Words and phrases I detest

July 15, 2021 • 12:15 pm

I’ve been looking out for infelicitous phrases for a while, and I think my previous posts in this series have nearly exhausted my curmudgeonly policing of language. So in the past two months I have just two pharses. But they’re phrases that one hears a lot.

Now before you start telling me that “languages evolves,” don’t bother, for I’m highlighting phrases that bother me.  You have such phrases. too (and eliciting them is what I intend to do), while other folks, being liberal minded, will say that it’s fine that phrases like “begs the question” can be used to mean “raises the question”. After all, languages changes. But this is not the post to point that out.

As usual, I take my examples from HuffPost, whose writers cannot write without Twitter and must lean on language that they think is trendy.

a.)  “Deep dive”.  This simply means a “close look”, or, if you want to be fancy, a “thorough analysis”. You will never hear me use this phrase, but HuffPost uses it often. Here’s but one example:

But it’s not just HuffPost! The New York Times uses it, too!

b.) “Perfect storm”.  Now if you really want to sound au courant, just use this phrase to refer to the concatenation of factors that aggravate a situation. (Don’t get me started on “aggravate”!). The words were popularized by the eponymous 2000 disaster movie in which a boat and its crew are lost in a terrible storm. (The title came from the 1997 nonfiction book that inspired the film.) And, of course, HuffPost is aboard the linguistic Andrea Gale:

Note that in the headline above, “perfect storm” is in quotation marks, which indicates, perhaps, that the author knows he’s not writing something quite right. And he isn’t: for there are not multiple concatenating factors here that worsen a situation, but just a proposed sequence of violent episodes. Still, Mr. Mathias wants to sound cool, so he uses it anyway.

But the New York Times uses it as well. Here’s just one example:

 

At least they use it to refer to a series of concatenating factors that, together, could cause a big disaster.  But a good writer doesn’t just lean on these trite phrases. Instead, as Orwell urged, try thinking up your own fresh metaphors or similes. For that is the mark of language that’s a pleasure to read.

Now you know the drill: cough up some words or phrases that annoy you. Curmudgeon time!

208 thoughts on “Words and phrases I detest

    1. Me, neither. And of course the original -gate, Watergate, actually had “gate” in its name, whereas none of the subsequent scandals have had that.

      1. Future generations will think that Watergate had something to do with water.

        Young people today say “Of course” instead of “You’re welcome:” “Thanks.” “Of course.” I work at a supermarket and hear this all day long from the teens who work here. Annoys the hell out of me.

          1. “I’m good with that” as a synonym for “I concur” or “I agree”.

            It’s popular and I wonder how many USians can use the word concur correctly?

            1. It refers to a particularly canine version of chilé con carne, doesn’t it?
              One might suggest a Korean version except they’re far from the only people to have a taste for cur-carne, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that isn’t also wrong with pig on toast. Or even, as a friend once described 3am catering, a “katbab”.

              1. A friend who moved from Coll (2 ferries and 3 islands from the mainland) to central Birmingham (city, ~2 million people) developed it to explain why she left the “fursome foursome” with friends on the island. She had real doubts about what went into the “food” sold at the “kebab” shop downstairs, particularly at “chucking out” (beer, people) time – 3am locally.

          2. Or do you mean “I’m good” as a substitute for “I’m well”? I always say, in response to how are you?, “I’m well” or very well, etc. (Assuming I am well of course.)

            1. As Jackson Browne sang, “maybe people only ask you how you’re doing because that’s easier that letting on little they care.”

              Actually, it is just ritual politeness, which is needed in human society.

              1. My dad used to answer, “Miserable, as usual.” 🙂

                One of his signature phrases. Think I’ll text it to my siblings right now for old time’s sake.

              2. Being a bit too close to one end of the spectrum, I always took the “how are you” ritual as an actual question, and gave an honest answer, which is why I’ve earned the nickname “Eeyore” from multiple coworkers at different jobs. I can recall being stunned to hear my son when he was a teenager reply to the same question with “fine, and you?”. Oh, I thought, that’s what you do.

              3. Mark Twain: “Good manners is our way of hiding how highly we think of ourselves and how little we think of others.”

                I’m sure that’s true a lot of times but not always.

                Someone once asked me, “How are you?” I replied, “Very well, thank you.” She replied, “I’m doing well, thank you.”

