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Can We Talk? A Brief List of Annoying Expressions and Verbal Fumbles

January 18, 2018

100213We all have certain phrases that annoy us; oddities creep into the language that invite comment or could use correction. To that end, I propose below a list of ten annoying and/or misused words and expressions.

Please accept this list in the humorous vein in which it is intended. I am playing the role of an irritated curmudgeon, but it’s just my shtick. Have some fun with me as I complain and then feel free to add to my list.

So, can we talk? He’s my list of annoyances.

1.  “With all due respect …” This phrase is typically followed by something that isn’t going to respect the recipient at all! When you open an e-mail and it begins, “With all due respect, Mr. Jones, …,” don’t you just wince at what you just know is coming? In a way, the expression is a form of lip service. It’s a way of saying, “I want to dispense with that silly tradition of having to accord you a modicum of respect and get on to what’s really on my mind, namely, that you’re wrong and probably clueless as well.”

2.  Decimate Today the word has come to mean “to destroy completely.” For example, “Our culture has been decimated by no-fault divorce.” The original meaning, to reduce something by a tenth, has been relegated to a secondary definition in many dictionaries. The word came from the Roman practice in which, after conquering a town that was guilty of some sort of uprising, the Romans would line up all the men of that town in the public square, and kill every tenth one. In effect, the message was, “This is what you get if you mess with us. It’ll be worse next time.” Alas, trying to recover the original meaning of this word may be a lost cause at this point. It may be destined to go the way of other Latin-based words such as “manufacture,” the literal meaning of which is handmade (manu = hand, facere = to make). Today something referred to as manufactured is typically not handmade. There are other English words that seem to have reversed meanings. For example, we drive on parkways and park on driveways.

3.  ServiceThere is a tendency today to take the noun “service” and turn it into a verb. It is common to hear someone say, “We service our clients.” or, “We serviced fifty 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 of speaking came from, but I suspect it crept in from the world of prostitution, where prostitutes often speak of “servicing” their “Johns” (i.e. clients). 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 one.” If you put a few of those sorts of expressions into a sentence, trying to figure out exactly what the sentence means can make your head explode. In fact, it strains the meaning of the word “sentence,” which refers to a string of words that makes sense. Unless the person misspoke, this seems to just be a fancy way of saying, “This car is like that one.” Try to avoid making heads explode by not using the expression, “not unlike.”

5.  Proactive – This is another strange word that has crept into our vocabulary. How is “proactive” different from active? One might argue that there’s a temporal dimension here: one who is “proactive” is one who is ahead of his time. To be honest, I’m not sure what is meant when someone is called “a proactive person.” I think it is a compliment, in that the person is “ahead of the curve” or something, but it’s just not all that clear to me — but maybe I’m just being reactive.

6.  Utilize Why not just say “use”? This oddity seems to be waning in usage, and not a moment too soon as far as I’m concerned. I live for the day when we no longer use “utilize” things.

7.  Intellectually dishonest How is being “intellectually dishonest” different from being just plain dishonest? Is not honesty or dishonesty rooted in the intellect and manifested in speech? I’ve never heard other qualifiers attached; I haven’t heard of physical dishonesty or verbal dishonesty. “You’re being intellectually dishonest” seems to me to be just a highfalutin’ way of saying “You’re being dishonest.”

8.  Dialogue Why not just say “discussion”? Instead of saying, “I’m having a dialogue with him,” why not just say, “I’m having a discussion with him”? An even more egregious abuse of this word is to “verbify” it: “Let’s dialogue about this problem.” Why not just say, “Let’s discuss this problem?” Even worse is “We’re dialoguing about this issue” instead of “We’re discussing this issue.” Turning nouns into verbs or verb 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 our usage of the noun “dialogue” and certainly avoid using it as a verb or using the strange construction “dialoguing.”

9.  Using “so” as an interjection I have seen this most often in academic settings. Typically, the word “so” tends to be placed at the beginning of the answer to a question. For example, “What do the data show in relation to this problem?” The response might be, “So … the data seem to indicate that things are going to get worse.” (People sometimes use an interjection as a delaying tactic while feverishly formulating an answer in their head, but that’s not the usage to which I’m objecting.) In this case, though, I’m suspicious that it is emblematic of the relativistic climate that pervades today’s academic settings. The interjection “So …,” expressed gently and slowly, seems rather more designed to make the person seem thoughtful and somehow not arrogantly certain of what he is 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 preamble to a question and is often used by members of the mainstream media to indicate incredulity at an outlandish statement or position. A reporter writing a piece on the Catholic Church might ask 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’m not suggesting anything; I’m saying it outright!” Here, too, the relativistic climate rears its head. People don’t say things or claim things; they “suggest” them. Let me be clear: as one not heavily influenced by relativism, I can say that 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 it. Say what you mean and mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.

