Words and phrases I detest

March 31, 2020 • 12:45 pm

You’d think that during the pandemic, people might be at home brushing up on their grammar; but of course you’d think wrongly. I never seem to run out of phrases that I detest, and, in this latest installment, all of them come from HuffPost, a reliable source of bad writing by eager but unlettered and underpaid youths just out of college. (You don’t get “lettered” in college any more.)

Read and weep. (No need to tell me that you have no problem with these; the point is that I do.) And feel free to add your own peeves in the comments.

If you must see the article, click on the screenshot, though the headlines in the click-through post aren’t always the same as on these front-page teasers.

1.) “Vibe”.  I have no problem with “good vibes” or “bad vibes” or “vibes” used as an abbreviation for “vibraphone”. I do have a problem with its use this way:

Note: it’s not a “good vibe” or a “bad vibe” or any kind of “(adjective) vibe”.

Here we have the latest with-it noun meaning, I think, “a created atmosphere or emotion”, similar to the odious use of the word “mood” without any adjectives. In this case, they don’t even tell you what kind of “vibe” you’re supposed to feel when Kris Jenner fumbles when trying to use Instagram. In fact, the word is completely superfluous in the headline above; they could have said, “Kris Jenner attempts and fails to livestream Kim Kardashian.”  But then, of course, the headline wouldn’t look cool and edgy.

2.) “AF”. The first time I saw this, I didn’t realize that it means “as fuck”, for example, “I’m mad AF at Trump.”  It’s a way to use obscene words without having to write them out. And, like “vibe”, it’s lazy and annoying. Here’s one example:

Tell me, friends: what, exactly, is added to his headline by using “AF”? Why not just say “really relaxing”? Because of course (see below). You look au courant when you use those two letters—but only to morons, like those people who staff HuffPost. I see that I’ve excoriated the use of “AF” in a previous post, and that makes me angry AF at myself.

3.) “Journal” as a verb. This word, which is short for “keeping (or writing in) a journal” is part of the noxious trend in which nouns become verbs, like saying “gift” for “giving a present” or “medal” for “winning an Olympic medal.” To wit:

What’s next with this trend? “Stephen King is booking”? “It’s about time to start Christmas carding”? “I have to go to the grocery store, so I better do some listing”? The mind boggles.

4. “Because of course.” I’ve already had my Hour of Detestation with the phrase “Because X”, which is gaining in “with-it” journalism. (The example I used before, from HuffPost, of course, was the headline “Which airline to fly based on the free snacks, because free snacks.”)

The possibilities are endless for “X”. But this new variant is even more obnoxious.  In fact, when used as intended, all it says is “read what was written before.” In the following, the “because of course” means “Meghan Markle always inspires the perfect look.”  Well, for one thing she doesn’t, and for another the wording gives me a pain in my lower mesentery. Finally, on what grounds is Megan Markle even an “influencer”? People who read articles like this need a life!

92 thoughts on “Words and phrases I detest

  1. These words we like to hate must be to impress ones peers. It’s signaling that you are with it, in the know. Everyone wants to belong.

      1. I agree, completely.

        If language did not adapt to modernity, we’d still sound like Geoffrey Chaucer now.

        1. Of course, in Chaucer’s day, his defenders might say that, if he didn’t adapt the language to reflect current circumstances, they’d still be talking in caveman grunts. 🙂

    1. Sometimes verbs are “nouned”. “Impact” as a verb goes back to about 1600 and the noun to only the late 18c. Nevertheless, the verb form has been described as “an ugly verb from a noun” and as “another barbarianism”. So yes, “verbing weirds language”, but it’s always best to check before complaining!

  2. I literally LOL’d at this. Thanks for making my day. Keep this kind of content coming. I think you might be ready for stand-up! Or a Get Off My Lawn podcast?

  3. The verbing of nouns isn’t exactly a trend, of course. “Journal” and “medal” have both been in standard use as verbs for decades. And according to the OED, the use of “gift” to mean “to make a present of” (as distinct from “give”) dates to the early 1600s.

    Many people seem to hate the use of “gift” so much I guess because it sounds precious somehow. Nonetheless, its useful function as a verb has been established for hundreds of years.

    In THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT (1994), Steven Pinker points out that up to a fifth of English verbs are derived from nouns–including such ancient verbs as rain, fog, snow, and thunder, along with more recent verbs like oil, divorce, pressure, referee, bottle, debut, audition, highlight, diagnose, critique, email, showcase, and mastermind.