            2. No – as in “would like some more potatoes?” “I’m good” when no thank you is what is meant.

              1. An aquaintance, an employee of a museum, invited me to the offices of the museum. She asked, “Do you mind wearing a visitor’s ID?” I replied, “No.” She said, “Was that no you don’t mind wearing an ID or no you decline to wear one?” Her associate remarked to the effect of how could a non-employee presume to decline to wear an ID in such a situation. I replied, “Did I misunderstand the question?” Apparently there are questions to which a simple “No” is not sufficient. Apparently an answer with “window dressing” is required, e.g., “No, I do not mind wearing an ID.”

              2. “Apparently there are questions to which a simple ‘No’ is not sufficient.”

                Have you stopped beating your wife?

          1. Those are excellent. I often use the Irish “cheers” for thank you and for “your welcome”. One of our main facilities (the company I work for) is in the south of Ireland. Charming phrase, charming people.

        1. I had to struggle with that for years. Dad and I were listening to the news on the way back for a day’s work on the sluices controlling water access to a private fishing lake (which was becoming a nature reserve – hence us) – quite literal water gates – when the news bodies tried explaining the then-active investigation into the Water Gate cover up.
          It took me several years – until I was into my teens – before I rid myself of the association. The slimy animals we were encouraging in the nature reserve were much nicer than the slimy animals in politics.

    2. I recently came across “Mooregate” in the Report of the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel, but could live with it because it involved the surname (Moore) of the police officer concerned but was also a pun on the London Underground tube station “Moorgate”. When it comes to these things even a little originality or humour goes a long way.

      1. I think of different things when I think of Moorgate. I went up the wrong leg of the Northern Trousers one time and had to dredge the braincell to try to work out the quickest way out of the fetid swamp of the rush hour. Brought back uncomfortable thoughts when I recognised the name, and realised I was probably best sweating through the miasma.

          1. That was a minor component, but mostly it was thinking “I don’t recognise this station’s name, WTF am I?” then working out how to get out of the situation.
            I grew up surrounded by Londoners. You have to pay me to get me into London these decades.

  1. “… I think my previous posts in this series have nearly exhausted my curmudgeonly policing of language. “

    … I delight in the anticipation in comments in this series – the anticipation that the very comment I am writing is itself evokes precisely the disdain Orwell has described ..

    As such – and I have said this before – a series on words or phrases that are highly expressive might serve as a good antidote to Puffhostitis.

  2. I’m with you on “deep dive” – the frequency with which it turns up in consultancy reports that I proofread suggests a lack of imagination. (My problem with many of these words/phrases is usually rooted in their ubiquity rather than the words/phrases themselves.)

    On a positive note, I heard the word “pingdemic” for the first time on BBC Radio 4’s news a little while ago to describe the huge number of people who have to isolate from work or school because they have been pinged by the government app that notifies them to do so after being in contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid. It’s a nice and creative usage for now – but I could succumb to nausea if it is overused…!

      1. Between volumes one and two of Lord Of The Rings? One “Dwalin delving deep for Bawlin’ “too many?

    1. It’s a lazy cliche, as are the allied terms, “granular” and “into the weeds.” All three years were employed frequently by managers at the newspaper I worked for. (I’m fine ending sentences prepositions with.)

      1. I have a terrible time ending sentences with prepositions, but mainly just because of intense conditioning, not because there’s really any significant reason not to do it. I have similar difficulty splitting infinitives, and if I catch myself doing so, I become physically uncomfortable. It’s probably a neurological problem.

              1. Bird’s eye

                Maybe : top down

                I find them irksome yet useful when out of options in a scenario…

    2. I’m not keeping up to date with things on the Plains of Englandshire – by “government app”, do you mean the thing that was written by a private company and delivers all their data to Appooogle or Goole, as well as Amazon?
      I still haven’t had a single peep out of the Scottish app. But then again, I only turn “Location services” on on my phone when I enter another building ; turn them off when I’m heading for home.

      So, someone designs a system to work to certain criteria … then when it starts producing too many alarms, they reduce the sensitivity to reduce the number of alarms. If I did that with – say – the flammable gas sensors at work, and people died in consequence, I’d be up in front of the Sherriff for “culpable homicide” if I was really lucky – “reckless endangerment” on those injured but not killed. Plain vanilla murder most likely (because I don’t have the defence of ignorance).
      What the flying flatulence do these maniacs think they are doing? Apart from murder on an industrial scale?

      On a positive note, I heard the word “pingdemic” for the first time on BBC Radio 4’s news a little while ago

      I have vague memories of a “Pingudemic” a number of years ago when a certain animated penguin became a “craze”.

  3. I always took “deep dive” to be corporate speak; people at my work use it all the time for a thorough technical walkthrough, often while training a new employee to start working on a specific project.

    And the example misuse of “begs the question” to mean “raises the question” instead of “pleads the issue” annoys me thoroughly!

