Words and phrases I detest

November 23, 2020 • 12:30 pm

It’s that time again: time to disgorge those words and phrases that stick in your craw—elocution you detest. And I know we’re all filled with repressed rage during the pandemic, so I’ll vent a bit of it here. T

oday we have three phrases. (I may have mentioned one or two of these before, but so it goes.) As always, I take my examples from HuffPost, which strives to use argot that makes the odious site look cool. Click on the screenshots if you must read the articles.

Don’t bother to tell me that language evolves; I have a Ph.D. and know that. It’s some of the endpoints of that evolution that irk me.

1.) “Gig workers” (or “Gig economy”). Yes, I know there’s not a single word for “on-call employees” like Uber drivers or food deliverers, but the word “gig”, which originally meant a stint as a musician in a venue, sounds ugly to me, like “blog”. And somehow I can’t manage to equate an Uber ride with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie playing at Toronto’s Massey Hall.

Maybe I just dislike one-syllable words that end in g; another is “d*g”.  But here you go:


2.) “Tone deaf”.  The technical meaning of this phrase is “unable to differentiate between different musical pitches.” And that’s fine, but it’s been co-opted, mainly by the woke, to mean, “Not able to grasp the obvious and important truths I’m trying to tell you.” And it’s all over the place.

Here’s HuffPost dissing the Oscar-winning movie “Green Book” for being a “white saviour” movie. (I wouldn’t characterize it that way, and it wasn’t a perfect film, but never mind.) The fact is that if you’re not on board with what a woke person is saying, you’re simply “tone-deaf”. More often than not, it means “bigot” or “racist”.


It’s especially used to apply to the Trump family:

In fact, I hear this word used so often by the Woke that I refuse to use it myself.  It is, after all, now a bit trite, and it’s better to think of a fresh phrase.

3.) “Fierce” no longer means “scarily aggressive.”  Now, according to the Urban Dictionary, it means “the combination of a positive mental spirit, bold words and unapologetic actions used collectively”. But it doesn’t even mean just that: it can just mean “good”, or “something I like”, as applied to “California Gurls” in the Katy Perry/Snoop Dogg song, or to clothing in this article about the American Music Awards:

This doesn’t look so “fierce” to me: it’s Anthony Anderson in a smiley mask:

In fact, you can get away with using “fierce” as an adjective for anything you like, like “Man, that meal was fierce!”

126 thoughts on “Words and phrases I detest

  1. Wow – I remember those first two headlines, especially because I was truck by them – wondering “what is going on here?”

    The last one is a new level of nonsense I was unaware of.

  2. Funny, I finally saw Green Book two days ago. I absolutely loved it. It had a ton to say, all of it I thought wonderful, beautiful, and exactly the kinds of messages we need today. And I also thought to myself, “man, woke people would absolutely hate this movie.” For example, my favorite quote (from Mahershala Ali’s Dr. Donald Shirley):

    “You never win with violence. You only win when you maintain your dignity. Dignity always prevails.”

    1. I’ve come to loathe the word ‘diversity’, which is used by people in contexts where Americans of Asian descent, for example, are excluded from consideration. The word stinks of the kind of Newthink/Newspeak abuse of language that Orwell so brilliantly captured in _1984_.

      1. The word stinks of the kind of Newthink/Newspeak abuse of language that Orwell so brilliantly captured in _1984_.

        The woke would be outraged – outraged I tell you! – at being presciently described by a Dead White Man – and before he was dead or they were born. Shocking behaviour.
        A counter-arguing point of view – that prophets have always been a discriminated-against minority (particularly in their own countries) – was argued by messers Cassandra, Stake and Bonfire in their seminal work of -200 AUC.

    2. I actually think that the expression “tone deaf” often serves a very useful purpose, and I also loved Green Book.

      1. Yeah, “tone deaf” works as metaphor, even if it is grossly overused.

        I’m also good with “gig.”

        And I like Green Book, as I wrote on this site after seeing it upon its release. Criticism of it by the woke has missed the mark.

      2. Oh, I wasn’t really commenting on the phrase itself, but merely on the film and the many criticisms of it I’ve seen.

        1. “Tone deaf” is ablesist! It is using a condition as an insult. I demand that anyone who uses it apologizes and takes sensitivity training. If they don’t, I intend to stand in the middle of traffic.

      3. Yes I agree, ‘tone-deaf’ is a pretty good metaphor to describe situations where someone’s behaviour or comments indicate a lack of understanding/empathy with their audiences’ beliefs, feelings or attitudes. Its use is not necessarily confined to situations where diversity is the issue at hand but can as easily include any situation where someone has misjudged the mood of the audience.