OK, can we talk? This is my short list; what do you want to add?

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Comments (61)

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  1. Marie says:

    So…are you suggesting that we proactively cease to utilize these words? With all due respect, that seems not unlike the thought process behind Orwellian NewSpeak. I’m concerned that the public is not well-serviced by such efforts at vocabulary reduction and that if carried down the slippery slope to their logical conclusion such efforts will decimate the English language! Can we dialogue about this?
    .
    Did I miss any of them? B)

  2. Diane Isabelle says:

    Very interesting post, Monsignor. My additions to your list are: (1) The thing of it is, (2) Don’t go there (shuts off further discussion), and (3) I was, like…like wow (use of “like” several times in a sentence.

  3. Utilize is hands down my biggest pet peeve of this sort. I never could figure out why people insist on utilizing the word “utilize” when they could just as easily utilize the word “use”.

    I am also no fan of “orientated”. It’s just plain awkward and unnecessary. “Orient” will serve just fine.

    • Marie says:

      I’ve never researched it but I suspect people who never learned the verb “orient” tried to reverse-engineer it from the noun “orientation” and since some other verbs (not all) you can do that by just removing the “-tion” that’s how the mistake arose.

      Ever notice another quirk about it? The mistake usually happens in the past tense. I rarely hear people simply say “orientate” or “will orientate.” There, they usually use “orient.” But “orientated” as in “After you are orientated, we’ll train you further at your workstation.” Oh, yeah. And from otherwise fairly educated sounding people. It’s really disconcerting. I try to pretend to myself that they are not as ignorant as they sound, they are playfully doing it on purpose…but deep down I know they aren’t! “What do they teach them at these schools?”

    • Marie says:

      And…a little Google research reveals that maybe they aren’t reverse engineering from the noun, maybe they’re aping the Brits 🙂

      According to Merriam Webster, “orientate,” the verb, simply means to turn or face east – nothing more. Unless you are in Britain, when it can mean “orient.” Turning then to the definitions of the verb “orient,” part b of the second definition reads “to acquaint with the existing situation or environment.” Therefore, in America, it should be said, “After we orient you [acquaint you with the existing situation and environment], we’ll train you further at your workstation.”

    • RAY - PORTSMOUTH - UK says:

      OOH! Soree! That doesn’t work.
      ‘Orientated’ or ‘Oriented’ are both adjectives – describing the position of a thing/person/etc.
      ‘Orient’ is a noun.
      I also know, before you tell me, that in this awful, lazy world we live in today, that ‘orient’ has, for some reason totally unknown to me, become accepted as ‘to orient’, trying in some crazy way to convert this word into a verb – or even into an adjective!
      But – it can’t be done. You can’t change a noun into an adjective or verb simply to facilitate ease of use! It is just down to the laziness in people’s spoken English these day. And I don’t care what Websters thinks!
      My greatest peeve on Fr Charles’ list is, what has become, the chronic practise of commencing a sentence with an interjection, as in:
      “SO – I studied English as well as Music at University.”
      EVERYBODY does it – everywhere! It’s become a fashion! And it drives me crazy!! And – it MEANS NOTHING!!!
      The interjection ‘SO’ deals with outcome/consequences. I could therefore quite correctly say, “I studied English and Music at University, SO, I feel quite confident in what I am saying.”
      Of course,I’d like this particular interjection to be banned totally. There are so many, much more interesting and beautiful words which could be used in its place, such as: ‘Consequently, subsequently, as a result, because of this, etc. etc.’
      Once again – it is down to sheer laziness in the use of language.
      A wonderful example of this laziness is the word ‘Aluminium’ – you people across the pond, lovely as you all are, I’m sure, have reduced this perfectly rounded word into a ‘quick-word’, by reducing it to ‘Aluminum’. Ease of spelling – ease of tripping off the tongue.
      I wonder how many grammatical mistakes I’ve made above? I’m too lazy to check!!
      I do hope that on the day of judgement, we won’t all be held responsible for our terrible use of the language – as well as all our sins!
      Keep on keeping on – God bless all.

      • Marie says:

        Do you object to all and every word that has multiple forms – verb, noun, adjective (I’ll include participle as adjective, since you’re apparently calling participles oriented and orientated adjectives)? If so, aren’t you objecting to at least half of all words in existence?

        Isn’t discovering word families (and not just “immediate families” but of course tracking down ancestors and “third cousins once removed” :)), one of the most wonderful things about the study of language?