    1. Right after I saw The Perfect Storm, my ex-wife (to whom I’d given the book after I read it) asked me what I thought of the picture.

      I told her I thought it strained credulity. I mean, the rogue wave? Okay, yeah. The great white shark that almost bites Mark Wahlberg on his johnson? I’ll buy that, too. Even the mountainous wave that finally took the Andrea Gail down to Davy Jones’ locker.

      But the scene in the car outside the Crow’s Nest bar in which John C. Reilly’s ex-wife hands him back half her alimony because she knows he’s short on cash? No way THAT ever happened in real life, I told her.

      She didn’t find it as funny as I did.

      1. Awesome! (Sorry, sorry! Excellent story! 🙂 )

        I have not seen the movie The Perfect Storm. I have also not re-read the book since I originally read it. Some nf books I was thrilled with when I originally read them (mostly during my 20s and 30s) have not worn well. Though I don’t think that will be the case with TPS.

      2. I told her I thought it strained credulity. I mean, the rogue wave?

        I only saw the film once – and wasn’t terribly impressed. But “meh”.
        Having had a total of several months at sea in hurricane force and upwards winds, had to time the use of hatches (you know – door, 1/4 in thick plate steel with six big cast-iron dogs around the edge to stop it being sucked open, weighs a couple of hundred kilos) to dodge between wave wash 18m above “survival draught”; having felt the sideways slew of 100,000 tonnes of vessel when it gets hit by a 22m wave … I’ve never actually experienced a “perfect storm”. I’ve seen some prett good storms – but a perfect storm? Nope, I’m not really sure what that means.

        Although it wasn’t really our line of business at the union, we did keep a “weather eye” on reports of major shipping losses. Globally, several large, modern vessels are lost with all hands and no reports in most months. Several vessels lost to piracy too. “Rogue waves” are a real thing, and we’re slowly getting data on how often and under what circumstances they happen. Because until a couple of decades ago, vessels just didn’t survive such conditions, but now their automatic sea state reports are coming in … until they stop.
        Remember that fuss over that missing Malaysian airliner? That many people disappear every year, without the fuss. And all to get your goods to port more cheaply.

          1. When (in the USA) NOAA reports wave heights, it is “significant wave height”, which is defined as: “average height of the highest one third of all waves in a swell train or in a wave generating region”. (Waves are generally measured by the period between crests. This doesn’t work for waves breaking on a shore or shoal.)

            Because of the nature of waves and their superposition, this statistic leads to this sort of reality on the water:

            Example: Significant Wave Height = 10 ft
            1 in 10 waves will be larger than 11 ft
            1 in 100 waves will be larger than 16 ft
            1 in 1000 waves will larger than 19 ft
            There are occasional reports of “rogue” waves of an even greater ratio

            Note the “larger than”. How large? Who knows? for any specific wave event.

            https://www.weather.gov/marine/faq#15

          2. Which are also getting much more common. 30 years ago, designing, installing, maintaining and then reading such instrumentation would have been a major project ; these days you can practically buy them off the shelf, in “albatross” and “blue whale” packaging.

  4. Amen on the Deep Dive. Newsfolks also seem to have an affinity for “Break it down for you” which always strikes me as condescending. Regional carp: our local TV news anchors constantly trumpet “Live and local” since we are in the Mountain Time Zone and most of the national news shows are on a two-hour delay.

  5. I found this one today: “They live in a tony part of town.” TONY? Before I got to the fourth letter I had already begun to detest it.

    1. “Tony,” meaning fashionable or stylish, dates to the 19th Century and comes from the noun “tone,” as in being “high-toned.”

      “1877, Amer.Eng. slang, from high-toned. It was the name of a reddish-brown fashion color in the 1920s.”

        1. I can easily see the transition from high-toned to tony. Easy slang transition. We (anglophones) like to put the “ee” sound on the end of words.

    1. I heard this many (too many) years ago when an Army general talked about actual information being available only when there were ‘boots on the ground’ in Vietnam referring to troops actually in place and active.

      1. Yes, that was once it’s source and meaning. Now it’s been bastardized to more or less mean anything one has personal experience of. Which could be OK if it weren’t so over-used.

    2. Especially when combined with heartland by smarmy tv announcers who say, “Now we take you to our reporter on the ground at the latest disaster in America’s heartland.”

  6. The weasel word that is now profilerating even faster than Covid is ‘problematic’. All it usually means is ‘I am offended by this point of view’.

    Apart from that, I am getting increasingly fed up with the use of ‘role’ to describe any sort of job, post or position. Not everybody has to be playing a part in a drama!