        Of course, like any metaphor its vividness and power to express the intended idea is quickly diminished through over-use. I would also add that simply saying something that is at odds with your audience’s views is not necessarily an indication of tone-deafness. It is perfectly possible and justifiable to deliberately challenge the mind-set of the crowd: “You might not want hear this guys but…!”

      1. Then we must add -gate as a suffix for some scandal. When some years ago a UK minister had a row with police at the gate in Downing Street for not opening it for him on his bike, for some reason no one saw fit to call it gate-gate, the one time I’d have accepted it!

        1. Plebgate even has its own Wikipedia article and mentions the alternative name “Gategate” n the first sentence – never misunderestimate the ‘Pedia!

        2. If I were to disagree with you in that I were to think gategate is really nice, and if we were both celebrities, and our disagreement blew up into a world wide scandal etc., etc., …

          then we would have gategategate.

    1. A pedantiholic?! Imagine a pedantic petulent pet ant…

      Another I hate, footballers tlak if “getting a result” when they mean POSITIVE result ie a point or three

  3. One of the phrases I am starting to loath is:


    Because WordPress is putting it following ever comment. 🙂

    Oh, how I miss “subscribe”

      1. A couple of notes about this – I just went to my WordPress account and changed the settings for this site to “receive emails of comments” – we will see if that works. Second, I note that other WordPress sites such as The Sensuous Curmudgeon have the old format that is still working.

        I see that I just got an email with a new comment – I hope that the old system returns so that I can subscribe to comments for specific posts.

    1. I wish that WordPress would shoot me some bloody emails (I hate that exp’n, too) as I have to go to the website again.

  4. Here is my list.

    This one might piss some people off, here it is: the of “it speaks to” instead of “it reveals”. for example, the crumbling infrastructure does not speak to the Republicans’ negligence. The infrastructure does not speak, nor can the negligence listen.

    And this is one that I’ve mentioned before here, but people are still doing it: referring to a nation as “she”. It’s weird. Really really weird. People should stop doing that.

    And this might sound normal to Americans, but to Australian-Germans, it’s baffling: the idea that “there’s no there there”. Really, WTF????

    And this might be entirely cultural, but I’m always shocked when someone (including academics) use the word “whore” casually to describe someone involved in sex work (a neologism I think is excellent, as it avoids the lazy and horrible notion that such employment involves “selling oneself”). I find the word ugly and it sounds demeaning and like an insult. Maybe in some contexts it is simply a neutral descriptive word, but I’m always shocked. Maybe it’s my sheltered Tasmanian upbringing.
    (I remember when I was at university, I once described something as a ‘hoary old cliche’, and getting shocked looks from the woman and silly smirks from some of the men.)

    And a positive development: it seems like our species has entirely dropped the practice of typing “First!” in the comments section of a recently published blogpost. It’s been many years since I’ve seen anyone do that, and believe it will never be seen ever again on the earth.

      1. Philosophers love to ‘speak to’ things, especially in the not uncommon situation where they have nothing to say. I shall now briefly speak to the meaning of the meaning of meaning.

          1. Reminds me of the misunderstanding joke where she decided to get scarce after the boss said “I’ll have to either lay you or Jack off.”

            That one is due to J.K. Rowling in her detective series under a fake name, AFAIK.

            1. There was a breakfast tv interview several years ago in the UK where the British actor Dan Stevens was being asked about his role in the film ‘The Guest’. The interviewer, Susannah Reid started off by saying “You must have had to beat off a lot of American actors to get the part.” Stevens collapsed into a fit of giggles whilst Reid remained nonplussed about what was so funny.

    1. “Whore” is about the most derogatory term one can use in (at least American) English for a prostitute.

      Hence using it for other things as a metaphor: Someone “whoring” after something.

      Most Americans don’t know the old word “hoar”.

      1. Whore used to rhyme with hour, & I think Shakespeare used it in a ‘joke’ – two syllables, something like ‘hoo-er’… Shakespeare scholars, do correct me…

    2. “there’s no there there”

      This is a line from Gertrude Stein, American expatriate author and saloniste, which was about her home town, Oakland, California. It is debated whether she meant that Oakland was empty/vapid/insignificant, or if she was merely referring to the fact that the specific place she went to visit was no longer what it had been. In general usage, the former meaning is assumed. It is used sparingly in American English; I did not know it was unknown in Australian English.


  5. Re: “tone deaf”: it strikes me as quite synonymous with “out of touch.” “Out of touch” with WHOM or WHAT? I may not want to (be “in) touch” (with) somebody or something. I not infrequently read of someone being “irrelevant.” To WHOM or WHAT – the prevailing mass pop culture mindset?

    E.g., young males purposefully wearing the top edge of their pants at the posterior of their posteriors, revealing the orbs of their buttocks in all their gluteal glory. (I don’t see ladies doing that, but not a few do wear low waistband jeans which can be quite revealing if they much bend over. Verily, “If thy eye offend thee, pluck it out.”) But, if that’s perfectly fine, let’s make it the uniform of the day in the highest echelons of government, and bemedia fashion mavens confronted with something other than Trumpian red ties about which to bloviate.