    “In fact,” he writes, “easy conversion of nouns to verbs has been part of English grammar for centuries; it is one of the processes that make English English.”

    1. Same with me. Reading that headline, my brain even tried to figure out for a second how optimised file systems could improve mental health. &:)

  4. I kind of like “AF”. It makes me laugh every time I see it. Yes I know it’s supposed to show that the user is cool or “with it”, but for some reason it tickles my fancy. It made me happy AF to see Jerry dissing it.

    1. Re: “AF”: Another is “WTF.” I first heard this in the navy years ago. My particular beef about this is that I occasionally hear 5th grade (male) students say, “What the . . . .” They never say the third word. It may be that they don’t know the third word. A couple of times I’ve asked where they have heard it. A couple of times I’ve replied “What the ‘What’?”

    2. One of the reasons people use “AF” (and “WTF”) is that, on comment pages like this one, spelling things out could get one’s comment deleted, or even get the commenter placed in perpetual moderation or even banishment. In cases like that, they serve a purpose, but they don’t belong in headlines, even on the internet.

      There’s also an unfortunate tendence for commenters to make up these abbreviations on the fly despite the fact that they are meaningless to others. My reaction to that is “WTF! Another IIII (Inane, Idiosyncratic Internet Initialism)!”

    1. Judging from the argot I’d hear among my sons and their friends when they were teenagers, “to book” (in the sense of leaving) has largely been replaced by “to dip.”

      Of course, that usage may have faded in the ensuing years.

  5. “Because of course”

    This often appears in tweets commenting on instances of Trump’s bad behavior. The point of the phrase is as a shorthand for saying that the particular behavior is consistent with his behavior in general whose justification goes without saying. Here’s a paraphrased example:

    “Trump has just stepped up building of his border wall in order to stop Mexicans bringing in COVID-19. Because of course …”

  6. There’s a current commercial for a nootropic supplement called Neuriva which is supposed to enhance one’s brain functions. The voiceover begins with an exhortation to the potential buyer to “brain better with Neuriva”.

    I find this even more annoying than the old FedEx/Kinko’s ad that urged people to use “the better way to office” (that was a long time ago, because FedEx dropped the “Kinko’s” in 2008).

    The Neuriva commercial, though, uses that verbal abomination in the first few seconds, so even if my first impulse is to reach for the mute button, it’s always too late. Furthermore, the web site for the manufacturer, Schiff Pharmaceuticals, does not include a contact link. This isn’t surprising, since a simple search brings up links to reports that nootropic supplements are ineffective, and Neuriva particularly so.

    My degree is in linguistics, so I am well aware of how productive the process of adopting nouns as verbs is (and there are languages which do it routinely), but there are still some words that should make that transition. “Brain” and “office” are two of them.

    1. I left a word out of my closeing statement.

      “…but there are still some words that should make that transition.”

      should have been

      “…but there are still some words that should never make that transition.

  7. Of all time. As in “the 100 greatest horror movies of all time.”

    Didn’t know there were movies back in the olden Big Bang days.

    1. Now I’m waiting for The Big Bang Theory: The Movie. But yes, “ever” beats “of all time” not least in terms of brevity.

  8. I think “because of course” aims for (but seldom achieves) the vibe of Ms. Mandy Rice-Davies’s famous rejoinder during her cross-examination at the trial stemming from the Profumo affair, when queried concerning Lord Astor’s denial that he had ever met her: “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”

    And, if I may make bold to invoke the Law of Prescriptivist Retaliation :), I’m not 100% on the wording of your own post-semicolonic clause “but of course you’d think wrongly.” (emphasis added)

    I’m not saying the use of “wrongly” is wrong per se, but I think the error you’re highlighting concerns the second-person reader’s conditional conclusion regarding how people are using their pandemic-induced downtime, rather than any error in the reader’s thinking process itself. Accordingly, it might’ve been more accurate (or at least more felicitous) to recast the clause with a predicate adjective rather than an adverb: “but of course you’d be wrong.”

  9. “Meghan Markle inspired the perfect stay-at-home look…”

    Pardon? She’s wearing a shirt. How prescient, how au courant! Why has no one thought of this until now?

