Latest language peeve

January 9, 2014 • 6:07 am

. . . and something you will never see on this website, unless some commenter wants to have their tuchus chewed.

It’s the following sentence:


It invariably appears after a passage from someone else that a blogger has quoted with approbation. “This” is simply a faux-hip way to indicate agreement. It is the sign of a lazy writer.

What’s even worse is when it’s followed by the sentence “A hundred times this.”

Call me a curmudgeon (on second thought, don’t dare), but this is the opinion of Professor Ceiling Cat, which is His.

And close behind “this” on the disapprobation scale is the word “peeps” for “people.” “Peeps” is reserved for the marshmallow candies made by the Just Born company:

THESE are Peeps. Got it?

Of course, I invite you to add your own language peeves below. Please, no comments to the effect of “language evolves, so everything is okay,” vfor this post is designed blow off steam.

p.s. I thought of another: Any sentence that begins with “To be truthful. . . ”  That, of course, implies that the speaker/writer has not previously been truthful.

546 thoughts on “Latest language peeve

    1. In the absence of an upvote feature, people will do something like “this”. Pun intended.

      As a reader, it’s nice to not to have to parse a complete sentence just to register a simple statement of support.

      1. Yes.

        These are actually good things. Like “sub” they serve a purpose, allowing people to express approval (or get email deliveries) without waste everyone’s time with contrived but grammatically correct sentences. I could go on further about this, but it wouldn’t really do any of any good. Or at least I don’t think it would. Maybe someone else disagrees with me. Bla bla bla.

        Now, don’t you wish I had just stopped with “Yes”?

        1. Actually, I could use a primer on these.
          Are “sub” & “+1” & “^” all the same?
          Are these solely expressing approval of the ‘replied-to’ post?, or also with some further meaning?
          Are these basically the same as the “This” that leads this entry?
          What’s “sub” short for?
          Is “+1” derivative from C+?
          Are there more of these?, etc… ‘preciate it!

            1. Thanks!… perhaps I should’ve specified that I meant other/more “ways to express agreement” in one word or symbol or short expression, as the mentioned “sub”, “+1”, “^”, & “This”… but it’s a good link.

      2. I prefer “what (s)he said” to “this”. Same brevity, but not quite as terse and abrupt. Even the one word “ditto” isn’t quite as irritating, for some reason I can’t quite put my finger on.

        1. Probably because ‘this’ doesn’t actually specify approval or disapproval. So it’s meaningless.

          ‘ditto’ or ‘+1’ at least implies approval i.e. ‘I share that view’.

          1. I disagree. “This”, used as we’re discussing, also indicates approval. It is an abbreviated version of “I emphatically agree with this.”

  1. I’ve mentioned this one before: using “myself” instead of “me” in a sentence. For example, “Please contact myself.”

    One word I come across frequently is “persons” instead of “people.” It is annoying.

      1. Or when people improperly use “I”. It used to be people would always misuse “me and my cat went to the store…” but the retort of “my cat and I” has steered people the wrong way. This is prolific in pictures. “Joe and I at the pool” instead of the correct “Joe and me.”

        Remember…remove the other person to see if it makes sense is what we were taught in 3rd grade.

      2. I belive that this phrase was used originally by a character in a childrens cartoon on the BBC in the 1960’s. That at least is what my memory says. If this was the case, and it was a catchphrase, it would be acceptable in context.

        1. It was (also?) used by Seamus Android in “Round the Horne” on BBC radio in the 1960’s. But that was to mock it.

      1. Even worse when myself used instead of I…e.g. Myself and my peeps( could not resist:-) called you here today…

    1. “One word I come across frequently is ‘persons’ instead of ‘people.'”

      Something similarly annoying is using “individual” instead of “person” when it doesn’t make sense to do so.

  2. “On an ongoing/weekly/whateverly basis”

    In other words, ongoing/weekly/whateverly.

    The words “on”, “an” and “basis” are just verbiage.

  3. I have long since developed an automatic response to the word “nuance” that is similar to contempt. Maybe not quite that strong, but close.

    It probably has something to do with how frequently religious believers, particularly theologians, egregiously abuse the word. Unfortunately this has kind of spoiled the occasional legitimate use of the word. I have to do a double take and reset my attitude.

    1. It’s an appropriate word for political discourse. It should only be used in religion sparingly, as the appeal to nuance can be used to cover up conceptual confusion and deepities although there is a legitimate need to be aware of diversity within religious traditions.

      Do gnu atheists have “gnuance”?

      1. I like “gnuance!” Nice one.

        From my perspective the phenomenon of religious belief is very complex, plenty of nuance to go around. But, the religious beliefs themselves? As in “god did it?” Not much nuance there.

  4. “Having said that” irritates me to no end. But the ubiquitous misspelled “you’re” is the worst. It’s indicative of a complete failure of education, when you even get one of the most basic grammatical constructs wrong.

    1. Buckle up for my many homophone mistakes. I know the difference but I think because I am very attuned to how things sound (I am an aural learner and I have a good ear for languages) that I occasionally just slip up to my utter disgust.

      1. I make many of these mistakes also. I think of them as over-delegation mistakes: the higher parts of my brain delegate routine things like spelling, punctuation, and typing itself to some lower part of the brain. This works well enough most of the time at magically translating my thoughts into typed text (my conscious brain has no idea any more where the ‘A’ key is in relation to the ‘P’ key, that’s pure muscle memory), but there are recurring errors, such as homophone errors, that arise from this. When it counts I can catch these in editing but I’ve seen a very large number slip through here.

    2. I can understand having pet peeves like this, but, “indicative of a complete failure of education?” That is unrealistic. While that is certain to be the case in some instances there are many other causes that lead to misteaks like that. Plenty of times people that make such errors know full well the proper construct, usage, spelling. In other cases people that are very well educated just don’t care about unimportant things like that.

      1. I’ve never met a well-educated person who mixed up “your” and “you’re” just because the idea of caring about something like using completely different words correctly was beneath their concern. I suppose such people exist but they’re just probably so cool and aloof they they hang out in those super trendy spots where people like me aren’t welcome.

        1. Irony is not dead!

          I suppose if your definition of well-educated includes the requirement of not mixing up “your” and “you’re” then you must be correct.

      2. If you structurally mistake “your” and “you’re”, you have not been well educated in the English language. I find this to be an entirely uncontroversial claim. I don’t see how anyone could seriously dispute it. Errare humanum est, sure: I can excuse the occasional typo / thinko.

        1. Well, now that you have clarified a bit by reducing the scope of your statement from “well educated” to “well educated in the English language,” and conceded that occasional typos / thinkos are excusable, our opinions on this seem to be pretty close after all.

          But, damn, I was hoping you would say something about my “misteaks!”

  5. I have two major current peeves:

    1. The use of “onto” as if it were a contraction of “on to.” It’s not. IT’S NOT! IT’S N-O-T!!! (I’m even now seeing examples of the use of “on to” when “onto” is called-for. Sheesh!)

    2. The use of “would of” for “would’ve.” Grrr.

    Totally off-topic and Too Good Not to Share:

    1. I don’t understand your objection to “onto”. There are correct uses for both “onto” and “on to.” Compare he moved on to a different town as contrasted with he jumped onto the stage.

      1. You may be correct, but from Lurker111’s comment it seemed to me that she / he understood that. The statement in parantheses seems to indicate that.

          1. Lurker111 was using the term “contraction” descriptively, not technically. I’m pretty sure, anyway. Only he/she can say for sure.

            He / she is saying that some people “contract” on to down to onto not realizing that they do not mean quite the same thing, and that they do this because they misteakenly think it is a legitimate alternative construction similar to an actual proper contraction.

            1. Perhaps the terminology is a bit loose. I consider “cannot” sort of a contraction of “can not”. “Compound word” may be a better term, though.

              Of course, if you want to talk compound words, there’s always German. 😉

              Regarding the joining of “on” and “to”–I’ve seen the example, “‘He took the elevator up to the fourth floor.’ We wouldn’t write this as, ‘He took the elevator upto the fourth floor,’ would we? This is particularly evident since ‘upto’ is not _coincidentally_ a word.” I’m quoting the article from memory and may not be 100% here.

