non-canonical”, from the Greek adjective ἀπόκρυφος (apocryphos), “obscure”, from verb ἀποκρύπτειν (apocryptein), “to hide away”.

        • Spatio says:

          Language development proceeds to an extent on metaphor, so we can’t be too restrictive. A metaphor is:
          …a rhetorical trope where a comparison is made between two seemingly unrelated subjects. Typically, a first object is described as being a second object. In this way, the first object can be economically described because implicit and explicit attributes from the second object can be used to fill in the description of the first. [Wikipedia].
          The value of a metaphor lies somewhere in its explanatory or illuminatory power.

  10. Harry says:

    I notice whenever someone peppers their speech with “you know what I’m saying?” it usually means there’s a good chance I won’t. I generally take that phrase as a tacit admission by its user that they’re often misunderstood for poor communication skills.

  11. Rick Belmont says:

    “With all due respect,” Father, mush language evolves from common usage. For instance, destruction of an (unspecified) large proportion of something has been an accepted sense of the word “decimate,” since the 19th century, “not unlike” it being a common expression for a husband to “service” a wife. “Proactive” is used to describe taking control by preemptive action as opposed to taking action in response to a stimulus. “Use” can mean consume, while “utilize” means put to use – makes me think of “MacGyver.” “Dialogue” is a smaller word than discussion. So… why not utilize it? “Are you suggesting” that every answer that someone gives requires no further explanation to clarify his precise meaning? Many words in the English have several meanings and many have similar meanings, but slightly nuanced for clarity and specificity. Our language is beatiful both in it’s simplicity and its complexity, to the extent that one or thousand words can create a picture. Words – Did you ever see George Carlin do his “we park in a driveway and drive on a parkway” routine? “Intellectual dishonesty is a failure to apply standards of rational evaluation that one is aware of, usually in a self-serving fashion (a perfect description of FOX News). I Googled it. The over and ill-used words and phrases that bug ME are “at the end of the day,” “like,” “so fun,” “uh” and “ah,” “you know?” God bless!

  12. Rick Belmont says:

    Oops! That is supposed to be “much,” not “mush,” although it accidentally might be closer to the truth. “You know what I’m sayin’?” “I’m just sayin’.”

  13. Peter Wolczuk says:

    This is a bit “after the fact” but, it took a while to evolve (not a four letter word) a way of expressing without using my (often) large and multiple paragraphs.
    One commenter expressed a dislike for the way the word “perfect” is being used so much lately. First noticed how the internet has seemed to present this use as appearing suddenly all over North America, as if it was well and consciously co-ordinated.
    I get the impression that the, recent and often application of this word is an attempt to drive a wedge between us and the First Commandment. This may seem, at first, to be an over reaction but – in both the traditional and metaphorical wedges the thin edge tends to appear tiny and insignificant however, when the thicker part of the wedge has made itself (and its descructive nature) apparent it is often too late.

  14. Roger Kinsella says:

    Re the word “decimate”,Decimation was never used by the Romans against opposing forces, it was used by the Romans against their own forces to discipline them for things like either a really poor performance in battle or else desertion or treason. That is, to send their own troops the message that they needed to up their game. As far as the enemy was concerned, if the Romans weren’t in a position to take prisoners, then they would have been more likely to completely exterminate them rather than simply decimate them.

  15. Spatio says:

    I used to cringe at the trend to nounify verbs or verbify nouns (e.g., ‘diarise’). These seem to have originated in the corporate world and became buzz words for a while. It has the appearance of efficiency and mastery of language when one word can replace a phrase, such as ‘prioritise X’ replacing ‘make X a priority.’

    Some new expressions and language use come from kids and the internet and mobile phones. ‘My bad’ always sounded to me like an expression used by a non native English speaker who might have uttered it during an online game to mean the equivalent of ‘mea culpa’. The amused recipient(s) of this syntactic clanger would then have spread it around. Another phrase that used to come up from time to time is ‘all your base are belong to us,’ another English as a second language monstrosity, but it must have been highly amusing to the native English speakers playing the same online game. I must admit to finding this and kid talk such as Valleyspeak kind of amusing. Just so long as people are aware of the formal/informal differences.

    One curious example of language use is to end an invitation to do something with ‘at all.’ E.g., ‘Would you like to leave a message at all?’ This seems totally superfluous and wishy washy but does appear to have slight social function.

  16. Kevin says:

    Apparently the word “missing” is now missing from the language arts. Now it’s “went missing.” Does that make any sense?