    I’m certainly “tone deaf” and “out of touch” about, ane relieved to be “irrelevant” to, not a little of that pop culture.

    1. Maybe this is a Briticism – it is vety familiar here. However, the awakened, as I insist you call the woke, should eschew it as it is very rude yo Deaf people.

    1. “Tone Deaf” reminds me of a comment by U. S. Grant, who apparently was tone deaf. He said that he only knew two songs – one was “Yankee Doodle”, and the other wasn’t.

      1. As the limerick goes:

        There once was a foolish marine
        Whose musical sense was not keen
        He said, “It is odd,
        But I cannot tell ‘God
        Save the Weasel’ from ‘Pop Goes the Queen'”.

      1. That was a vogue phrase after the (excellent) book and the (so-so) movie, but I haven’t heard it nearly as much lately.

      1. “We now stand at the edge of a great precipice. My friends, we must not shirk the challenges ahead we must march forward together…!

    1. I really agree with that one–“going forward” seems to have completely replaced “in future” or “in the future”.

      It is now very hard to find anyone under 30 ever using the word ‘future’ (outside their papers on relativity theory!).

      It bugs me because I assume it came originally from some irritating ‘advertise-ese’ (Is that a word?) where somehow everything is happy-happy in future as long as you buy this kitchen garbage can I am trying to sell. Then of course the meaningless verbiage of the public word-vomit by politicians gleefully took it up, and now ‘everybody’ does.

      Maybe it was the opposite, 1st pols (sorry–3-letter word!) then PR men (5-letter double word!)

      I’d thought it very USian but now I notice BBC talking heads seem always to use that, never ‘in future’.

      Does ‘going backward’ mean ‘in the past’ or does it mean ‘in the inevitably shitty future’?

            1. Johnny had cashed out before Preparation H got the rights to “Ring of Fire.”

              Would’ve never happened if the Man in Black were still among the quick.

              1. “Man in Black”

                Did country boy Johnny start off as a horse-and-buggy Mennonite or something?

                Women in black too of course, and head to toe.

                A bit snarky, I shouldn’t say it, but not too long ago and during Covit but before they smartened up about masks/distance, on my bike ride noticed the tight grouping of women out in the churchyard after the 3 hours inside (of prayer and a capella) and thought of the emperor male penguins bunched together for warmth in the antarctic winter.

  6. The first time I ever heard the word “gig” it was in the sense of “fast rowing boat”. I found the Pink Floyd track “The Great Gig in the Sky” confusing for many years as a result of that.

    As for “tone deaf” I remember one woke woman tweeting that saying you are “colour blind” (in the sense of not judging people by the colour of their skin) is tone deaf because colour blindness is an actual disability. She was then obliterated by a barrage of tweets pointing out that “tone deaf” is the direct aural analogue of “colour blind”.

    1. Interesting, with Pink Floyd being Brits from the late ’60s, but ‘gig’ originating in US (I think?). But I suppose jargon among the pop-rock-jazz pros moves almost instantaneously around the globe.

  7. Lockdown!

    Also “from the get go” – what the flatulent frigging ffffff@£! is that? The weather lady on Radio 4 usef it yoday at 7.56!

    1. I’ve always suspected ‘get go’ came from USian football (the one where the contact between the foot and the ball is nearly non-existent!) You know–the old hand-off from quarterback to halfback.

      I also had thought it was pretty dumb jargon. But then a close colleague research mathematician, highly respected, by not just me, used it all the time, and he’s only 10 or 15 years younger.

      I think he did coach football and played it (an also coached a played expert curling–quite a contrast!)

  8. My problem is with any word that becomes the lazy “go to” (there’s one!) when people are writing or speaking. The Oxford English Dictionary has decided that as a result of the pandemic there are too many contenders for its annual “Word of the Year” and has chosen multiple ones – any of them would likely qualify as entries for this post, too!

    A funny story about the phrase “go to”: we had one of my youngest daughter’s friends round for a meal (sounds like life on another planet, but it was only last year). As we ate, I asked her what her favourite dish was. She replied, “Well, I have these go to dinners…”, which I misheard as “goat hoof dinners” and nearly fell off my chair!

        1. Having only ever seen the name written down, my late mother used to call hors d’oeuvres ‘horse doovers’.

          1. Similarly, my daughter thought the classic Buñuel film L’age d’Or was about a very big portal when it came up in her Film Studies class.

    1. “goat hoof dinners”

      Surely they take place on Sunday evenings at John Cleese’s famous “Church of the Incontinent Goat-Herd”.

