Words and phrases I hate

December 26, 2019 • 12:30 pm

The dreadful neologisms just keep pouring in, almost as if I were a bad boy this year and get these things instead of lumps of coal at Christmas. In just a few days I’ve accumulated four words that should be ruthlessly expunged from the literature and from the vocabulary of thinking people. Three of them come from the fount of bad writing—HuffPost—but one comes from Marie Claire, a fashion magazine. Click on each screenshot to go to the article.

The first one is particularly odious:

1.) “Gift” as a verb.  Since when do we need to use the word “gift” as a verb instead of simply “give”. You could argue that “Well, gift means giving a present as opposed to other things you could be giving.” My response: “Take a number and kiss my tuchas: the context tells you the meaning.” Here’s one example from HuffPost:

Sadly, “gift” as a verb is so firmly ensconced in the argot that I fear it will be with us forever.

2.) “Tea”, meaning “gossip”.  This is a term much beloved by Generation Xers (okay Xer), but it’s not useful, for it’s the grammatical equivalent of virtue flaunting. Using it tells the reader or listener, “If you understand this usage, you’re as cool as I am.” And so we have “spill the tea” for “divulging gossip”, and ludicrous headlines like the following.

(By the way, the fact that PuffHo even publishes articles like this shows how pathetic they are.) This one takes the metaphor farther by rating how titillating the gossip is on a scale from “room temp to scalding”:

3.) “Insta” for “Instagram”. One of the more useless platforms of social media is Instagram—basically a platform for showing yourself off or for making money by showing off you using somebody else’s products. Now that’s not always true of everyone, but it’s a general truth the whole world knows. And “Insta”, as a repugnant contraction like “fam” (for “family”), has given rise to the deplorable phenomenon of “influencers”, which I’ve mentioned in this series before.

Often “Insta” is a noun referring to the site, but, even worse, it can be a verb—as in the subheading of the article below:

To me, the world would be a better place if Instagram were to vanish. I can see uses for Facebook, like connecting with old friends, and even for Twitter, like posting cat photos or breaking news, but the only use I see for Instagram is to flaunt yourself before the world and, if you’re female, often en déshabillé. I believe even I have an Instagram account, but I assure you that I didn’t set it up nor do I post on it. Somebody else fabricated it.

4.) “Shoppable.” If I mentioned this word, and asked you what it meant, what would you say? I would have answered with a question: “A venue where you would be able to shop, like a ‘shoppable’ food exposition?”  Wrong! It apparently means “something that even you are able to buy”, as in this headline from Marie Claire.  Yes, for only £395, you lesser mortals of the female persuasion can own a pair of the same shoes that the Duchess of Cambridge wore during the holidays.

The word sounds ugly and out of place, and would be so even if it were moved before the words “Green Emmy Shoes”. My own suggestion would have been: “Where to buy Kate Middleton’s Green Emmy Shoes from her Sandringham Walk”, but that wouldn’t have been so hip.

Now you know what to do: all of us are nurturing pet peeves about certain words or phrases. Air your grievances below.


64 thoughts on “Words and phrases I hate

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with #2 and #3.

    I think “gift” as a verb is useful when the context doesn’t make it clear that something was given as a gift. In general, I like turning nouns into verbs as long as it isn’t done as an end unto itself.

    I don’t have much problem with “shoppable” though I can’t see myself using it often. Let me point out that your substitute, “Where to buy Kate Middleton’s Green Emmy Shoes from her Sandringham Walk”, might mislead readers to conclude that the actual pair of shoes Kate wore can be purchased.

    1. If the point being made is that the price is reasonable then ‘affordable’ would be a clearer way of expressing that. I would baulk at the idea that £395 for a pair of shoes is affordable though!
      If the point being made is that if you wish to buy the same shoes then you can find them in certain outlets (as opposed to them being a bespoke pair made just for her) then I’d say the shoes are ‘available’ in shops.

      1. No, it is not saying the price is reasonable, just that it’s an item that can be purchased in a shop. The item is not a one-off, custom-made item. In short, “shoppable” means that one is able to shop for it.

        And, of course, “shop” is another word that works both as a verb and a noun. I wonder which came first. Does the noun always come first? Almost certainly in this case.

  2. Putting “lack” in front of a word (to show a lack of something) any time Shakespeare feels like it. Lack-love, lack-beard, lack-brain, lack-linen. It’s very lazy. The only one that really stuck was lack-lustre, and then someone had the nerve to remove the hyphen and switch the “r” and the “e” at then end, making the word lackluster. (Pun intended.)