    2. John Bunyan used “of” for “have” in constructions such as “would of”, and as much as we may despise his religious views, he is generally considered a good writer. You may think that what was acceptable in the 17th century may be less so now that our spelling is more standardised, there is no body claiming to be a central authority for English (unlike some less significant languages) , so we may allow ourselves some flexibility, even creativity.

      1. I don’t know. Even in Bunyan’s time, how would you diagram or analyze a sentence like, “I would of liked to have slept longer.” “Of” is a preposition today and I think was a preposition then as well. The construction of the sentence makes no sense. If you have an example sentence from one of Bunyan’s books, do post it. I’d be interested.

  6. I want to say that as long as effective communication is going on the specifics don’t matter.

    Still, there are habits that grate at me, too. People who do not know how to use their cell phones and capitalize the first letter of every word in a two paragraph comment is at the top of my list. All caps “shouting”, even for emphasis on a sentence or two, is another. Zero punctuation is yet another.

    1. And then there are those who haven’t learned to use their shift key at all. I’ve never understood what the point of that was other than to make it hard for people to read what was written.

        1. I don’t mind it when Archie shows up to comment, but invariably it is someone else. Someone who probably is physically capable of operating two keys at the same time.

        2. It was also good enough for Don Marquis.

          Archy the cockroach is one of my all time favorite characters, as is his nemesis Mehitabel the cat. L

        1. Ha ha! I was contemplating using “totes” but you made it even better by including “amazeballs”.

  7. Starting a sentence with “which”. Which drives me crazy.

    Forgetting that “data” are plural, although some dictionaries now allow the word to be used in the singular.

    Mixing up “effect” with “affect”, except when you want to effect change and then the “e” word can be a verb.

    Not having the courage to use the word “evolution” when one writes “descent with modification”, as many medical doctors do when writing about various evolutionary topics in medicine.

    I don’t mind ending sentences with “with”, and paraphrasing Winston Churchill (who may or may not have said the original quote), these are things up with which I shall put.

    1. “Forgetting that “data” are plural, although some dictionaries now allow the word to be used in the singular.”

      Dictionaries neither allow nor disallow, they document usage. Data has always been documented to be used in the singular or plural for at least 30 years. I’ve been a “singular” person, but I have observed that I’m in the vast minority.

  8. In my humble opinion (IMHO) or just in my opinion (IMO) brings out the pugilistic aspect of my personality. If you want to strengthen your writing, leave that phrase out (or I will punch you in your face).

    I used to hate smiley faces also, thinking that it is too something a lazy writer uses. Now I indulge frequently because it shows my own joy which is a feeling often present in me. I still don’t care if you misunderstood whether or not I was serious. 🙂

    I recently chose This>>> as a means of admiring a pithy sentence of Jerry’s. My double excuse is that it was the only time I ever used it, and I espoused fully on why his words triggered that response.

    1. “I used to hate smiley faces also, thinking that it is too something a lazy writer uses. ”

      This is actually for the benefit of poor readers. So few people are able to pick up irony in writing…

      BTW, I did read an article suggesting that men who use 🙂 in emails to women are less likely to be answered.

      1. Pinker hits another home run. This essay makes me want to read his book on English which is rumored to be in the works. I have lots of pet peeves. One is the use of pronouns without clearly specifying the antecedent.

      2. Thank you gbjames. That Pinker article is one of the best things I’ve read in months.

        I urge all grammar pedants to read the Steven Pinker article gbjames provided a link to in his comment above. Pinker pretty much demolishes the reasons typically given by traditional grammar pedants for taking issue with many of the specific grammar “misteaks” claimed in this thread.

        I’m going to have to set up a big red emergency button on my desktop for direct access to that article.

        1. My favourite parts of this article are: 1) The title (Grammar Puss) 2) The double negative (because I love it & try to bring it back whenever I can.

      3. I don’t know.

        I’ll grant his overall point that effective communication can be and is achieved despite the breaking of various “rules”.

        But is it really true that most rules are *not* about “clarity, logic, consistency, precision, stability and expressive range”? It seems to me that’s exactly what subject/verb or noun/pronoun agreement, not misplacing a modifier, avoiding double negatives, etc, are all about. I think there are fewer rules that don’t help with Pinker’s list than there are that do.

        1. The point isn’t competing list lengths but that language is organic and evolves, changing the rules as it goes. Thinking of it, as English teachers tend to, as a frozen set of correct and incorrect ways to speak is inevitably a doomed effort.

          1. Of course language evolves.

            But I don’t think that’s Pinker’s point. He seems to me to be trying to show that certain conventions do not actually do the things they purport to do, ie, increase clarity, etc.

            I think many of those conventions do increase clarity, etc. I think it’s telling that Pinker pulls out the “rules” not to split an infinitive, not to end a sentence with a preposition, and to avoid double negatives. I’ve seen him give these same examples of unnecessary “rules” in three or four lectures on YT. I’ll grant that the infinitive and preposition rules could probably go, but his argument would be stronger if he could come up with some others that are as obviously unnecessary or unhelpful in increasing clarity, etc.

            Regarding double negatives: even if we know perfectly well what a speaker means when he says “I didn’t _ no _”, you simply can’t get around the brute fact that it does indeed reduce to the inverse of what the speaker intended. You’d confuse a computer with language like this. Granted, we are not computers, but I don’t see why we shouldn’t try to line up our expression with our intent as closely as possible.

            I also think he’s just wrong about “could/couldn’t care less”. I would bet good money that most people using either expression are doing so with sarcastic undertones. I’d also bet good money that those who say “could” aren’t doing so because they’ve intentionally selected it for its (allegedly) higher sarcasm quotient. They just think that’s the way the phrase goes.

            I don’t think the rules I mentioned in my original comment are about trying to freeze the language; I think they can accomodate evolution just fine. They’ll simply help to avoid confusion along the way.

            1. “Granted, we are not computers, but I don’t see why we shouldn’t try to line up our expression with our intent as closely as possible.”

              Worrying about how people should talk has limited value because people are gonna talk the way they’re gonna talk. And if you can’t understand what they are saying if they use a common double negative then you’ve reduced yourself to the limits of a computer language. I don’t think reading a book by Mark Twain would be very interesting if it were written in Fortran, Python, C++, or PHP.

              1. I could agree more.

                By which, of course, I mean I couldn’t agree more. 🙂

                Informal, colorful expression has its place, as does formal, precise expression.

              2. I guess my point is not that I’m worrying about how people talk.

                My point is that eschewing rules altogether doesn’t follow from acknowledging that we can understand each other despite imprecise constructions. Indeed, we know what a speaker who uses imprecise constructions means because it’s close enough to the standard for us to assume the speaker’s intent. But for this system to work, the standard has to be there.

              3. I suppose it depends on what “the standard” means. Sure, without rules constraining things there could be no communication and we wouldn’t have this thing we call “language”. But the important rules are implicitly understood by language users without ever taking a class in grammar. The rules in grammar class are derived from observations of real-world speakers (and writers) and by virtue of being “blessed” by English teacher get frozen and gradually become fodder for pedants and language historians.

                Those aren’t the rules that matter to nearly all language users on the planet. People don’t think much about those rules, they just learn them unconsciously while children and generally get along fine throughout their lives, criticizing each other for variations they encounter in the great pool of language use.

                At least that is how it looks to me.

    1. There’s a difference between saying “This irritates me”, and “this is wrong.” This thread is largely about the former.

      Also, presumably those who say that “anything goes” in this thread would correct a sentence that said “Your upsetting me!” That is, those who argue that “as long as the meaning is clear then anything goes” would, themselves,avoid using words like “peeps” when they’re writing for publication, or in a job application.

      1. Context matters. But we’re talking about rather informal Internet comment conversations here, not job applications. No?

        We pretty much all do this stuff.

        1. As the recipient of hundreds of resumes over the last 35 years, I can assure you that it is not just informal conversation that has lost its technical rigor.

          1. Agreed, but regarding resumes, I think a lot of it has to do with the ease with which amateurs can put together their own resumes, rather than having it done by a professional. And now emailing it is standard, rather than printing on nice paper and snail mailing it.