    1. I think “role” in corporatese is intended to emphasize the interchangeability of employees. You aren’t an engineer. You are “doing the engineer role”.

      1. To quote a senior executive in my industry, “I want interchangeable bodies in identikit coveralls operating standardised equipment. I do not want employees who think they are people.”
        It’s the way of the world.

          1. “Identikit” was a system used by the 1970s UK police to turn eyewitness descriptions into an impression of the described perpetrator, with a touch less (maybe) subjectivism than a police artist. But …
            Are you familiar with “uncanny valley”? Identikit faces always look like cyborg monsters.
            (The system was as reliable as anything else relying on eyewitnesses – pretty abysmal, but maybe slightly better than nothing.)
            There’s probably a Wiki page. Nope – overwhelmed by newer USian versions.
            This page is replete with the versions we used into … probably the 1990s.

            1. Yes, I did know what identikit meant and now I understand you really did mean it in this context. I have read a book about Silicon Valley titled, I believe, Uncanny Valley.

              1. I didn’t know (when you raised the point) if it was a local trademark, a generic name, or what.
                That there is a book about “Uncanny Valley” is also news to me. I was referring to the animation … “phenomenon”? Which is probably referenced by the book.

              2. “Anna Wiener” rings a faint bell. Firstly, a rarity female in computing. Some “high-heijun” at a company like SillyGrafix, or something like that. Faint jingles. I think I’ll finish the original steampunk novel first though – I’m anticipating the “punched cards on cellulose nitrate” theme to, ehemmm, “go off”.

  7. I have come to detest “not fit for purpose” used for anything that needs some modification. When I was employed to write technical proposals for client requests, I was instructed to decline any request that included that phrase. The reason being that if we won the business and built a system exactly to their specification, their needs could have changed and so it was “not fit for purpose”. So we could build a perfect system and they could just say, “Oh, we wanted this instead”.
    Alan.

    1. The phrase came to prominence in the UK in 2006, when the then Home Secretary John Reid attacked the leadership and management systems previously in place in the Home Office as “not fit for purpose”. Since then it has become a pretty moth-eaten and tired old cliche. It deserves to be binned.

      Before becoming Home Secretary, John Reid was Defence Secretary, and before that Minister for the Armed Forces. He already had a reputation as the “Minister for the Motherwell bus queue”. I accompanied him on a visit to Budapest in 1998, and during a lunch break he overheard a group of tourists speaking English. Immediately he went over and said “Hello, I’m John Reid, how are ye?” They were Norwegian!

      A good bloke, and a very good Minister.

  8. Too bad the two phrases are overused – I don’t see them that much personally, and I have to say I quite like them – they are both picturesque pithy descriptions of common situations.

  9. Most of my word-related grievances originate from business. “Buzzwords” and “incentivise” are two that I find particularly irksome

    1. Disliking the word buzzword(s) is almost oxymoronic. 🙂

      Incentivise is clumsy-sounding but has a specific meaning. I like it much better that “incent” as a verb, which I have heard.

      1. I try to avoid “-ize” and “-ise” verbs generally (though some are common and acceptable), especially if they’re neologisms with the suffix tacked on to a noun.

        1. The noun /verb thing is best avoided as a source of annoyance. For example, the hatred of “impact as a verb” ignores the fact that the verb form predates the noun by several centuries.

          Even “problematize”, which was decried in a recent WEIT “Words and phrases I detest” discussion as an ugly modern verb neologism, dated back to Shakespeare’s contemporary (and eulogist) Ben Jonson.

          1. I’m not saying such words are wrong, Jez; I’m no prescriptivist.

            I’m merely saying they are infelicitous, and I prefer to avoid them.

      2. Incent sounds positively barbaric! There’s nothing wrong with providing, offering or giving an incentive, surely?

    2. “buzzwords” inspire the use of the “Hot Needle of Inquiry” – an SF reference with some really tempting implications.

      Someone wrote a song about a torture device?
      https://open.spotify.com/track/2PS2PkMHDGcrtQl3ZAYOvk
      Seems so. I’m almost tempted to find out what it’s like. Almost. Probably some Finnish Death Metal thing bound for Eurovision immortality.

  10. I’m going with ‘woke’. It is a term that lacks any specificity in its current usage – just a catch all for anything from progressive, to lefty, to racially themed, to polite. Be specific, say what you actually mean.

  11. Someone “Getting over their skis.”

    In truth, none of these metaphors bother me, unless they’re overused or carelessly used. I think “perfect storm” in particular is evocative and nuanced and I can’t think of a good replacement. Maybe “shit show”. 🙂

    1. “Out over their skis” is what I’ve heard. Yeah, gak.