      1. I, too, thought of lackadaisical; however, “fresh out” fine given that the etymology I find makes it a stretch to read the “lack” in lackadaisical as equivalent in meaning to the “lack” in the words under consideration here.

        “Lack” in lackadaisical, lackaday – in Etymology Online https://www.etymonline.com/word/lackadaisical#etymonline_v_1980 as an expression of rue, regret, which adds another layer of import to the “lack” – “alack, the day”; as in alack, alas https://www.etymonline.com/word/alack.

        Re Roger citing Shakespeare,I disagree. I guess it’s a matter of taste. I don’t find Shakespeare’s use of “lack'” in these instances lazy at all. It should be remembered that Shakespeare was writing for the stage, where economy and descriptive and emotional “punch” are prime considerations; there’s a semantic richness and emotional resonance here that I, for one, like, and I think that these qualities would be lost in some other construction. And hazarding a wild guess, this use of “lack” might well have been far more common in Elizabethan usage.

    1. Where I come from we have never seen the need to reverse the r and the e at the end!

      I find it is a perfectly fine old word that, used judiciously, is useful for describing things that, well, lack a bit of shine.

  3. “Gift” as a verb is de trop; it adds nothing to “give” but pretension.

    “Regift,” on the other hand, is cromulent. I can think of no synonym for it. Plus, it’s usually used in a humorous context, as in regifting an unwelcome fruitcake.

    1. A friend of my parents was visiting an elderly who was a bit prim and proper and she gave him a slice of fruit cake. He found it inedible and when she wasn’t looking, re-gifted it to her dog. Seeing he had finished the slice the lady insisted that he have another which he again re-gifted to the dog when the opportune moment arose. Shortly before he got up to leave ha glanced under the table to discover to his horror that the dog evidently found the cake as inedible as he did! I believe it was a while before he visited the lady again!

  4. I have always hated “gift” as a verb, so I agree completely. And thanks to Ken for “cromulent”, which I had never heard. I will try to employ it three times tomorrow. 😉

      1. I, too, must incorporate this word into my vocabulary and use it especially when I’m in the company of provincials who regard “big words” as an indication of elitist pedantry. What fun it’ll be to give them the etymology.

  5. PCC(E), with the greatest possible respect, I must differ from you over ‘gift’. The great Sir Ernest Gowers, in ‘Plain Words’ (first published 1948) refers to some people’s disapproval of the use of nouns as verbs, such as ‘loan’, ‘gift’ and ‘author’, all of which, he points out,

    “were verbs centuries ago, and are trying to come back after a long holiday, spent by ‘loan’ in America, by ‘gift’ in Scotland, and by ‘author’ in oblivion”.

    Unlike Ken, I think there is a subtle difference between ‘give’ and ‘gift’. The latter has an overtone of endowment, eg ‘He gifted his estate to the National Trust’. But this is perhaps a bit too subtle for everyday use.

    1. I have no problem with nouns being used as verbs, Steve, so long as they fulfill a need. Otherwise, I wouldn’t surf the web, or get stressed when not fishing.

      My problem with “gift” as a verb, which I think is shared by our host, is that I’ve never heard it used when the subtle distinction you mention wasn’t immediately clear from the context. Instead, it’s used to add a sense of hauteur, usually in connection with hoity-toity charitable events, as in your example.

      “He gave his estate to the National Trust” connotes precisely the same meaning.

      1. From Merriam Webster:

        ‘Take the sentence “She gave me the book.” Without getting more information, we don’t know if the book was a gift or if she simply handed it to the speaker. But in “She gifted me the book” the meaning is instantly clear: the book was a gift.’

        Sure it can be used when “give” would be clear but so what? Gift is more precise in that it implies that the giver doesn’t want the item back, as well as other implications.

        1. Oh, I can conjure circumstances in which “gift” instead of “give” might add a clarifying shade of meaning not otherwise apparent, Paul.

          It’s just that I’ve yet to encounter one in situ.

  6. “Gift” is a standard verb long in use. According to the OED, the use of “gift” to mean “to make a present of” (as distinct from “give”) dates to the early 1600s.