      2. Sure, saying “This irritates me” is fine, but claiming that something is the mark of a lazy writer without offering evidence is something else entirely.

        Anyway, I’m not sure that anyone really believes that, “Anything goes” in language, just that most of these pet peeves are chosen arbitrarily. Which is fine, of course, but it’s not really fine to insult the users as lazy for no reason. Or do think that if users of “This” would switch to “I agree” they’d mark themselves as hard-working?

        1. Sorry, but I think it lazy, and if you want evidence, the phrase is often used by bloggers who just regurgitate large chunks of other people’s text and just add “this” after it. That is lazy blogging. And no, I wouldn’t recommend saying “I agree”. You can tell the readers to “have a look at this link” if you want, but I think it behooves a writer to add some value to what other people have said.

          Your comment, by the way, is uncivil and impolite to the host, and I really do suggest you read another website. This host doesn’t like to be told what it’s “fine” to say.

          1. Lazy…or efficient?

            The things that irritate me (and many things do) are things that obviously demonstrate a lack of education. Typos are common and don’t really say much about the writer. “Thinkos” like “your” for “you’re” are also common; I’ve committed that mistake myself when typing fast and not thinking carefully.

            Something like “would of” for “would have” or “would’ve” belies the fact that the writer is unaware that it should be “would have”. The writer hasn’t taken the time to invest in learning the language, and that is the lazy thing.

          2. Your comment, by the way, is uncivil and impolite to the host, and I really do suggest you read another website. This host doesn’t like to be told what it’s “fine” to say.

            On the other hand, he does like to tell his readers they are lazy, uncivil and impolite at the drop of a hat (if you can interpret the above post as saying what is and is not fine for you, then I don’t see any problems with interpreting your post as telling everyone who happens to read the post that they are lazy).

            Civility, good sir, is a two-way street, at least where I come from.

      1. Interesting. In a similar vein, I noticed a segment from “Orgazmo”(couldn’t find it online… but it is where Joe prays to jesus for a sign that he’s not doing the wrong thing. All hell breaks loose… followed by “any sign… any sign at all”, as Joe ignores all the obvious signs) that was clearly lifted from a Steve Martin 80s bit as well. (The Man With Two Brains) Couldn’t find the relevant clips, though.

  9. I absolutely hate when people reply with a “k” for okay. At least write, “ok”. (That annoys me too but not as much.) I also cannot stand the overuse of the ellipsis. Some writers use it in place of a period . . . 🙂

    1. The use of “K” for “OK” bothers me a bit but I use it on my phone because it’s just faster when I’m multi tasking (not driving though).

    2. Does it bother you when people say, “k” out loud instead of ok? People do that all the time and I think it’s generally accepted, so why not the written version? Unless the spoken version also bothers you, in which case, at least you’re being consistent.

  10. My nickname, derived from my once favourite but now almost defunct programming language, obliges me to point out that ’this’ could be a perfectly valid self-referential keyword in a number of programming languages, erroneously inserted into a comment field.

    For example, the JavaScript statement
    var that = this;
    would be a perfectly valid variable declaration within an object call in a nested function.

    Also, if one asks which French commune in the Ardennes carries two golden trout on its coat of arms, counts 213 inhabitants, is located at 49°45′0″N, 4°36′33.84″E and is presently administrated by maire Marie-Odile Ponsart, the only correct answer is:

    1. Using “coat of arms” for the arms themselves (or for the whole achievement: shield, helmet, crest, supporters, &c.) rather than for a surcoat emblazoned with the arms.



    2. I detect the sound of goalposts shifting. I think it’s kinda cheating to substitute a foreign name. Kinda clever, though 🙂

  11. “What he/she/they said” is another lazy ass way of commenting without adding anything to the discussion.
    Which, having said that, is, like, not actually you’re point is it? You know?

      1. I originally didn’t like “meh” but now I do because I think it uses such an economy of words to accurately express my complete apathy toward whatever I apply it to.

  12. Failure to use plural after ‘their’ of some other plural. Mind is often a word that this happens with.
    “We must try to change their mind” – the correct form would be minds. Each individual has a mind – there is no collective hive mind. It is a difference between countables & non-countables. Like the difference between cheese & cheeses. (I understand those hypersensitive to sexist language wanting to use ‘their’ instead of ‘his or her’ but that is a separate issue.)

      1. My old English teacher back in the 60s used to say: If you can pour it, use the word less, if you can count it, use the word fewer.

        1. When it’s countable, “fewer” does roll off the tongue better than “less.” And I try to use “fewer” whenever appropriate. However, I’d feel better about using “fewer” if there were a corresponding “morer.” 😉

  13. Comma splices and general misuse of semi colons. Just don’t use them if you don’t know how. I’ve recently started screwing these up myself.

  14. “That being said….”

    Starting sentences with “so”.

    Uptalk – ending sentences with a tonal inflection that sounds like a question.

    Confusing irritate with aggravate.

    Using literally when one means figuratively.

        1. Wow. This is about the fifth time I’ve scrolled past this comment today . . .

          AND I FINALLY GOT IT!!!11!

          Sometimes I can be really dense.

    1. Starting sentences with “so” is an interesting one and when Richard Dawkins tweeted a question “why do so many Americans start a sentence with ‘so'”, Bob MacDonald, the host of the CBC science show Quirks and Quarks tweeted back the answer, noting that the “so” phenomenon includes Canadians as well.

      If you go to this episode of Quirks and Quarks and scroll down to the paragraph below, you can listen to the explanation. It appears that “so” is a verbal marker that the listener needs to listen for an extended period of time as what’s coming is long. Many of the scientists on the program started their answers with “so” for this reason.

      Fact or Fiction: “So…”

      Many of our listeners have written in over the past couple of years with the same observation: our guests often seem to begin their sentences with the word “so.” We reviewed some of our past shows and found that, indeed, we have hosted a lot of so-sayers. So…we decided to look into it. Dr. Maite Taboada, an associate professor of linguistics at Simon Fraser University, explains why people tend to start their sentences with this particular particle.

      1. I’ve just started to notice ( and be bugged by) this So business in the last 6 mnnths or so. It’s generally used by younger commentators, but I fear it may be catching on among among my generation as well.

        1. Scientists are the worst for this usage it seems to me. I first noticed it however in ‘CSI’ – when they have to give some exposition of a bit of technical stuff that they would never say in a real life situation.

          1. Look for my reason above for the use of “so”. It makes sense in this context and would not be written unless writing informally (like in an email).

              1. My usage stands (especially since it has been in use for approximately 100 years).

                More details from this web site. Excerpt here:

                When to Use Like, When to Use As
                The proper way to differentiate between like and as is to use like when no verb follows (2). For example, Squiggly throws like a raccoon or Aardvark acted just like my brother. Notice that when I use like, the words that come after are generally simple. A raccoon and my brother are the objects of the preposition.

                If the clause that comes next includes a verb, then you should use as. For example, Squiggly throws as if he were a raccoon or Aardvark acted just as I would expect my brother to behave. Notice that when I use as, the words that come after tend to be more complex.

                You generally hear like used in everyday speech, so that helps me remember that like is the simpler word—or at least it is followed by simpler words. As sounds stuffier and is followed by a more complex clause that contains a verb.

                – See more at:

      2. Huh.

        Dawkins raised that issue on his site (the VASTLY SUPERIOR old site) a few years ago. In the comments it seemed to be the majority opinion that “so” indicates an implied prior conversation – that what you’re hearing now could conceivably be a continuation and we’ve picked it up in medias res. It therefore also implies familiarity.

          1. Interesting. I tend to use it how the linguist described it when I’m answering a question that is somewhat involved or requires some background story. I catch myself writing it in casual conversation and stop because they don’t need a audible clue – they can see my explanation is long by the amount of words before them.

    2. With many of these things, like starting a sentence with “So,” I think the authors are attempting to write as they would speak. It seems for most people that when writing vs speaking they use different constructions. But, particularly in written conversations like this, I think some people try to write as they would speak. This leads to all kinds of grammatically incorrect constructions.