  10. This “vibe” usage to which you object (as do I) is also the subject of a truly horrible song, much of which consists of repeating the lyrics, “It’s a vibe,” “that’s a vibe, yeah,” and the remainder of which includes crude sexual references, next to which the “AF” construction seems as subtle as as the sound of a falling rose petal.

  11. Give me back the old “OK” web-page buttons, which I would happily click without wasting pixels reading acres of legal mumbo-jumbo. Clicking a “Got It!” button now, without reading the guff, makes me feel I have told a little lie to the Great God Google. But worse than that, “Got It!” seems to also be an attempt to sprinkle me with hipster-grooviness powder, and I that vibe doesn’t resonate.

    | |
    | Grok It! |
    | |

    1. “Grok It!” — that one was lifted from Mr. R. Heinlein.

      Is Stranger in a Strange Land still being read much?

      1. I remember enjoying “Stranger In A Strange Land” long, long ago. I could read it again, but I might disappoint and disabuse myself of its import.

        James A. Michener and Heinlein regressed in their later years to the point where I think they thought they were struggling authors again, and ought be paid by the word.

        As Salieri might have said: “Too many words.”

        But I would add Michener’s “The Source” to the (bucket) list of books to read during our confinement

        1. In Heinlein’s case, in the late 1970s he was suffering from a transient ischemia, which caused symptoms which mimicked dementia. This affected the quality of his work, but he recovered after surgery to correct a blocked carotid artery. Once he regained his faculties, he became more like his old self. He is said to have read part of something he wrote while he was ill and reacted with, “Who wrote this shit?”

  12. “Because of course” is one of a series of modern usages which annoy me, and includes “because why not?” and “because reasons.” It seems to represent an idiom which desires not to have to explain itself to a cohort for whom no explanation should be necessary.

  13. AF, WTF, and every other concoction using the word fuck is a wonderment to me. It can express a range of emotive feelings and some at polar opposites… fucking good time, fuck it was terrible… what is it, fuck knows, I’m laughing my head off just trying to make sense of it.. the naughty word guilt? needless to say, contrary to the subject of the post, I like it, It does seem like a universal word for exclaiming or emphasis of a good, bad event, something desirable or not. It can be shoved anywhere you like which makes it universal in the extreme. …and if some think I’m being juvenile, fuck it I’m too old to care.

    1. It’s a great and versatile word. But like any profanity, it loses its punch if relied upon too often.

      The goal is to find the fuckin’ sweet spot. 🙂

        1. In the great HBO drama The Wire, there is this virtuoso scene in which Detectives BcNulty and Bunk solve a cold-case by reexamining the crime scene wherein the only dialogue involves some variation of the word “fuck”:

      1. “Usage Of The Word Fuck”

        Here is a succinct summation of the varied grammatical uses of the word — including as an instransitive word!

    2. David Peel was a New York street musician who became a protege of John Lennon. With his band The Lower East Side, his 1972 album The Pope Smokes Dope, one of the tracks was titled F Is Not A Dirty Word which wasn’t a song, but a four-miniute lecture on the origins and varied uses of the F-word.

      The album is now a sought-after collector’s item and rather expensive ($195 on vinyl and $56 on CD at Amazon).

      1. A British sportsman was once asked about an injury he had. His reply: “The fuckin’ fucker’s fuckin’ fucked.”

    3. “Fuck” is the finest word in the English language.

      I love it so much, at least as much as I hate the word “moisten”.

  14. Can we talk about people who use ”like” a dozen times in each sentence? It’s a kind of “pause,” I guess and it’s irritating AF! (Undoubtedly the first and last time I’ve used that abbreviation.)

    1. Re: “like”: at this moment I am again hearing (as I’ve heard numerous times) on NPR the phrase, “Places (or states) like . . . .”

      Reporters/Hosts never say exactly what these places are “like.”

        1. Maybe they’re aiming for some misbegotten Yank version of the Beeb’s “received pronunciation.”

  15. My iPhone “autocorrects” “af” to “as fuck.” So, if I’m typing in “afternoon,” and stop after “af,” well, the effect is not necessarily what I had intended.

    1. Yes, “autocorrect” is very often a misnomer. I just got a new tablet and the autocorrect hasn’t yet assimilated to my use of English – its suggestions are frequently mind boggling and I’m in perpetual fear of not noticing before I press send.

  16. Supposedly from a sarge in the US Army:

    He would stomp “UNA” over such things as “AF”.