  9. ‘Times more than’ and ‘times less than’.

    Twelve is four times three. Yet these days you will, as often as not, read or hear people saying that ‘twelve is four times more than three’.

    Even worse is the phrase ‘x is three times less than y’ (admittedly, you don’t tend to hear it about something as simple as 12 and 4). But it creeps into arguments about things like percentages. Maybe it reflects the fact that most journalists, being arts graduates, don’t really know anything about maths.

    A minor gripe: buying something in a shop (A shop? What’s that?), and the till person saying ‘Could you put your PIN in for me?’ For them? We’re the only two people in the shop. Who else am I filling it in for?

  10. Oh, where to start? In no particular order:
    ‘Reach out to’ in place of ‘contact’.

    ‘The new normal’. Is it, or is it just temporary? Things take time to become normal.

    ‘Now, more than ever’ (for anything and everything COVID-related. ‘Ever’ covers one Hell of a long time. Yes, avoiding situations where one might become infected is important, but more important than ever? I’d say it was more important during the days of the bubonic plague running rampant through Europe; more important during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919, both of which had far greater mortality rates than COVID.

    ‘Concerned about the optics’. Unless one is a publican or involved in the manufacture or use of optical equipment then the concern is with how things appear, seem, or look.

    ‘End of’. That’s just a rude attempt at killing a discussion or debate and is used when the person saying it has nothing to support their argument.

    ‘Period’. See ‘End of’.

    ‘My pronouns are..’ Oh, sod off, precious one.

  11. Alexei Sayle once defined a winker (misprint) as “someone who uses the word ‘workshop’ in any context other than light engineering”.

    1. Ironically, that line came out of a brainstorming* session during a comedy workshop…possibly.

      * I cannot stand that word, either.

      1. “Brainstorming”, in my opinion, is a perfectly acceptable word with a specific meaning. It’s even included in our quality system documentation.

  12. “Maybe I just dislike one-syllable words that end in g”

    Well, 4-letter words are great, but 3-letter words (literally this time) are the shits: ‘app’ is crap.

  13. “…tone-deaf…it’s better to think of a fresh phrase.”

    How about an old one…like, say, the word ‘stupid’?

  14. This doesn’t look so “fierce” to me: it’s Anthony Anderson in a smiley mask …

    I think that may be a LeBron James mask Anthony Anderson is sportin’.

  15. As a writer I always breathe a sigh of relief when I realize I haven’t -in *any* of my articles – used any your “bug bear” words/targets for Professor’s Target Shooting Days.

    I agree with most of your outrages in this section anyway.

    And I’m glad you have to read the horrible HuffPost so I don’t!

    D.A., NYC

  16. I very much dislike “get-go” as in “he dominated from the get-go”. What’s wrong with “start” or “beginning”?
    Also “Joining me now live in the studio…” as distinct from “dead in the studio”?

    1. Let’s get ahead of this trend (see what I did there?) and unpack the objectives and deliverables :

      “Man, that meal was ->DROPDEFDROP MIC<-!"

      Going forward, this trend should, like, usher in a new era.

      1. the formatting was activated by accident – so a big ask is, to read these examples again with proper formatting :

        “Man, that meal was drop!”

        “Man, that meal was def!” oops – too 80’s

        “Man, that meal was dropmic!”

      2. At the end of the day, it is what it is. Going forward, we all have an opportunity to be proactive by picking the low-hanging fruit. That’s a real game-changer and a roadmap to success.

      1. ^^^ oh no – my mouth – I must emphasize, this last comment is a criticism of the WordPress offerings.


        1. LOL… no worries. I feel your pain.

          I also hate-hate-hate the ubiquitous use of the term ‘triggered’ or ‘triggering’ for any little perceived/misperceived slight or criticism or disapproval. It’s fuckin’ exhausting to tiptoe around certain people.

  17. I detest when sports pundits say the phrase, “He’s good at the quarterback position.” I already know that quarterback is a position on a football team. Just say “He’s a good quarterback.” Geesh!

    1. The quarterback position sounds as though it is describing some posture that might feature in yoga, say, or even in the Kama Sutra!

      “Achieving the quarterback position requires considerable flexibility and is considered to be an advanced technique that should not be attempted by novices”.

  18. 1. This website feature needs a periodic recap or review or running list….

    2. … Because I just read the word “inspo”. I repeat “inspo”.

    “Inspo” is short for — I’m pretty sure — “inspiration”.

  19. a popular press book I recently picked up that is particularly interesting on this topic, for WEIT readers especially :

    Doing Our Own Thing : The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care
    author : John McWhorter

    … from my brief read so far, by music I think he means music *with lyrics*, as they are specifically using conventional language, with other components more as a background setting.

    The wit in the title makes me wish I had written studied languages and written the book just so I could be the author of a book with that title!

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