      Just in case it isn’t clear, I’m speaking from personal experience. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

    3. In colloquial Minnesotan English, there is a “So, then” clause, e.g., “So, that your dogsled, then?” This is used as a de-emphasis of the interrogative, a softening of the question as to not demand an answer, or to state an obvious fact during a conversation.

        1. They can’t throw down their gauntlets because they’ll get frostbite, so they avoid fighting at all costs.

      1. Ja, sure.

        As a Minnesotan and a Scandinavian I can attest to the fact that our conversations do indeed consist, in large part, of stating the obvious. Possibly phrased as a question, with the “so, then” construction. We just can’t come up with much else. Chit-chat is not out forte. In a book titled: “Scandinavian Humor, and Other Myths”, the Scandinavian god of conversation is named “Comatose”.

  15. Oh – one that drives me crazy. I don’t mind “thx” for “thanks” but I worked with someone who would write “thnks” or “thnx”. The first one just looks like you forgot the “a” & the second one is just weird.

  16. The use of to leverage as a verb has become very annoying in my line of work. It’s particularly bad when people use it to describe a simple pooling of resources or the use of some perceived advantage to obtain an end (eg he leveraged the other project’s resources or she leveraged her knowledge of).

    This is both horrible language and a tacit admission of ignorance as to what a lever is.

    1. American Heritage, Random House, and Merriam-webster all allow it as a verb, and M-W states its first usage as such is 1957. Still, it grates a bit, because no one uses advantage or dotage as verbs. -age is supposed to be a suffix turning a verb into a noun.

  17. I wish people would learn to use apostrophes correctly.

    I also wish that the “chic” use of a period where there should be a comma would go away.

    If you’ve never read Lynne Truss’ “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves”, I highly recommend it. It’s hilarious. Even though it’s now ten years old, it’s more timely than ever. L

    1. Shortly after the Truss book came out, Louis Menand wrote a devastating review of it for The New Yorker. You may want to look that up. Wow, what a demolition job that was! Whew.

      Also, I prefer: Lynne Truss’s book (I don’t like the dropped ess: Jesus’s 12 fan boys, not Jesus’ 12 fan boys).

  18. Mostly these little trends don’t bother me until they start being used all the time by all the people. Luckily most of them die a natural death after a short moment of “fame”.
    My pet peeve is the over-used rhetorical phrase “let us not forget” (I growl: you may have forgotten, but how dare you assume that I did). Also the use of faux archaic words such as methinks and thusly, especially by people who have never read a single Shakespeare play in their lives because it wasn’t cool enough for them at school.

  19. I cringe a little with “correct me if I’m wrong” though I’ve used it myself (while cringing). I don’t like it because it’s redundant and confusing. Of course I’ll correct you and why would I correct you if you were right.

    I understand the intent of the sentence; it’s saying “if I’m wrong, I won’t take offence if you correct me” and this is why I’ve used it on occasions (while cringing).

    1. I see it as a stratagem to weaken criticism, thus a sign of insecurity. Since it undermines whatever follows, I never use it or like phrases. It’s your job to undermine what I say, not my own.

      1. Is it not just an attempt to not appear to be an arrogant SOB? An expression of willingness to change opinions.

        1. “Is it not just an attempt to not appear to be an arrogant SOB? An expression of willingness to change opinions.”

          Expressing one’s views with confidence is not arrogance, although some people are intimidated by confidence and might infer arrogance. You can’t live your life in fear of those people.

          A willingness to change opinions should be assumed and rarely needs to be stated explicitly. People that do that a lot undermine their own credibility.

          There are other ways to express your degree of confidence in your views without verbally cringing before your conversational partners.

          1. “A willingness to change opinions should be assumed and rarely needs to be stated explicitly.”

            Really? Not in my experience. But then my experience does involve a lot of judgmental, authoritarian assholes, which may not be the norm.

  20. Somewhere someone is (hopefully) dying a slow painful death for hijacking “effort” as a verb. I hear it most often in interview situations on radio and television, but I have heard it in the corporate world as well.

    “We’re efforting Joe Schmo for his opinion on today’s top stories.”

    “Bill’s got some great sales ideas, we’re efforting the numbers from accounting to see if they will work!”

    I loathe these people. Effort is an abstract noun, not a toy for your diseased vocabulary.

    1. I remember my sister’s persnickety English teacher saying that “hopefully” is not quite the same as “it is hoped” (which most people mean when they right “hopefully”.

    1. I don’t like “anywho” either. I feel the same way about “pardon my French” when someone swears. I’m sure it once had a funny meaning, but it’s been lost and the saying has worn out its welcome (like “anywho”). Let’s move on and think of new jokes.

  21. The two which really boil my piss are when people end declarations of opinion with the phrase “just saying”, or even worse, “end of [discussion]”.

    The first is inane, especially on the internet (what, you thought we were expecting you to do an interpretive dance as well?), the second is bloody arrogant.

  22. I still can’t stand seeing “less” when people mean “fewer”.

    Yes: “anywho” greatly annoys.

  23. In high school in the 70s, the thing to say with deep seriousness was

    “This is true.”

    The current usage of “this” seems to be a remnant of that.

  24. Oh! I’ve got another one: when people spell “led” wrong. The past tense of “to lead” is “led”. Lead is the metal.

    I know this well because my high school Latin teacher used to slap my hand if I made that mistake in a translation.

        1. It’s possible. Mine was feisty and didn’t let me get away with anything.

          My university Greek professors were also very knowledgable about English and I swear I probably learned more from them than my English classes.

  25. Writing “loose” for “lose,” “it’s” for “its,” or “lay” for “lie.”
    “Literally” used to mean its opposite.
    “The media is.”
    Adults who use baby-talk for parts of the anatomy or bodily functions.

    1. “The media is.”

      Nothing wrong with that, in the same way you’d say “fifty dollars is too much,”, rather than “fifty dollars are too much”.

      Merriam-Webster discussion:

      The singular media and its plural medias seem to have originated in the field of advertising over 70 years ago; they are still so used without stigma in that specialized field. In most other applications media is used as a plural of medium. The popularity of the word in references to the agencies of mass communication is leading to the formation of a mass noun, construed as a singular . This use is not as well established as the mass-noun use of data and is likely to incur criticism especially in writing.

    2. “it’s” for “its” will be the standard one day. It’s analogous to “Jerry’s” and “it’s” already exists. “Her’s” will follow closely afterward.

    1. The bump is the baby, not the woman. We don’t have a word for the bulge that we see when a woman is pregnant, so why not use “baby bump?”

  26. I was about to post the same peeves as Doug. “it’s” rather than “its” is endemic on comment boards. As is also the confusion of “then’ and “than”.

  27. A friend of mine absolutely hates the german “ausdrücken”, which means “to express”. when you pick it apart, it’s in both languages a dead metaphor literally (figuratively?) meaning “to squeeze (oneself) out” – he just finds that metaphor not poetically pleasing.

    I myself (incidentally, I know of a text from the 1920’s condemning the phrase “I myself”) abhor the word “dragonfly”. I hate it. Such magnificent creatures, and what do you anglophones do? “Uh, it’s flying, but it’s no fly, it’s some sort of big fly, like … like a dragon fly.” I hate it.

      1. Me too. That euphemism is repugnant to me but I can see that my stark realism in avoiding the euphemism is shocking to some.

        1. “Rest in peace” doesn’t sit well with me because it implies that the deceased somehow still exists. I don’t know what I’d replace it with, though.

          1. “RIP” (just the letters) is a little better since it comes closer “s(he) has died”. Or at least I like to pretend that this is the case.

    1. Agreed. Absolutely unbearable.
      The metaphor is used, I guess, as a residue of the influence of pervasive Christian feelings, according to which the speaker cannot admit to the fact of dying. Which implies the fiction that there is no death, just passing away to another level of existence, in the clouds, where we all will reunite with our loved ones. This phony image has been stamped by Christian preaching into all corners of our culture, but, as the churches are slowly emptying, its cultural hold is also slowly waning, even if it remains a literary cliché.

  28. “Relevancy”, “competency”, etc. instead of their original, one-fewer-syllable spelling….make my blood pressure spike whenever I see them.