    “I’m going to have to.” An accepted redundancy.

  17. Sid says:

    My particular bugbear is ‘burglarized’. Once only found in the USA, this term seems to be spreading across the English-speaking world in much the same way as we gave cholera to the native Americans.
    The core word is the verb ‘burgle’. One who indulges in this activity is therefore a ‘burglar’. The relationship is reciprocal – a burglar spends his time burgling, not burglarising!
    It is my greatest wish that those responsible for rapistrising the language in this fashion are soon murdererized.

  18. James Denney says:

    One verbal abomination I loath is the Watergatism, “timeframe”. Time is never framed (unless you are taking a picture of a watch or clock), it is a function of periodicity. I think some some accidentally made an amalgam out of’ period of time and frame of reference.

    So, am I right or what? (Cringe).

  19. Stephanie says:


    Here are a couple of issues that I have with people’s misuse of English.

    1. Irregardless – really? The word is REGARDLESS…. putting the ir in front of regardless is meaningless. How people who use this non-word and don’t have to be chained to the porch and wear a helmet, is a mystery.

    2. Believe. I know this is a symantics issue, but one may not AGREE or APPROVE of divorce or hunting, but stating that you don’t believe in either of those two examples is truly worrisome. We are not talking about the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny. Divorce and hunting are real; many people divorce as do many people hunt.

    Now I would like to ask for others opinions on the use of commas. My English teachers stated that when listing three or more items in a sentence that one was to put a comma in between each word until the last. Before the last word, the word “and” was to replace the comma. For example: I like to read, garden, swim and cook. My grammar books from college all show that to be the correct use of commas. However, I am working for a CEO who is older than I (thus I would assume he learned the correct rules of grammar) and he continues to mark up any correspondence by adding an extra comma before the word and.
    Has this grammar rule changed? Is that now considered grammatically correct?

    Any thoughts or comments regarding the use of commas?

    • faithish says:

      Stephanie, what you’ve just described is one of the most hotly debated topics in English grammar – the Oxford comma, being the comma coming after oranges in the phrase “apples, oranges, and bananas.” Some grammarians swear by it, others loathe it. It really comes down to a matter of personal preference. Technically, either option (using the comma or leaving it out) is acceptable.

      • Spatio says:

        No comma is needed therefore no comma should be used. Redundancy. Punctuation is for clarity, not whim. Sometimes a comma in similar contexts may be required to avoid ambiguity, but not in the case of the simple listing of objects given here.

        While I’m here, I wish to admonish those who use the expression ‘I could care less’ when they mean (and should say) ‘I couldn’t care less.’ That was it. The admonishment I mean.

      • Varina Suellen Plonski says:

        Actually, Faithish, there is somewhat more to it than a matter of personal preference; there is the issue of additional clarification. I wish I could sent the cartoon that illustrates this so beautifully, but I’ll try to explain. There are two panels in the cartoon. The first shows two famous statesmen and two scantily-clad women. The accompanying descriptor is this. “With the Oxford comma: We invited the strippers, JFK, and Stalin.” The meaning is that they invited four people. who were the two statesmen and two strippers.
        The second panel shows those same two statesmen in the same outfits the scantily-clad women wore, with the descriptor: “Without the Oxford comma: We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin.” Here the meaning is that they invited two strippers, who were JFK and Stalin.

        • Spatio says:

          Yes, that’s the type of ambiguity I was referring to (to which I was referring) above (dang, another preposition!). The comma is clearly advisable here.

  20. Mike says:

    People who live in glass houses …….

    My own pet peeve is using the word “data” as a singular, as the author of this little article did in #9. The word “data” is a plural, not a singular. It’s like saying “mice” or “geese.” Few people would say “The geese is flying” or “There is ten mice in the house”, but using the collective, plural noun “data” as a singular is equivalent.

    Instead of “What does the data show…” and “The data seems to say…”, the author instead should have said “What do the data show…” and “The data seem to say…”.

    • According to Merriam Webster, data, though plural in its original Latin, has come to mean singular or plural in English and datum is almost never used

      • Spatio says:

        It tends to be used by those who know the difference. I can’t remember seeing a serious scientific writer get it wrong.

        ‘Who’ is commonly used instead of ‘whom,’ so does that make it correct? I guess it seems to. Our grammar officials seem, in the end, to say ‘whatever, man.’