        I’ll grant you that yes, you cook a meal – two different words for verb and noun – but you could drive a scenic drive and or create a lovely creation (same or related words) and to me that isn’t problematic, it’s delightful!

        Random examples of noun / verb / adjective groups:
        run, runner / to run / running
        love / to love / loveable
        creature, creation / to create / created, creaturely
        drawing / to draw / drawn
        painting / to paint / painted
        sketch / to sketch
        spray / to spray
        marker / to mark
        cleaner / to clean / clean
        soap / to soap / soapy
        attraction / attract / attractive
        solution / dissolve / soluble
        revolution / revolve / revolving
        operation / operate / operable

  4. John says:

    One of Judge Judy’s many pet peeves: “irregardless.” I used to say it myself.

  5. Chris Boegel says:

    Here’s one – “utilized” always and everywhere in media-speak and political-speak: “At the end of the day….”

  6. Frank says:

    TCM’s, “Let’s Movie,” and the news pundits who start off their conversation with “Look,” drive me nuts.

  7. Shane says:

    I would agree with some of these, but others I would disagree strongly.

    Most notably, while “with all due respect” is sometimes used to excuse disrespect, I do not believe that this is the norm. I use the phrase – and typically hear others use it – as a way of indicating to the listener that I am aware of and that I acknowledge their position, their dignity, their intelligence, their expertise, etc., even as I must make a critical remark.

    Very often, especially today, people interpret any criticism or disagreement of any kind as a personal attack or as a denial of the person’s qualifications or authority or even human dignity. It is more and more necessary, for the sake of having any kind of meaningful and honest discussion, to explicitly state before making any comments that you accept all of the reasons that you ought to place value on what the person has to say before you express disagreement. Few people can simply engage in discussions in good faith anymore.

    Other disagreements I have are in the way of connotation. While all of the other examples here do strictly speaking not follow from the base definition of the words, some of them are valuable terms because of the particular tone or connotation that they carry.

  8. Elsie says:

    “Pre-approved”. What does that mean?

    • Joseph says:

      “Pre-approved” is a marketing term that means one has been pre-screened for an offer. “Pre-screened” is the real term, as it indicates that one has merely been selected as a potential customer for an offer. Pre-approval misleads people into thinking they do not need to be approved (ie, pass a credit check and other criteria) when they apply.

      Pre-approval is thus a way to indicate one has not been approved or accepted, but one is being offered a chance to apply.

    • Patrick says:

      That is a jargon word, as there are precise legal meanings to certain words. Pre-approval means that, up to a certain amount and given certain conditions, you can have relative certainty that you will be legally approved for a loan.

      If there was a simpler word for saying that, “We like your current credit score and income according to our risk calculations, but there’s no way we are going to give you $200,000 for a $50,000 shack.”

      • Elsie says:

        Thank you both. I could never figure out how one could be approved before one was approved. The answer is, one cannot.

  9. John Albertson says:

    Most annoying is the use of the verb”to grow” with an inanimate object:

    eg “He wants to grow the company.”

    Properly, “to grow” can be either intransitive (“Children grow fast”) or transitively with a live object: (He grows flowers”) but not with something inanimate. Thus: avoid “He wants to grow his stock portfolio” or “Let’s not grow the government any ore.

    • MikefromED says:

      I do so agree with that one.

    • Howard says:

      I really hate the use of transitive verbs as intransitives. “This team never fails to impress.” Impress whom? “They won’t disappoint!” Disappoint whom? It actually makes a difference, of course. A tackle or pass that might leave one person very impressed might be completely unimpressive to a person with different standards; without knowing the standard by which the action will be judged, the statement really means nothing much at all. “This team never fails to impress ME”? OK, but maybe you’re just a fan. “This team never fails to impress SOMEONE”? That’s a low bar. “This team never fails to impress EVERYONE”? That’s unlikely to be true.

  10. Tom K. says:

    I find the phrase “not quite entirely unlike” — from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, about a Nutri-Matic machine that dispenses a liquid that is not quite entirely unlike tea — can come in handy at times.

  11. Fr Scott says:

    How about devoid? Isn’t it really just full then?

  12. Roger says:

    “Sign off on” – meaning signing onto or approving of something.

  13. disasterisk says:

    I hate when people say “itch” when they mean “scratch”.

  14. John says:

    Another one: “narrative. It’s way overused by the political pundit class.

  15. Paul says:

    “That he did in the general bosom reign
    Of young, of old; and sexes both enchanted,
    To dwell with him in thoughts, or to remain
    In personal duty, following where he haunted:
    Consents bewitch’d, ere he desire, have granted;
    And dialogued for him what he would say,
    Ask’d their own wills, and made their wills obey.”