    I had never encountered these abominations until the third year in university, in a “human resource and management” module. I’d bet dollar-to-donuts they originated in management-speak, coined by pretentious, vacuous wankers to give their talk an illusion of intellect and substance. Ugh.

    1. Well, you’d lose that bet. According to the OED, “relevancy” in the general sense of “relevance” goes back to at least 1678, and “competency” in the sense of competence to 1600 (from Shakespeare, no less). In fact, both “relevance” and “competence” have much later first attestations (in the 1790s). I.e., they’re the latecomers and probably annoyed the hell out of someone back in the late 18th century.

      1. Oopa, Re: “competency”, I had the wrong sence. Turns out both “competence” and “competency” first attestations are in the 1790s (1790 and 1797 respectively. Also, both attestations are from the same person: Edmund Burke.

          1. Still, they’re a longer more pompous-sounding equivalent of a perfectly good slightly shorter word, and as such a sign (IMO) of pretentiousness.

  29. Yes, “I’m good” for “I’m well” –– I wonder whether it comes from the Germanic influence on American English (“gut” is both adjective and adverb).

    One that really does irritate me is the near-universal American presumption that “grade” as in “fifth grade” or “seventh grade” means something in the English language. It does not. It is a parochial American convention (like “peeps” for marshmallows, by the way). If you want to convey roughly how old a child is, say it in years since birth, then you’ll be universally understood.

    1. I lived for a few years in London, and it was uncomprehensible to me why my British friends, when asked at a dinner whether they would like to have seconds (yes, there’s another one), would reply with the words: “I’m good.” I stumbled over that phrase repeatedly. Had anyone implied that they were not good? It would have helped to say “no, thank you, I am good”, but that addition was never forthcoming. My half German brain couldn’t understand that leider.

    2. I agree 100% with your dislike of “I’m good”, but 5th grade does mean something to 300 million English speakers.

      1. Doesn’t to me. What age is ‘5th grade’? What’s wrong with ’15-year-old’ (or whatever it means…)

        1. Nothing is wrong with “15-year-old”. But it doesn’t mean the same thing as “5th grade”. Despite the fact that folk from the UK my not be familiar with how US (and Canadaian?) school organization, they don’t own the language. UK writers/speakers often reference (for example) “forth form” or “A levels”. Should they be expected to stop doing so?

          1. I’d say “fourth form” (it has a ‘u’ in British English) or “A levels” would be entirely valid IF referring to school-related topics – as would “5th grade” in a US context. But when they’re out of school, and particularly if addressing an international audience, I think stating their ages is likely to be more meaningful. The USA is not the whole world, much as various ‘World’ sporting series would seem to imply.

            Mention of which leads me to – I always get irritated at Steve Gould’s bland assumption that everyone reading his biology books is intimately familiar with all aspects of baseball lore.

            1. We all write from our own cultural points of view. It will be a long time before the planet is homogenized enough to make all references equally comprehendible all over the world. The variations don’t bother me, in fact I rather like it. I enjoy being able to detect where a writer is from by noticing what kind of cultural referents s(he) uses. How about this deal: you stop stressing out over baseball references and I’ll not worry when I read a reference to a football pitch.

              1. I don’t stress out over baseball references, I just don’t like them in a book that’s supposed to be about something else entirely. And they’re not just one-line phrases, IIRC – Gould makes extended baseball analogies, repeatedly.

                If Richard Dawkins had written paragraphs about football or cricket into The Greatest Show on Earth I would consider that equally inappropriate.

                (Note: I’m using ‘inappropriate’ in its correct sense there, not as some weaselly PC euphemism for ‘indecent’ – another of my niggles by the way).

              1. Yes, I know. Unlike other ‘..our’ words that lose their ‘u’ in American English.

                I was just being a bit facetious about a misprint – “forth form”.

    3. “I’m good” or “He’s doing good”, etc. is particularly irritating because most southerners, even newscasters, in the U.S. use it a norm. Why? Is grammar not being taught in those southern states?

      1. I fear that grammar is not being taught very much or well anywhere in North America (and maybe particularly not down South).

      2. You people have got to stop these nasty generalizations about Southerners. Any one who lives here knows that we are not stupid yokels. I have seen teachers (nuns are best because they can hit you with a ruler) jump all over anyone who makes a grammatical error. To this day I will correct a speaker’s grammar, mostly unconsciously. People find it very annoying.

  30. The intentional use of the word “um” is a pet peeve of mine. It seems to be used as a sarcastic way of making people who disagree with the writer look stupid, but it just makes it harder for me to take the person who uses it seriously.

  31. The use of “believe” as a noun is now rife on Twitter, as in “Those who hold Christian believes”. I used to think it was only non-native speakers, but it has now reached epidemic frequency and I am starting to wonder.

      1. The next thing to watch out for may be common auto-correct errors becoming new usages, just as Qwerty keyboards have given us ‘teh’ and the like.

  32. My major usage irritant is the almost universal misuse, by people who are paid to talk or write, of the word less when fewer is the correct word to represent a reduction in numbers rather than amount. They are not synonymous.

    A close second is the increasing use(utilization!) of simplistic when the meaning they are striving for is represented by the word simple.

    1. My major usage irritant is the almost universal misuse, by people who are paid to talk or write, of the word less when fewer is the correct word to represent a reduction in numbers rather than amount.

      Yes, this drives me crazy. I’ve even heard NPR reporters misuse “less” in this way.

    1. Nor a novel exclusively written in the historic present – the tense of the garden fence gossip and the pub bore.

      ‘Wolf Hall’: 650 pages of it. Give me strength.


        1. Merilee,

          I read ‘Wolf Hall’ when I was ill and so in a sense captive, but never captivated; it was a page-turner in that I wanted to get to the end. Who doesn’t want to finish a book that they have started?

          It was brilliantly researched: Mantel really knows her stuff. But I thought that the decision to use the historic present was a structural error. All too common nowadays, the historic present is obviously an attempt to render a tale immediate, visceral and inherently fascinating: like the tense we drop into in speech when we want to involve our friends in an enthralling anecdote. That’s why we use it sparingly, to draw attention to the nitty-gritty.

          Dickens wrote two historical novels, ‘Barnaby Rudge’ and ‘A Tale of Two Cities’: in neither of which he used the historic present. Because, I suspect, he knew it would be grating. Admittedly, he was doing a slightly different thing, that is, setting a novel in a historical locale; whereas Mantel was attempting a far more historically ‘true’ narrative. (By the way, there is an early mistake in the book where she drops into the past tense for two paragraphs – the copy-writer should have spotted that).

          I suppose many modern novelists feel free to write historical novels because they observe that many modern historians lack imagination in their interpretation of the past: novelists believe that historians do not show how people in the past felt about their predicament before they had the historian’s benefit of hindsight. This may be an implied criticism of modern top-down historical writing. And it is probably true.

          If every current historian were as imaginative and creative as E.P.Thompson, who brilliantly reimagined the mind-set of the late 1700s and early 1800s English working class, then maybe good writers like Hilary Mantel would be seeking their inspiration elsewhere.


          1. Dermot –
            I didn’t find the tense grating at all. The thing which was a little bit confusing was the very frequent use of “he”, often without antecedent. It really took getting into the rhythm before one could figure out who “he” was
            referring to in every instance. There also about 10 Thomases…

      1. Damon Runyon got away with it – but then Runyon’s language was highly distinctive and practically unique to him. Either you love it or you just don’t read Runyon.

        1. Yeah, I love Runyon. The difference is that they are short stories, in a familiar style and the use of the present continuous mimics immigrant English.

          Runyon uses the tense as a punchy and deliberate comic effect: Mantel had a completely different intention in deciding on a tense normally associated with the informal. And her subject matter is high politics – a mismatch.


          1. Wondering how the ‘present continuous’ (a la Runyon) contrasts with the ‘historic present’. So far as I can deduce after a quick Google, they’re both the same (present) tense syntactically, just used in slightly different contexts?

            1. Bullet pointy reply: I’m in the recording studio.

              Present continuous = I am thinking, Nathan… etc.