      I hate a similar phrase: “jumping the shark.” What the heck is that supposed to mean? (I know what’s supposed to mean, but, ugh.)

      1. Jumping the shark, rather improbably, dates back to PG Wodehouse’s 1922 Right Ho, Jeeves, in which Madeline Bassett’s claim to have performed such a feat is a pivotal plot point. I didn’t believe it either, before I downloaded the free Project Gothenburg copy of the novel!

          1. D’oh again – it wasn’t Madeline Bassett but Bertie’s cousin Angela who jumped the shark:

            In a nutshell, what had occurred was this: You know how you aquaplane. A motor-boat nips on ahead, trailing a rope. You stand on a board, holding the rope, and the boat tows you along. And every now and then you lose your grip on the rope and plunge into the sea and have to swim to your board again.

            A silly process it has always seemed to me, though many find it diverting.

            Well, on the occasion referred to, Angela had just regained her board after taking a toss, when a great beastly shark came along and cannoned into it, flinging her into the salty once more. It took her quite a bit of time to get on again and make the motor-boat chap realize what was up and haul her to safety, and during that interval you can readily picture her embarrassment.

            According to Angela, the finny denizen kept snapping at her ankles virtually without cessation, so that by the time help arrived, she was feeling more like a salted almond at a public dinner than anything human. Very shaken the poor child had been, I recall, and had talked of nothing else for weeks.

  12. “Amazing,” as in, “If you’ll return my call that will be amazing.” No it won’t, idiot; it will just be pleasing, helpful, timely, maybe even great, but nothing like amazing. What, it won’t be awesome?
    Deep dive: dreadful.
    Tony: kind of pretentious despite its long history. I kind of like high-toned for comic effect, although I suppose it might smack (gee, I dislike “smack,” too) of a microaggression to somebody somewhere.

    1. Question for you: I will often use ‘super’ in the way you’ve described the use of ‘amazing’ above. Does that grate as well? I throw it on there to show extra appreciation for whatever the thing is.

      Which reminds me of feedback I got recently. When I’m on the phone with customer service, I’ll often use ‘Miss First Name’ when talking to a lady and use sir and ma’am when responding to questions. I was informed that this is not the best because you can’t assume gender by first name or voice, and you might mis-gender someone. But I can’t think of another way to show the same deference/appreciation.

      1. … I’ll often use ‘Miss First Name’ when talking to a lady …

        How do you know she’s a lady, not somebody’s wife? 🙂

        1. Now, this could just be my cultural understanding, but Miss in front of a first name does not denote marital status, while Miss in front of a last name does (indicate the lack of marriage). What say you?

          1. It’s a play on an old vaudeville routine:

            “I saw you with a lady last night.”
            “That was no lady; that was my wife.”

            Not sure if that travels across cultural lines. (“Lady” is an old-fashioned — and now considered somewhat sexist — way of referring to a refined woman.)

          2. In rural Texas, a kid had three choices for addressing adult females. Most formal was Miss for single women, or Miz (so pronounced) for married women, more familiar was Miss plus first name, and most familiar was Aunt. So Callie Pullen, wife of Frank, would have been Miz Pullen, Miss Callie, or Aunt Callie, as I called her because we were distantly related.

      2. It’s only because a boss of mine, whom I didn’t like, years ago would reply “super,” and even worse, “dooper,” that the usage bothers me.
        Customer service is challenging enough without adding gender confusion to the mix. I doubt that many phone representative would be offended if you were to dispense with the honorifics. Calm and patience win the day.

        1. Fair on both counts. You’d catch me dead before using a ‘dooper’, though. Unless I’m being sarcastic and want to convey the very strongest not-super feelings.

          The phone thing is usually with my pharmacy, and they are usually (by all available indicators) older ladies. But I may just drop the Miss.

  13. That’s a coicidence–I just turned to my husband this very morning to discuss the actual meaning of “begs the question.” When we googled it (I confess) there were two meanings which were opposites, therefore rendering the original meaning (and the new one also) kind of useless. Anyway, my favorite bugaboo these days isn’t a misuse but is merely annoying: people who say, “Well, I’ll let you go,” when they want to hang up. It’s so transparent.

  14. Permit me to defend “perfect storm” when correctly used. We don’t have any other short phrase for
    “concatenation of independent factors that worsen the situation”, which is an unwieldy eight word blob. It should also be remembered that the film of “A Perfect Storm” was nominated for a Stinker Award. The 1997 book by Sebastian Junger, on the other hand, was a good one. It is in somewhat the same vein as John Vaillant’s terrific “the Tiger” (2011), which similarly expands from local tragic events into natural science and social history.