I have to say it puzzles me why some people “hate” the use of “gift” so much. Not only has its useful function as a verb been established for hundreds of years, but such verbing of nouns is just the way so many nouns that we use every day have quite naturally come into use. Consider “thunder,” “rain,” “bottle,” “oil,” “fog,” “snow,” “cloud,” “highlight,” “email,” “trend,” “reference,” “critique,” “dog,” “host,” “book,” “access,” “parent,” “ram,” “discipline,” “house,” “phone,” “mail,” “salt,” “exit,” “divorce,” “storm,” “table, “shoulder,” “showcase,” and so many similar abominations.

    1. I don’t think you understand. I haven’t argued that all of these words are gramatically or otherwise incorrect; I am arguing that I hate them, and then I explain why. Whether they were once correct or are now technically correct is not the point.

  7. If you’re a visual artist, Instagram is a good place to curate an ongoing exhibition of your work. But mostly it hosts the ongoing exhibitionism of unrequited narcissists.

    1. In the context you mention (an exhibition), “curate” is absolutely fine, but it seems to me that sloppy writers can use that verb in relation to almost anything at the moment. I’m almost surprised if, say, a dog’s breakfast hasn’t been “curated” these days.

      1. What you call “sloppy” is a major way in which language evolves: using analogy. Our understanding of curation in a museum can be extended to similar processes in other contexts. What’s wrong with that?

        1. On reflection, my problem with “curate(d)” isn’t the evolution (which is true, of course, especially here) or usefulness, but the lazy ubiquity. Which is probably also true of many of my other linguistic pet hates such as “going forward” etc.

          1. Yes, many neologisms provide a vibrant way to express an idea when they are first used but quickly lose that vibrancy when their use becomes widespread.

        1. I live with an artist who curates exhibitions for real, so am using the word in its pre-modern sense, but it’s a useful word for the application of personal taste to modify a series of exposures.

          1. Which is, I suppose, a post-modern, reader-as-author repurposing of the word, made necessary by technology that does allow us to do the thing suggested where we were merely passive participants before.
            How many disputed re-uses of words today are similarly related to changes in technology changing the relationship between classes (of things or people) in ways we didn’t need words for before?

            1. I’ve seen “curated” used to refer to a set of web links appearing on a page. I took it to mean they were hand-selected by experts according to some criteria. Sounded reasonable and valuable to me. It could be said that Wikipedia contains curated knowledge, though perhaps the curators are not always experts.

  8. I’m so far out of the loop, I hadn’t even heard of any of these words, much less pondered their meaning. Argot will always be with us though; the need to create it seems to be hardwired into the human brain. :/

  9. Language keeps changing according to how people choose to speak to each other, and will keep changing whether we like it or not. Try to read the King James bible as an example, verily , verily, I say. I highly dislike all four of those examples and hope I never hear anyone use them. Tea is a new one. The term tea was used in the novel and movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Is there a connection there.

    “conscious choice” is high on my list. I cringe every time I hear it.

          1. I use OG, but my name is Ernest Harben, so I am always Ernest, so to speak. But may not be speaking in earnest, as it were, and verily so.

  10. “Gift” is also used in Swedish, having two meanings: (1) married (adjective, from the verb gifta sig); (2)poison (noun). It would be interesting to trace the
    etymology of these two disparate uses.

  11. ‘Spilling the tea’ for divulging gossip seems to be quite good and similar to ‘spilling the beans’. The other related uses of tea referred to seem pretty deplorable, though.

    1. Do both “spilling the tea” and “spilling the beans” refer to listener’s shock when nearing the gossip? “Martha said what!?”, she exclaimed while spilling her tea on the coffee table. I’m guessing the spilling of the beans have a different etymology.

  12. I agree with *all* of these. They grate on my nerves, too, and something fierce at that. Ugh. Another peeve of mine is kind of a spin on the “gift” as a verb, where certain companies are using their company name as a verb in their tagline (example: “this is how you Sonic”). I mean really – what *is* that?? Ridiculous, if you ask me.

  13. From “above the [upper] fold” (is that what, in paper newspaper days, you’d call the “banner” ?) :

    « Former Scientific American editor, writing in the magazine, suggests that science may find evidence for God using telescopes and other instruments
    [SNIP] »
    Words and phrases I hate

    Yes, I can see religion-pandering by a relatively “scientific” popular magazine being a source of anger hereabouts.
    There’s a word for unintended funnies like that, but I forget it at the moment.

  14. The use of “tea” as gossip is certainly not a Gen X thing. I’d never even heard of it until this year.

    The youngest Gen X person will be 40 by the end of 2020.

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