              Present historic in Mantel = King Henry looks at Thomas…


              1. Ah. OK, they’re different. I was wrong.

                Present continuous is the construction with ‘to be’ plus a present participle (?) – i.e. ongoing situation.

                Present historic uses the simple present tense to refer to a past event.

                I think…

  33. As a lawyer, I was trained to dislike and to avoid the verb “deem” in all its forms.

    In legislation, contracts, wills, trusts, and other legal documents, the use of “deem” indicates the power of inertia (re-using instead of de-lousing and updating old verbiage), or laziness, or imprecise thinking. The professor who trained me said “‘Deem’ is the first refuge of a scoundrel draftsman.”

    The use of “deem” is almost always a sloppy or dishonest maneuver, where the reader or the citizen or a party to a contract are asked or expected to treat X as if it has attribute Y, even if it doesn’t. When combined with the passive voice and what I call the “false imperative” use of “shall” (“shall be deemed to be”), the use of “deem” can trigger serious problems, because it may not be clear who is permitted to do the “deeming.”

    When I am revising someone else’s draft of a document, I routinely use 2 or 3 words to replace “deem,” just as I routinely use 3 or 4 words to replace the archaic-sounding and imprecise “hereof,” “hereunder,” “herein,” “hereinafter,” etc.

  34. There is a spoken tic that has formed recently that I find annoying. If someone agrees with your statement, they declare assent with the phrase, “I know, right?” What are you asking me? I don’t know if you know and if you aren’t sure, DON’T SAY ANYTHING.


    1. Or the opposite – I’m feeling well (or I’m well). I know a few people may be speaking specifically of their health, but most people really mean good and are just overcompensating for the fact that too many people use good as a adverb.

  35. Here’s something that bugs the crap out of me: this inane use of appending “gate” to another word to signal a scandal. I’m referring today to Gov. Chris Christie’s bridge scandal.

    1. I hadn’t yet heard it called “Bridgegate,” but it’s hard to imagine something more awful… though it’s tempting to try….

      Mayor of New York tries to sell stolen goods: FENCEGATE!


      Governor of Florida releases reptiles into opponent’s hotel room: GATORGATE!

  36. This complaint is not really specifically language related, but there are too many 1-sentence paragraphs in newspaper stories; even in the NYT.

    This internet thing seems to be wreaking havoc with our ability to concentrate.

  37. Ausdrücken may be a neologism coined after the Latin exprimere, matching “Ausdruck” for expressio. The oldest reference I find is Luther’s translation for expressis verbis, “mit ausgedruckten Worten”.
    “Ausgedruckt” was gradually replaced in the 18th century by “ausdrücklich”.

  38. “Twice as few” Does that mean half as many?
    “Three times less” Does that mean a third as many?
    “Five times smaller” Huh?

      1. “99% pure” in adverts. (If I recall rightly, raw sewage such as you find running down main sewers is 99% (pure) water).

  39. “Said” is way overused, as in: “I went to the store and bought a new coffee mug, then immediately went home and used said mug.”

    And I’m VERY tired of: “I for one welcome our new ___ overlords.”

    You’ll see that in comments for articles about robots, a new and weird insect, etc. It is not clever and it’s never been funny. Yet I’m confident that the people who write it are “totes LOLing” at their wit.

  40. “Certaynly it is harde to playse euery man by cause of dyuersite & chaunge of langage.” William Caxton (1490)

  41. I just finished listening to a podcast (Naked Scientists 14.01.07) and copied this bit of statement by host Dave: “So, I’m going to be trying to build a jet-powered boat, using a sort-of half-liter bottle …”. “So” has been addressed today. I hear “sort of” and it’s contraction on a lot of audio science programs I listen to.

    I may dislike this almost as much as I dislike declarative sentences tonally rendered as questions. And the Tea Party. Well, perhaps with that last one I exaggerate.

  42. > Please, no comments to the effect of “language evolves, so everything is okay”

    Language evolves, so some things that were OK aren’t OK any more.

      1. I was going to whine and say “but what if my pet peeve is people who have pet peeves about language? Can’t I rant too?” But I like your reply much beter jimroberts.

        1. PS I actualyl do have pet peeves about language though, just not sure I can come up with one that hasn’t been mentioned.

  43. Slightly off-topic but the biggest linguistic bugbear of mine is the California lilt – the ascending tone turning an affirmative sentence into an interrogative one. Why does it bother me? For two reasons, one aesthetic, the other substantive. Spoken English (as spoken by English people) used to be a beautifully modulated language, where the subtle use of intonation and cadences would add meaning and nuances. More importantly, the California lilt makes almost impossible the use of subordinate sentences (not enough breath), turning speech into a boring sequence of main clauses, often of the apodictic variety. End of rant.

    P.S. “providing” instead of “provided”.

    1. Why do you call it the “California lilt”? The populations I have most noticed it in are Canadians and Australians. Valley girl usage is fairly recent.

      1. Yes! I’m a California native and neither I nor any of my family or friends speaks Valley Girl. I hear that up-talk just as much here in Canada as anywhere else. I find that a lot of the young women have gone from that up-talk to a kind of gravelly voice in the back of their throats. Not sure what that’s about, unless they’ve overcompensated.

          1. No offense taken, but I certainly don’t notice it when I hang around fellow-Californians. Maybe it’s kind of a Hollywood or Paris Hilton etc. thing.

      2. I believe it originated in Queensland. It seems to me to be a way of making it clear that you haven’t finished speaking yet, so as to avoid being interrupted.

    2. And I thought it was a Kiwi (New Zealand) habit. And I *hate* it.

      I put it down to a sort of immature lack of self-confidence – as if the speaker doesn’t have enough self-assurance to make a statement and instead has to turn it into a weaselly half-question.

  44. Oh, my. Waaaaaaay too many comments for me to wade through — enough that I’m thinking it’s best for me to not tick the box, what with all I’ve got to get done today.

    But my biggest peeve is people confusing written and spoken language, such as referring to something that somebody just wrote as what she just “said.”

    Unless sound is emanating from mouths, nothing is being spoken; it’s being written.



    1. What Ben just said, as I imagined how it would sound while I was reading what he wrote out loud. 😀

  45. One of my language pet peeves is bringing them up, I suppose. But, I’m with you, Jerry. A funny one in the southeast US is that people say ‘wished’ instead of ‘wish. Like, “I wished I had that”… for some reason, some people only use wish in the past tense. They have other things like, “I’ll tell you what though”, to preface a sentence. And, “Another thing too”; that’s funny. And a professor of mine… with a PhD… actually once said, “That’s a whole ‘nother story”. I said, “whole ‘nother?” & she said, “yes”.

    1. Or drowned always being past tense. It’s even worse when they want to actually make it past tense and it becomes drowneded.

  46. Where do I even begin? Even allowing for the historical flexibility of language, obfuscation and confusion bring out the not-very-deeply-buried curmudgeon in me. So, just a few examples:

    Failure to distinguish between :alternate” and “alternative”

    “Just sayin'”

    Cutesy social media terms such as “peeps,” which Ceiling Cat rightly deprecates.

    And I always stop reading at the first appearance of “hegemony,” which invariably foreshadows meaningless Butlerian cant.

      1. When I see “hegemony”, I think about Alexander the Great’s generals & just get generally confused. Maybe it’s a good thing & I’m postmodern proof. 🙂

      2. Same here, and don’t forget ‘privileged’. 🙂

        And (as ws said), “just sayin” – which usually follows some piece of offensive and libellous flamebait, as if by ‘just sayin’ the poster didn’t mean it and is trying to dodge responsibility for the resulting fracas.

  47. The historic present tense in history documentaries. It’s presumably intended to give a sense of immediacy. But it is frequently downright misleading. Sometimes the audience really is left in doubt about whether the speaker is referring to a historic period, or to somebody now talking about it. Curiously, the worst offenders are academic historians, rather than television presenters.

    1. Absolutely: and when the voice-over introduces, “would…” we the listeners don’t know whether the action really happened or whether it was an imagined action.

      Re: academic historians using the historic present, I wonder if they are told to by the publishers in the mistaken assumption that it will boost sales.

      If E.P. Thompson didn’t bother with it and used the past tense, then that’s good enough for me.