    1. “swiss cheese” is the new metaphor. Imagine a series of slices of swiss cheese stacked together (not all from the same block of cheese). If the holes align so you can see right through from one side of the stack to the other, then a disaster will happen. If even one slice has its holes misaligned, there will be no disaster.

    2. “Cascading failure,” is a term I’ve heard regarding circumstances similar to those encountered by the Andrea Gail.

      For the want of an ice-machine evaporator, the vessel was lost — just as for the want of a nail, the kingdom was lost.

    3. Well, I have to say that “perfect storm”, cliche though it may be, is a lot more vivid and descriptive than either “swiss cheese” or “cascading failure”. Perhaps I don’t get out often enough.

    4. Interestingly “perfect storm” only works as shorthand for “concatenation of independent factors that worsen the situation” if we know the story of the film and book about the Andrea Gail. A person hearing the phrase used before the film or book were released would not have understood it to suggest a concatenation of factors. ‘Deep dive’ on the other hand – before it became stale from over-use – was an intuitively suggestive term to describe a thorough investigation of a subject.

      1. I’ve heard a lot of young people misuse “per se” of late. Also “verse” instead of “versus.”

  15. You may have mentioned this previously, but I despise articles with headlines declaring that they’re going to discuss X number of things “…you need to know”. I make it a habit NEVER to click on any links to such articles, as my way of perversely demonstrating that, how about that, I DON’T need to know these things.

    On a much less irritating level, I do get mildly perturbed when “comprise” is used when the phrase “is comprised of” is what is really meant.

  16. ‘Bald-faced’ – no such word. ‘Barefaced’ or ‘bald’ – not this tone-deaf portmanteau.

      1. I have a black friend whose sister taught high school math in “inner city” DC. One day, after she had gotten her hair cut quite short, she came into class to see “Mrs. S. is a ball-head bitch” written on the blackboard. She calmly crossed out the final “l” in ball, replaced it with a “d”, and carried on for the rest of the day. She wrote all her equations around it, despite the kids encouraging her to erase it. I have met Mrs. S. and you wouldn’t want to mess with her. She’s a (good) force to be reckoned with.

        1. “She wrote all her equations around it, despite the kids encouraging her to erase it.”

          I wonder why. Were they embarrassed/ashamed by proxy?

          Perhaps she also should have written, “Written by the apotheosis of intellectual curiosity, academic acheivement, and philanthropy.” That would have sent the culprit to the dictionary in a vain attempt at offense-mongering.

  17. “So, …” this gets used at the beginning of nearly every NYTimes “The Daily” podcast by whoever happens to be the guest reporter to the show. I first started hearing this on “This American Life,” thought it was a hip affectation then nearly 10 years ago. Now, it’s ubiquitous.

    Is it scripted, or is it unconscious?

    Whatever, it bugs me.

    1. I get the impression that it’s supposed to convey the feeling that you’re joining things “in media res”, as when someone begins a story with, “So there I was…”

      I agree, it’s annoying, particularly in what should be a serious news report.

          1. This is the problem with not having had a formal Latin education, but having picked phrases up here and there, initially often from species names and medical terms.

            1. I’m no Latin maven, either. Matter of fact, the only Latin I know I picked up:

              1) as an altar boy;
              2) attending law school; and
              3) watching Firing Line 🙂

              though I try to keep my eyes peeled for a useful phrase here and there.

            2. Lack of Latin education also accounts for the number of people who don’t know the difference between e.g. and i.e..

  18. Whatever happened to the word “fewer”? I’ve even heard college presidents on C-Span saying “less students” and “less choices than we used to have”. Grates on my nerves every time I hear the word “less” when I was taught to use “fewer”. So call me an old fart. Since my mirror agrees with you, that works well for me.

    1. I could not easily overestate how much I agree with you! This despite the fact that on QI, Jimmy Carr once quite humorously told David Mitchell that he should be “fewer bothered by these things.” “Less” is for continuously variable substances and quantities. When something is countable, or discrete, the word is “fewer”, dammit!

      1. As personnel on the U.S. Navy oiler liked to remind the rest of us, “It’s Willamette, dammit!”

    2. I try to observe that distinction, too (although it’s not always clear if the noun being modified is “countable,” as in percentages) — except in idiomatic expressions such as, “Tell me in 25 words or less.”

      1. Me too (I too – why not?!); but I would add that anyone with an ounce of feeling for the language would know exactly when to say “less” as opposed to “fewer”.