    –From A Lover’s Complaint by William Shakespeare.

  16. D V Andrews says:

    Social justice – nebulously defined so as to rarely apply to justice as such.

  17. Garth says:

    I think of “intellectual dishonesty” as lying to oneself as much as the other person. A straightforward lie is a sin, certainly, but I don’t think it poisons the soul as much as adding self-deception to it.

    One of my pet peeves is “I could care less”. You just said that you care!

    “For all intensive purposes” is another one.

  18. Greg says:

    Excellent Msgr!

    In you discussion of the word “so,” I’m exceedingly pleased with your proper use of the word “data” in your example. Most people would say, “… the data shows…”, while you correctly said, …” the data show…”. Most people don’t know the word “data” is the plural form of the word “datum.”

    Just as there is there is one alumnus and many alumni, there is one datum and many data. Oh well, Latin…

    Another word you could have chosen is, “irregardless” which is the idiotic amalgamation of the words “irrespective” and “regardless.” Still others include, “At the end of the day…” and “That being said…”

    Getting riled up so I better stop now!

    • Mariusz Wesolowski says:

      It is the same with “media” which is also plural, and yet it is commonly treated as if it were singular.

  19. Greg says:

    Regarding data, I should have cited the likely mis-statement, “What does the data show…” while you correctly said, “What do the data show…”

  20. Peter says:

    It would be intellectually dishonest of me to fail to inform you that you left out “intellectually dishonest.” But, you succeeded impressing otherwise 🙂

  21. Nathaniel says:

    What irritates me most is the use of ‘so’. I noticed a lot of people in technology using it to preface every sentence. It seems like a more feminine way of talking. That is, it seems to be less confrontational and assertive. Hearing people use it in regards to technology really worries me.

  22. Diane says:

    “Went missing” is my pet peeve. Newscasters tend to use the sentence structure, “Sarah went missing on December 1.” No, she disappeared, has been missing, or is missing, but went missing is terrible grammar.

  23. Richard A says:

    “Begs the question”. As far as I can determine from my informal survey, if anyone in the last thirty years had applied to work as a journalist for any news organization, and it had been determined that that candidate for the position had done any study in formal logic, his application would have been rejected solely on that basis.

    “Utilize”. I work for a large state bureaucracy. This word isn’t going away nearly as quickly as you might like to think.

    I think, Father, decimation was worse than you describe. A Roman general had the right to order a legion or cohort or century under his command to be decimated if he deemed it guilty of mutiny or desertion. The unit would organize into maniples (groups of ten) and each maniple would draw lots among its members. The loser would be immediately clubbed to death by his nine comrades.
    Not that your average Roman governor had any qualms about punishing pretty severely a recalcitrant town.

  24. Patrick says:

    1. This is something of a formalism, and it does have some instances of correct use. That said, it is frequently abused by people that use it as a deflection technique from the actual crassness of their contempt for an authority figure.
    2. My latin teacher bemoaned this misuse 27 years ago. People who like attention use fancy words, with no guarantee that they know what those words mean. A fool with a thesaurus is a dangerous fool. I include “tragedy” in this group. As for manufacturing, even now, we still have a good deal of need for calloused hands.
    3. I agree with the prostitute origin. The only way to fight this is with deliberate misunderstanding.
    4. The double negative, as hated in English as the passive voice, does have use. That said, people who desperately seek to seem more intelligent than they really are will use this grammatical form. They try to appear more discerning by weakening their assertion.
    5. A worn out shibboleth of the “Corporatese” dialect. It’s existence is wholly dependent on the word “reactive” and trying to advertise.
    6. Advanced Corporatese: Intentionally using fancy words to both seem intelligent and be unintelligible. If someone pulls out “synergize”, run for your life.
    7. Overused and often poorly used. Just be forthright and say that I’m lying to myself and others.
    8. “Dialogue!? But I don’t even know my part, let alone my lines!” To defeat presumptuous speech, humor is a potent weapon. As for turning nouns into verbs, that just makes it even more asinine.
    9. The Sophist school isn’t quite modern, and this use is elementary rhetorical theatrics. That said, show me a Modernist and I’ll show you a vacuous self-promoter.
    10. Only sniveling, craven cowards suggest truth.