        And what about ‘he and I’ vs ‘him and me’ vs ‘me and him’ vs ‘him and I’? There is a correct form that is determined by the logic of grammar. Where does one stop? Are we ever going to have everyone using formal grammar?

        But it does feel faintly OK to lament. Anyway, most people tend to have blind spots in their language use and forums like this help to expose these.

  21. Robin says:

    My pet peeve is the odd use of the word “had” in describing something that occured. For example, “She had her purse stolen”. Very, very few people arrange to have their belongings misplaced or destroyed. What’s wrong with stating, “Her purse was stolen”? Journalists, take note: let’s be accurate about this, please. Then when someone DOES “have their building burned down” for some reason, we can all be sure we understand what is being stated.

    • Ole professor Bill says:

      Here is a sentence about a girl who did well on her grammar exam: Mary had had “had had;” “had had” had been correct.

  22. Varina Suellen Plonski says:

    This was a fascinating and enjoyable article! Thanks so much for posting it.

    My biggest pet peeve involves “Corp-Speak” or the pseudo-language used in corporations. It seems to be a trend to what I call “cute up” phrases in order to appear intelligent and in-the-know, when all it really does is make people just look sad. Just use the language properly, for heaven’s sake, don’t try so hard to be part of the ‘in-crowd’!

    Now, I honestly don’t know why this particular one bothers me so much, but here it is:
    I think the worst Corp-Speak offender is the word “notate”. This is a very specific word, which has not one thing to do with making a note of something. It means to mark or set down something in a system of notation, and originally referred more specifically to musical notation. It now also refers to mathematical or scientific notation, all of which use specialized symbols rather than or in addition to words. If you want to remember something by writing it down in words, you are making a note, you are not notating it. Please!

    Other things that really irritate me are the confusions between words, and the phrases we commonly misuse that come as a result of hearing rather than seeing the written words.

    These words have entirely different meanings and are not interchangeable:
    Artisan vs. Artesian
    Defuse vs. Diffuse
    Discreet vs. Discrete
    Peak vs. Pique

    These are entirely a wrong usage: (hint: the correct form is the first one listed)
    Home In vs. Hone In
    Poring Over vs. Pouring Over

  23. Dodsy says:

    An interesting article.

    My pet hate (or at least, one of them) is “quantum”. That is, when “quantum leap” is used to describe a major change or event. An actual quantum leap, as I understand it, is a change in the state of an electron within an atom, therefore it describes something tiny and, in practical terms, invisible. i suppose it began its rise to popularity after the TV series of the same name.

  24. katie dumbledore says:

    My favorite example these days is so misused and overused by the media that I simply cringe everytime I hear it . Does ‘lets take a listen’ sound familiar? How about ‘lets listen or simply ‘listen’ depending on the circumstances.

  25. Brooksie says:

    Let’s hear it for grammar geeks! It seems to me that many of the offenses noted above are committed by those who tend to speak and say nothing. A consultant friend and I have an informal competition going to eliminate adverbs from our vocabulary. It’s more difficult than one would think, and once you start you realize they are almost always unnecessary.

  26. jsm24151 says:

    I have two pet peeve sayings, actually, I have three pet peeve sayings:

    First, after someone has given me the most redneck opinion about something, they spout, “Am I right or wrong?”, usually repeating several times to the point of being obnoxious. I have had several friends who say this. I usually telly them they are both.

    One expression my wife has said over the years that has grated my nerves, and this usually comes after a burp or expelling some gas, “Better out than in, as I always say!” Yeeeeesh!! This, at one time, I considered grounds for divorce; but I took no action.

    And finally, a saying that has died out for the most part, but was very prevalent back in the late 70s and into the 80s (forgive me Christians for bringing this one up; I too am a Christian, so this one should bother you as well), and so unpleasant to hear, even before I became a Christian, is a reaction to something exciting, something someone strongly believes, or to verify approval of something which is “F****** A!” I generally separated myself from people who used this term.

    FYI, in response to Irby Vaughn’s comment about kids coming out of school and immediately forgetting what they learned in English class, I am currently taking College English Composition 111, and my instructor also teaches at the local High School; we were told last night, by him, that kids are no longer taught the breakdown of a sentence. This means they are no longer learning how to construct sentences properly, and this in public schools. They don’t know a verb from a preposition from a conjunction or a noun. Is there a problem here? I think there is. This is one of the major problems with our society today; students are no longer learning how to communicate properly. Just think what would have happened had E-bonics been ruled a legitimate language. I shudder to think.

Leave a Reply