    3. Much as I share your dislike, am very definitely an old fart and a former English teacher, here is Wiki on less vs fewer.

      “The oldest use that the Oxford English Dictionary gives for less with a countable noun is a quotation from 888 by Alfred the Great:

      “Swa mid læs worda swa mid ma, swæðer we hit yereccan mayon.
      (“With less words or with more, whether we may prove it.”)

      “This is in fact an Old English partitive construction using the “quasi-substantive” adverb læs and the genitive worda (“less of words”) (cf. plenty of words and *plenty words). When the genitive plural ceased to exist, less of words became less words, and this construction has been used since then until the present.”

    4. I agree with Suzi and Robert Elessar:

      ‘Fewer’ should be used when comparing quantities which occur discretely–e.g. fewer students.

      ‘Less’ is used when comparing quantities which occur continuously–e.g. less time, less space, less energy—don’t quantum me!!

  19. Yes, language does change, and, like the ocean tide, cannot be resisted successfully, as Canute pointed out—didn’t claim he could.

    But changes leading to less precision, giving a word or phrase yet another meaning, are unarguably bad, not good.

    Like “going forward” is surely a really dumb cutesy way to say “in future”.

    But its genesis in the hands of politicians and ‘PR-men’ that pisses me off even more.

    And “multiple” in place of “many” is clearly from the make-believe quantitative ‘scientists’.

    Sorry this is all repetitious.

  20. I wish the phrase ‘going forward’ would just die out. Politicians here in OZ, as heavily spoken by Julia Gillard, use this phrase constantly and now sports people too have adopted it. Absolutely drives me up the wall. It’s not like we have choice with time to go backwards.

  21. My beef is with mispronunciations. Much more annoying when done by so-called professionals like news reporters or people who speak for a living. Examples:
    1. Street pronounced as “shtreet”. Same for “conshtruction” etc.
    2. Long A pronounced almost as a short E, e.g., “ameezing” for “amazing”, etc. This has become infuriatingly common among younger (20s and 30s) women. I don’t know who started this or why but I’ve become extremely sensitive to it and I can’t not notice it when it’s spoken.

    And I really don’t care if you tell me it’s a regional dialect; it’s just wrong. I’m not budging.

    1. And I really don’t care if you tell me it’s a regional dialect; it’s just wrong. I’m not budging.

      I do enjoy that these word threads are hills for us to plant our flags in a good natured and curmudgeonly way. That said, this one is hard for me.
      Take a colleague of mine, for example: she has lived her entire life in the same state, the majority in the same town. She often comments that I say things ‘wrong’ or ‘weird’. I’m what they call a ‘third culture kid’. I was raised overseas for more than half of my minority years in various countries. I’ve lived in quite a few different states, from Virginia, North Dakota, Louisiana, Nebraska and now the PNW. So yes, sometimes I say a word in a way that is novel to her – but it certainly isn’t wrong.

      1. “She often comments that I say things ‘wrong’ or ‘weird’.”

        NY Times writers not infrequently declare from Mount Olympus that something is “odd” or “unlikely.” I can’t help but write in the margin “HDYKT” (How Do You Know That)? As Hitch observed, they are apparently privileged access to sources of information (“ways of knowing”?) denied me. Alas, it’s a sign of the times. More and more journalists pooh-pooh “so-called objectivity,” and more and more opt for “authenticity” (sticking their quasi-histrionic and breathless opinions in reportage?) a la Nikole Hannah-Jones. I want the AUTHENTIC FACTS, thank you.

        Regarding breathlessness and histrionics, I’ve gone about a week without listening to NPR. (I got an involuntary constant drone borderline-toxic dose of that listening to MSNBC last week visiting a relative several hundred miles away.)

      2. Yazikus,I am not talking about so-called foreign accents. These are native-born Americans who have lived here their whole lives. Sorry but it is never correct to say “shtreet” for “street”.

    2. I am with you on the pronunciation irritations. One that grinds me is pronouncing “news” as “noose.” Is that an east coast elites thing? 😊 I hear it on NPR and from some of my east coast friends. They do the same thing with choose.

    3. Do regional accents outside the Deep South, Chicago, the hardcore Northeast, and Wisconsin/Minnesota (the over-fifties no doubt) even exist anymore? If so my ears can’t detect them. I wonder why I don’t find any illuminating research on what’s behind the millennial/gen-x speech that spread rapidly from the 1980s.
      I used to hear the “shh” in words like street and construction only from African-American women for some reason. Now I detect it in the speech of young Americans male/female, black/white, even Asian. What gives? Surely the Kardashian Effect can’t be that powerful.