    When challenged as to its meaning,
    he said it was for:
    “Use No Acronyms”!

    It tickles my like of recursion, as in GNU.

  17. When movie people talk about chess but it’s obvious they have no clue what the hell. Like, “Oh very impressive you played the Fischer Spassky 1972.” First of all the odds of that are slim and second of all the other guy has to let you play the moves you play. (Not talking openings here. But still the other guy has to go along with you and let you play your openings too.)

    1. It’s like when they try to do computery things. They get everything weird and wrong. Everyone in the universe knows everything about computers except for the people that write movies and TV shows for some reason.

      1. Most movie & TV people also haven’t caught on to the fact that cars have been equipped with shatterproof glass for the last fifty years.

  18. I’ve noticed the phrase “abundance of caution” beginning to be used a lot now. I predict we’ll be seeing it a lot more in the next several months.

    1. So look for an abundance of “abundance of caution”?

      And in so doing, please exercise an … oh, well, you know. 🙂

  19. Do you have the evil ‘innit’ in the USA? A contraction of ‘isn’t it’ the word, if it can be graced with the name, is widespread in London and beyond. Mostly used by the poorly educated it’s thrown in at the end of every other statement and seems to have replaced the gratuitous ‘yer know’.

      1. The American can-do approach is to plow forward and ask for forgiveness afterward, rather than to seek approval in advance — except that we Yanks seem to be foregoing the “ask for forgiveness” part of late, too.

        1. ‘ . . . except that we Yanks seem to be foregoing the “ask for forgiveness later” part of late, too.’

          My “lived experience,” as they say, is such that I’m greatly predisposed to have my guard up dealing with anyone who employs that locution, especially when said in conjunction with “I just let ‘er rip!”, as if that is always an admirable trait.

  20. Jerry, you make me laugh! Needed a laugh today! But I’m with you all the way on this stupid misuse of the language.

  21. Add to my previous comment about “brain better with Neuriva” and “the better way to office” the abominable line from a commercial for a chemical company, “At Bayer, this is why we science”.

  22. Take a different view… Richard Dawkins proposed the idea of ‘Memes’ – which didn’t really catch on beyond a thought experiment.

    And yet here we are mulling over the use and misuse of language wondering why verbal flourishes catch on. Perhaps that nice Professor Dawkins was onto something, it just needed some refinement. Which would make me as happy as… Larry.

    1. Take a different view… Richard Dawkins proposed the idea of ‘Memes’ – which didn’t really catch on beyond a thought experiment.

      That impression may vary strongly with your social environment and media consuption. I’m very much used to the term and I see it used quite often and widespread. Its inclusion in Wikipedia and Merriam Webster also speaks for a certain prevalence in today’s parlance.



      1. Not sure the “meme” concept is used in precisely the manner Dawkins originally intended, but the term itself, with a more generalized vernacular meaning, certainly seems to have caught on widely.

        1. It bugs me that the original meaning of “meme” has been overtaken by online images with words, which is simply one way of many to transmit true memes. When that started happening, I railed against it but it was hopeless.

    1. I take that to mean that people (especially Yanks) are pronouncing “day and age” as “day’n’age.” But maybe I’m giving people too much the benefit of the doubt. Lord knows, most haven’t earned it. 🙂

  23. Not really relevant (at all actually) but ex-surgeon Adam Kay in his diary “This is going to hurt” recounts an elderly patient, given a standard dementia test to spell ‘world’ backwards, asking: “The planet or the past participle of ‘whirl’?”

    ‘Innit’ btw is a useful substitute for the rather pompous ‘indeed’, an acknowledgment that there are commonplaces which are true however hackneyed.

  24. My pet hate is the exorbitant overuse of “different”. Every time you see it, think: what would be lost if that word were deleted in that context. Nine times out of 10 the answer would be “nothing”. It’s tautologous, as in “There are many different ways of saying what I just said.” Really? “Different” as opposed to… what, exactly?

  25. “Moving forward, veterinarians conducting post-mortem investigations will be required to collect and send samples to national laboratories.”

    This from NYTimes now, science section, about worries of covid killing tigers in India.

    Tell me author, what is it that is “moving”?

    And which direction is “forward”?

    I’ve said it before, but it just curls my toenails.

    Goddamit author, say: ‘In future’, if that’s what you are bloody well trying to say!!

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