      Who’s for a history of evolution written in the historic present? Hands er…down.


      1. Even worse, TV historians not distinguishing between mythology and history. Simon Sebag Montefiore’s recent series on Byzantium was dreadful for this. (Sorry, probably a bit OT but it really really annoyed me).

        1. Not just TV historians, I recently read Tom Holland’s ‘Rubicon’ and was disconcerted that he apparently gives the same weight to myths (e g the invisible procession of musicians leaving Alexandria) and documented facts. This is fine in Shakespeare or Cavafy, but they are poets not historians.

          1. He did the same thing in “The Shadow of the Sword”. I found it a bit disconcerting at first but I think it allowed for a better flow and I got used to it. Constantly having to add the qualifiers necessary to point out that the people of the time believed these things but the author doesn’t would certainly have impeded the narrative, and I decided in the end that it was a wise choice.

      2. I was trained to use the historical present when discussing a work of art or literature or music, but past tense when discussing activities of people. So “Beethoven uses the variation principle in the Ninth Symphony” but “he was so deaf he couldn’t hear the audience applaud at the premiere.”

  48. Actually, the American phrase ‘ I could care less’ really annoys me ( sorry, Americans, no offense intended ). It should be ‘I COULDN’T care less’, as in, ‘I care so little about it that it would be completely impossible for me to care any less than I currently do’.

    1. I don’t think you can blame that one on Americans – it’s just bad English. I only recently started to see this mistake more and more when written (he probably don’t always hear the mistake).

      1. It’s not bad English. I could care less. But I don’t care enough to pay attention to how much I care.

        Bam, rationalized away. (Actually that’s intentionally overthinking it but the point is that Scott’s explanation of the origin of the meaning of the phrase is irrelevant – even though it is logical and sensible and correct – because people don’t go through that process when talking).

        1. It has the opposite of the intended meaning: I could not care less vs I could care less therefore the English is bad.

          1. Only for someone who is deconstructing the phrase into its individual parts and not taking it as a whole.

            I hate it too, but you (and I) are overthinking it. Other expressions have done similar things too this is just a particularly timely example.

          2. Before pushing that positions too hard you might want to read the Steven Pinker article that gbjames linked to early in this thread, over on the first page. Pinker covers this specific construction, among many of the other peeves being expressed on this thread.

            1. Yes, I read that Steven Pinker thinks it “could care less” is sarcastic but I think it is said because of a mishear.

              1. Interesting. I agree with Pinker because what he described is exactly what I have had in mind when using the phrase in the past. Before ever being aware of it being an issue.

              2. To clarify the sarcasm, the meaning, at least what I have always thought the meaning was, is “on a scale of less to more I care so little that it is not possible for me to care any less, because the scale doesn’t go any lower.” That is always the meaning I was trying to convey when using that phrase.

              1. I don’t know but I’ve seen it happen occasionally and recently so I think a new WP feature.

              2. We might suggest to CC that he introduce grammar rants more frequently, say on a monthly basis, as he’s certainly getting a TON ( can one measure rants in tons?) of response:-)

  49. Calling a piece of music a song when there’s no singing.

    The continued use of obsolete date formats. If you say 2014-01-09, everyone knows what day you mean, unlike 1/9/14 or 9/1/14.

    1. Speaking of songs, how about people who refer to the words in a single song as “lyrics” instead of “lyric.”

  50. I really dislike the use of “they” to mean “he or she”. It’s especially jarring when the person in question has already been referred to in the singular. For instance: “The assailant punched the victim, then they ran off.” What, both of them?

    I also see the suffix “age” used to construct a lot of odd-looking words. For instance, a sign I saw at a California bed-and-breakfast asked guests to conserve water by restricting their “gallonage”. I’ve since come to rather like that one, though, ever since I learned about the hidage tax (of defenders per “hide” of land) in 9th century England. Apparently the use of “age” to make odd words has a long and illustrious history.

    I like “awesome” for similar reasons. The word that used to mean “awe inspiring” was “awful”, but that word has since changed to mean something else. So we came up with “awesome”, but now that word is changing to mean something else too. Presumably we’ll soon have to pick a new word for the original meaning. So we’re witnessing the evolution of language as it happens. That’s an awesome thing!

        1. “Gallonage” is odd, but in context it’s pretty easy to figure out the meaning. Singular “they” can be extremely confusing (as in the example I gave). A speaker may wish to distinguish between one or more unnamed individuals, and if “they” evolves to mean both, then the speaker will lose the ability to efficiently do that. As for Austen and Shakespeare; just because a famous author occasionally makes use of a particular idiom, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for everyone all the time. Faulkner and Joyce made extensive use of run-on sentences, but lord help us if that every becomes the general style.

            1. Sure. We aspire to be a more egalitarian society, so we no longer need different words for formal and familiar “you”. But we can still count, so distinguishing between one and more than one individual is still useful.

              1. Well that’s a good point. But it’s fairly easy to say “you guys” or “you all” or even “y’all” when we want to be clear we’re addressing multiple people. Since we generally don’t address “you” without looking at “you”, that can help too. Those factors don’t generally apply with singular “they”. Also, singular and plural “you” both use verbs that are conjugated the same. Singular and plural “they” don’t (for present tense). So you can have jarring changes like “First the figure is in the dining room, then they are in the hall.”

              2. We aspire to be a more egalitarian society, so we no longer need different words for formal and familiar “you”.

                That argument does not hold water. By any reckoning, France was perhaps the first country in Europe to explicitly “aspire to be a more egalitarian society”, yet French still maintains a difference between formal and informal versions of “you”.

                Trying to find sociopolitical connections to linguistic accidents is often fraught with dangers, and leads to such gems of sham wisdom as “Inuits have _insert favorite number here_ words for snow” because they live so close to the Arctic, or that and “Urdu has no future tense” because of some theological reason having to do with Islam. As Geoff Pullum often rues, somehow there seems to be a pervasive belief among those who consider themselves part of the “intelligentsia” that relying on empirical research is optional when making stuff up about language and its effects.

              3. I was just saying that, as a somewhat egalitarian society, we can get along with a single word for familiar and formal “you” easier than we can get along with a single word for singular and plural “they”. I wasn’t trying to explain why we lost the separate word for familiar “you”.

                As for using “it”: sure, often that will work. But not always. For instance, replace “figure” in the example above with “person”. The point I was making there is that, unlike with singular “you”, singular “they” requires us to change the meaning of the accompanying verb as well. (Creating a singular “are”, for instance.) The alternative would be to say things like “they is”, which is even more jarring.

              4. I really don’t see the issue with the changing verb. It’s less rebarbative than “they is”.

                “Each user is required to keep their password confidential. If they suspect that someone else knows their password, they are required to change it.” 

                Perfectly cromulent. (In any case, “are” is already singular in the second person, so why not the third? No-one says, “you art”.)

                If that still offends your ear, recast!

                “Each user must keep their password confidential. If they suspect that someone else knows their password, they must change it.” 

                Snappier anyway.


              5. As I mentioned, I’m pointing out the changing verb to show that more changes are required for singular “they” than for singular “you”. In modern English, “are” is never applied to the third person singular. It’s always “is”. To change that, for no good reason, is a pretty big deal.

                “You must keep your password confidential. If they suspect that someone else knows their password, they are required to change it.”

                There is nothing less “cromulent” about the above quote than about yours. Its problem is that it appears to change subjects between sentences (first “you”, then “they”). The same problem applies to your quote (first “each user”, then “they”).

                As for recasting, why not: “You must keep your password confidential. If you suspect that someone else knows your password, you must change it.”?

              6. But at some point in what was then “modern English, “are” was never applied to the /second/ person singular. Now it is the state of the art.

                Changing from second person to third person in the middle of the paragraph is certainly /not/ cromulent! My editors would be apoplectic. (I’ve got some of them on my side re singular they, so that’s clearly a lesser crime!)

                Dost thou not think that some folks found it confusing to be addressed as “you” rather than “thou” at one time? Yet usage changed.

                (Recasting the whole thing in the second person is fine, of course, and what Id recommend to clients, as long as who is being addressed is made clear earlier.)