  22. I dislike “revert back” you are either reverting or going back, to do both would be to go forward.

    1. If something can revert, did it vert in the first place? Thinking about it makes me miss the Car Talk guys who had a bit about words like that.

      Your example reminds me of “various different”. Does anyone ever say “various similar”?

  23. My contribution: “learning” or “learnings”, or the dreaded “key learnings”. Did someone skip the lesson where they introduced the word “lesson”?

    1. Oh my goodness, this. I’ve moaned so many times about this one. I’m fine with inventing new words for new things and new situations, but don’t invent an awkward word when there’s already one that does the job!

  24. Two perfectly good words with specific meanings that become annoying when overused or misused by people trying to sound smart: “utilize” and “proactive”.

    Utilizing something refers to the effectiveness or fullness with which you are using it. To utilize something doesn’t just mean you successfully used it to accomplish a goal — the word for that is “use”.

    And “being proactive” means taking preventative or anticipatory action in advance of that action becoming necessary, and is the opposite of “to react”. It’s fine when used in that meaning — i.e, “to proactively check that the cat has enough food before taking your nap”. But people more often just use it as a generic mantra, as meaningless advice, or to mean “to be prepared”. It doesn’t mean “to be prepared”.

    1. You damn well better feed your cat before attempting a nap. Mine kneads my collarbones if she’s hungry.
      I sometimes proactively fold my arms over aforementioned collarbones.

  25. A California elementary school teacher friend just mentioned the infelicitous word “expectancies”, with which she had to deal.

  26. One reason “deep dive” lets the reader know the writer has nothing but noise to convey lies with the … metaphor?… itself :

    If there is in fact a “deep” body of material to understand, the last thing to do is simply drown the reader in all the goddamn details.

    A competent writer needs to – to stay on the seafaring metaphor – float above the treacherous deep, pointing out the complexity, but guide the piece to – ahoy, mateys! – the port (the point).

  27. I’m TOTALLY with you on both of those – they grind my gears as well.
    Really – pretty much anything in the Huff Post does…..
    Which is why I don’t read it. 🙂
    D.A.
    NYC

  28. I wouldn’t mind deep dive if it actually meant a comprehensive analysis, rather than “slightly less shallow than our usual standards”.

  29. I know “I’m late to the show”, but I have a hard time accepting “graduate high school”, for “graduate from high school”. It keeps bringing up this mental image of my old high school building cut up into equal parts.

    1. The verb’s original usage was “to confer a degree”, e.g., a person was graduated from high school or “I was graduated from the University of Persephone”.

  30. I can’t see the problem with “perfect storm”. It is a bit more pithy than “a situation amplified in some way by s series of concatenating factors”. I have used it a couple of times but I had no idea it was “au courant”. In fact it seems rather passé.

  31. I get sick of the terms “terf” and “woke” which both seem to be used to mean “I don’t like something this person has said for some reason or other”

      1. I see and hear “turf” used as a synonym for “kick out.” As in a bouncer “turfing” a patron from a bar.

        TERF I’m familiar with only as an acronym for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist.

  32. I am irked by “lived experience” since I don’t know what kinds of experiences aren’t lived.

    1. I think the phase makes sense in its context – it’s an opposition to formalised empirical knowledge (i.e. the social sciences) effectively alleging that living with the particular conditions is superior to observation and theorising done by dispassionate academics. To me, it says that things like statistical models, surveys, data gathering, psychological experimentation, theorising, etc. discount what it’s like to actually experience the thing in question.

      Whether lived experience is actually superior to the science it claims priority over is another matter, but I think the phrasing makes sense when understood in terms of our intuitive epistemologies as opposed to the formalised epistemologies that are also (mostly) empirical in nature. It’s one thing to study the effects extreme poverty, but another to go hungry to the point of starvation. Both teach different things.

  33. Something that annoys me is adding “if that makes sense” to every statement, even ones that are not only blindingly obvious, but can’t actually mean anything else. I’ve heard: “I’ll be home later than normal because I’m leaving work late, if that makes sense”, “I won’t keep these trousers because they’re too tight, if that makes sense”, and “Don’t have the apples because we need them for dinner, if that makes sense”. Maybe it’s just the company I keep (no names!).

  34. This is a late addition, but I often wonder why some people use “whilst”, throwing it into their writing at random (or so it seems) when they could just say “while”. These people don’t appear to engage in any other archaism, such as, “Whilst I gave my presentation, thou wert playing upon thy iPad and sniggering most volubly! Thy manners are churlish, and thou art a knave! Were we but friends, I wouldst unfriend thee!”

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