    • Dr J.A.C. MacLeod says:

      Down here in Australia we are much afflicted by the word ‘like’, which has become, like a number of other words, merely a linguistic ‘tick’. Word fashions change of course (does anyone today say ‘I really dig …’?). Some of us would argue that when we lose the true meaning of a word, we lose the concept originally signified by that word. Two words in great danger today are ‘disinterested’ instead of ‘uninterested’ and ‘enormity’ instead of ‘enormousness’. The first really means something like ‘impartial’ or ‘free of bias’ and not merely ‘self-serving’. The second really refers to some form of moral outrage or great wickedness, and not merely ‘very large’. For that, we would use ‘enormousness’.Perhaps we are greatly in need of both of these words today, and with their original meanings. Another problem, of course, is the tired cliche, but that is another story in my humble opinion, at this point in time (or to be 1970s pretentious, ‘at this precise existential moment’)!

  25. Suzanne Beck says:

    My personal pet peeve is in the business email world: “reach out”; as in “thanks so much for reaching out,” or “Please reach out if you have any questions.” WHY NOT JUST SAY Contact me….??? How can you REACH through SPACE?!

  26. JohnTM says:

    What about the oft-expressed:
    “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of…”???
    Thoughts are fine, but we don’t pray to other people!
    My guess is that people who use this phrase don’t really pray (or know how to pray) at all.

  27. JohnTM says:

    There’s a creeping bad pronunciation problem, too.

    “Street” has become “shtreet”, strong has become “shtrong.” People of all areas of the country, all races and ethnicities, have lost the ability to pronounce: ST.

  28. “On a (daily, weekly, monthly, etc) basis.” Can we just say daily, weekly, monthly?

  29. JoelMR says:

    I know…right??

  30. Mariusz Wesolowski says:

    I agree with everything except nos. 4 and 7. “Not unlike” offers an interesting stylistic nuance, even though it is a double negation (quite acceptable in most languages other than English). “Intellectually dishonest”, in my understanding, is the opposite of “physically dishonest” (like stealing, cheating, etc.)

    My candidates: empower, critique (instead of “criticize”), gender (instead of “sex”).

  31. John says:

    Radio Talk Show hosts who say at the end “see you later.” Radio is not a visual medium.

  32. Lesha says:

    Mano e mano. That does not mean man to man. Mano is spanish for hand. Drives me INSANE!!!

  33. Felicia Piscitelli says:

    How about these: “Invite” as a noun, as in “I’ll send you an invite.” You invite (verb) someone by sending him or her an invitation.

    “Gift” as a verb, as in “I gifted some books to the library.” No, I gave (verb) the library a gift (noun) of some books.

    “At the end of the day …”

    • Howard says:

      “Invite” as a noun always struck me as someone trying to be informal and cute. “Gift” as a verb is worse, because it is invariably someone putting on airs.

  34. ricardo says:

    how about “gentle reminder” as in “just a gentle reminder that your work is due”. really?
    what is with just saying “reminder” that may be taken as being ungentle.

  35. GerryC says:

    At the end of the day . . . will it matter? With that being said . . . I will say no more

  36. Rick says:

    Another verbal tick that I see used frequently on TV among those in academia or those who profess expertise on some subject is “sort of”. “We’re seeing a sort of shift in the public’s acceptance of climate change as a real problem….”

  37. Deacon Bill says:

    I was figuratively stunned that you omitted to mention “literally.”

  38. Coolbobby says:

    Why is everything “going forward”?

  39. CoramThoma says:

    As a former assistant editor, I have to say that “comprises” has to be the most misused word in modern English.
    ‘Comprised of’ is absolutely wrong! One should say either ‘composed of’ or ‘comprises,’ as in either: “New England is composed of the following states…” *or* “New England comprises the following states…”
    Think of ‘comprises’ as you might think of ‘includes.’

  40. PK says:

    I have a few to add: Discernment, accompany, pastoral, clericalism, casuistic, irregular situation, calumny, and mercy.

  41. Rich says:

    In the sports world: Physicality and Athleticism. Who made up those words?

  42. Gigi says:

    How about “you know” every other word or two. Makes me nuts. How do you expect anyone to understand the concept you are speaking about if every few words you keep inserting, “you know?”

  43. Mary says:

    “..but at the end of the day”…”he was thrown under the bus.”

  44. Mo says:

    Honestly, I have to say… In other words, you were dishonest before? Whenever someone says honestly, everything they have stated becomes questionable.

  45. Peter Wolczuk says:

    These modern adaptation seem to aim at a belief that everything is special but, when the user of the annoying ponderousities makes use of something, then it become super special. Of course that could be topped with something being treated as super dooper special but this egotistical rising to the infinite misses something;
    There is already One who’s perfect and He’s not one of us.

  46. “Pre-order”. How is this different from “order”?