              7. > Changing from second person to third person in the middle of the paragraph is certainly /not/ cromulent! My editors would be apoplectic.

                There was no such change. I simply used second-person “they”, which is every bit as legitimate as singular “they”. If your editor gives you a difficult time for it, just toss out a few “dost thous”, point out that language changes, and thereby imply without actually stating that all such changes are to be embraced.

    1. RE: “I really dislike the use of ‘they’ to mean ‘he or she’.”

      I hear ya’, & I’m no PC-wonk, but in our modern rightfully & deliberately non-paternal-centric society, & especially with gender variance & freedom of expression & self-definition thereof, we desperately need gender-neutral, &or at least gender non-specific, terminology.

      I cringe using “they” in the singular, but until there’s a viable alternative? Using “he” for either-or, or even “she” at least 50% of the time as ‘all-gender-inclusive’, is not only insufficient, but also awkward, ill-fitting, nearly poseur… just simply won’t do any more.

      1. This.

        Err, I mean +1.

        ‘They’ for a singular may be incorrect but it sounds a lot less awkward than ‘s/he’ or similar bodged-up constructions.

        Similarly the impersonal ‘you’ where it should strictly be ‘one’ (e.g. ‘you can’t see the bridge from here’). (The French use ‘on’ and it sounds fine in French, but awfully stilted in English).

        1. I recognize there isn’t a perfect solution to what to use for a third-person-singular pronoun of indeterminate gender, but I think there are better options than “they”. I generally use some non-gendered descriptor (“someone”, “one”, “a person”) to make plain what I’m talking about, and then use either “him” or “her” (whichever is less stereotypical) to refer to the person after that. If that looks like it might confuse then I might throw in a “him or her”. Thus: I think that if a person were to do that then she would be able to convey her meaning clearly without mangling established definitions or rules of grammar.

          1. Two small problems. One is that ‘he’ and ‘she’ are gender-specific, so literally incorrect where both sexes are meant.
            Secondly, using the conventional gender (‘he’ for a doctor, ‘she’ for a nurse for example) just reinforces the stereotypes, while using the opposite gender can grab the reader’s attention and distract from the main point of the sentence.

            In some contexts it can be quite distracting – using ‘she’ for a truck driver, for example. ‘Each driver must ensure that her load is properly secured’. I’d say ‘Each driver must ensure that their load is properly secured’ and the hell with grammar.

            Languages with non-gendered pronouns are fortunate in not having this problem.

            1. Well I’m not saying it’s a perfect solution. I’m just saying it’s miles better than using “they” for single individuals. The original way to handle it was of course to just use “he”, so it’s not true that “he” can’t refer to someone of indeterminate gender. With our modern sensibilities we might want to give “she” more of the duties, to even things out, but if you don’t want to use “she” for truck drivers there’s nothing to say you must. Alternatively, why talk about “each” truck driver separately when addressing the lot of them?: “Drivers are required to ensure that their loads are properly secured.”

              1. Glen:

                You’ll find a complete survey of this question in an article by Kory Stamper, a professional lexicographer at Merriam-Webster, in her blog, ” Harmless Drudgery”.
                Her article and relevant comments are at
       (Aug. 23, 2013).
                All the angles discussed here, and more, are dissected in this lengthy posting.

                The problem is very real for editors and publishers in the current climate of granting women equal rights of representation.

                I concluded my own contribution with the following summary of my own experience with the problem.

                PRACTICAL OPTIONS

                As I have actually encountered them:

                1) Stick to the historical method, recorded over the long history of English literature: Keep using “man”, “men”, “he”, “his” as words with a collective, class meaning. That is the style that the political correctness ideology tries to obliterate, rewriting the rules of good usage.

                2) If the text mentions many cases of using anonymous singular names to represent a class, “the patient”, “the student”, “the athlete”, “the advocate”, be fair, and vary the use of pronouns, “he” and “his” in one paragraph, “she” and “her” in another.

                3) The option of using “he/she”, “his/her” can be used occasionally, but repeated in a long text, it becomes frightfully awkward and boring.

                4) If you happen to be an ardent feminist still raging at the unfairness of past centuries, use systematically “she” and “her”, ignoring the possibility of any male representative in the targeted class of people.

                5) If you want to avoid the awkward “they” and “their” to refer to a singular name, change the subject to the plural form: “Ph.D.s complain that their degrees can’t get them an academic job”. Very often an easy and elegant solution to the dilemma.

                6) Human Kinetics, a major publisher of physical therapy and training books, has adopted the radical method of no longer using “he”, “his”, “she” , “her”: “The patient keeps the spine flexed”, “the patient returns to the standing posture”. This way they are sure not to alienate potential female buyers.

                7) Banish all worries, and use the awkward “they”, “their”, as your mood suggests. If you’re writing in a blog, nobody will give you grief (hopefully).

                In all cases, remember that language, in its original production, is never used in the abstract manner of the uninvolved lexicographer, who examines, records, and analyzes only dead language, after the fact of its active life.
                Language, in the act of creation, is always part of a “Sitz im Leben”, as the Germans say, that is, an existential situation, where language has the biological function of communicating live with a defined group.

                So speakers or writers have to use common sense, sensitivity, knowledge, and artistry, to take into account their situation in life, and develop an awareness of the beliefs and expectations of their social environment, audience or public.

                They want to be understood, but also liked and accepted. Look at Obama. It’s above all his rhetorical talent that propelled him to the Presidency.

              2. @Roo
                Good summary.

                Yeah, I like using ‘he’ as a collective pronoun, unfortunately (for me) that’s considered not-PC these days. So I use ‘they’ instead. Can’t win ’em all.

    1. That phrase never sat well with me particularly since the phrase it is meant to update (In future…) is perfectly adequate as it is.

  51. I have to say, peeps isn’t a social media term (I read this in the comments). Peeps has been used for multiple persons of friend status for quite a while, before massive use of the internet, more slang than anything.

    I don’t like ‘this’ either, because I know it started with social media sites that don’t have ‘like’ icons. But to say ‘this’ on Facebook or Youtube or WordPress- it just doesn’t make sense. If you don’t have anything to say just like it and move on.

    My biggest pet peeve with language is when people would say something ridiculously wrong (mispronouncing a word or conjugating a verb incorrectly- and not slang-wise) and get upset or call me a Grammar Nazi when I correct them. It is not ‘broke-ded’, you ass.

    1. Please show your evidence that ‘peeps’ for people precedes internet usage. At least one source says first known usage was 1992. It is most assuredly a social media term.

      1. Similarly, the first example of ‘OMG’ dates from 1912 in, mirabile dictu, believe it or not, surprisingly enough, a letter to Winston Churchill. Source: Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme. So, rock solid academic research.


  52. The adverb “hopefully” when applied to an inanimate object.

    The inability to use a comma, correctly.

    And, while we are at it, the inability to distinguish a defining from a non-defining clause.

    And sentences that lack a verb.

  53. I dislike the US (ab)use of `momentarily’. It means `for a moment’ (`the ball thrown vertically stops momentarily before returning’) not `in a moment’.

  54. People who say “generally” instead of “genuinely”. Increasingly common.

    The “I could care less” example mentioned above makes no sense. “Couldn’t” my American friends, “couldn’t”.

    High rising intonation. Give me strength. Although this does give me the fun of asking the perpetrator whether they’re asking me a question, when I’m fully aware it’s a statement.

    And finally, (sorry Jerry I know this is a favourite of yours) but: “noms” is beginning to drive me mad. It’s not sweet, it’s not funny and it’s not clever.

  55. Decimate when the user thinks it means to reduce to one tenth, when the true meaning is to remove one tenth and leave 9/10s behind.

    1. as in, “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”?

  56. I try to use good grammar when I speak. Sometimes, people make fun of me for that. I’ve also been criticized for using the correct or proper word, instead of throwing in “thingie” or “whatamacallit”. I’m accused of showing off or trying to make others look bad. WTF?!

    1. I don’t like “dumb” being used for “stupid” because “dumb” used to mean “unable to speak” and it referred to a disability. It’s better than “retarded” but “stupid” if you can say “stupid,” why say “dumb?”