More words and phrases I detest

August 8, 2021 • 11:00 am

After a long dry spell, once again I’m inundated by infelicitous language.  Today I’ll show you five words or phrases that trigger me, inflicting linguistic microaggressions (i.e. violence) to my brain. And, as usual, I’ll take most of my examples from HuffPost, which is the Mother Lode of Bad Writing. (Click on screenshots if, Ceiling Cat forbid, you want to go to the articles.)  I may have used one or two of these before, but you can’t be reminded often enough about this kind of usage.

1.) “To medal” (used as an intransitive verb like “to defecate”). Meaning: to acquire a bronze, silver, or gold medal in the Olympics. The Oxford English dictionary even defines this as a proper verb, though it’s usually transitive, e.g., “George Tenet, the head of the CIA was medaled and commended by George Bush when he retired.” But it’s also intransitive, as you see every five minutes in reports on the Olympics. To wit:

I don’t give a damn if the OED says the usage is correct; this is the difference between something being legal and being wrong. And yes, the alternative is longer, “X won a gold medal”, but you see that usage even more often, and it sounds a lot better.

But wait! There’s more! Here’s a usage from the New York Times!

2.)Going forward”: This is just a “with it” phrase meaning “In the future” (it does not mean “moving on”, which simply means moving to the next topic in a discussion or article). Its purpose is to make you sound significant or important. Here’s one example from HuffPost:

The acceptable substitute is simply this: “in the future.”  I have a feeling that more than one reader will share my sentiments on this one.

3.) “A nominal flight”. This does have a technical meaning, “performing acceptably”, as we heard to no end when we watched the short Blue Horizon tourist flight. But the first time the announcers used it, I immediately thought of the usual definitions of “nominal”: either “in a small amount” or, more rarely, “in name only”. So I wondered why the flight should be less than expected until I had to look up the meaning of the word. You shouldn’t have to do that—the announcers were just showing off (it’s ok, though, for the SpaceX people communicating back and forth to the capsule to use it as a technical word).

4.) “Cash out”.  The usage to which I refer does not mean to redeem your poker chips or lottery ticket. Rather, I’ll show its meaning taken from a philosophy website, Maverick Philosopher:

Keith Burgess-Jackson writes in a recent post:

Philosophers use the term “cash” in a special way, as when they say, “This [concept] needs to be cashed out.” It’s another way of saying “analyzed.” I don’t know this, but I suspect the term derives from cash, as in money. To cash a check is to reduce it to (transform it into) money. To cash out a concept is to reduce it to (transform it into) other, more familiar, concepts.

Or, from reddit, answering the question of what the phrase means:

Explaining it. When you cash out your chips in a casino, you bring them to the cashier and get the money that the chips represent. When you cash out, for instance, an assertion, the assertion is metaphorically the chips, and you bring them to the philosopher, who presents you with the explanation of what that assertion means.

When I see a philosopher use the phrase, I immediately discount that person. I can’t help it. You lose Coyne points when you say “cash out” because a). it’s trendy, used to show off professional jargon and b). its meaning is not clear to the average person like me.  If you are tempted to use this phrase, resist, resist, resist. Why not just use “explain” or “analyze” as in the definitions above?

5.) Bad-ass or badass.  This originally was an adjective designating a person you didn’t want to mess with because the consequences could be dire or dangerous. Now, with language being devalued right and left, it simply means, “someone who does something interesting, unexpected, laudatory or unusual.” For reasons I don’t understand, it now applies almost exclusively to women.  Let’s just say that the new version of “badass” is to the old one as the woke usage of “violence” is to real violence. Some examples from HuffPost.

At least in this version they put quotes around the offending phrase:

it gets worse. Here’s a common usage: the people referred to aren’t badass at all; they’re just people you like!

This one refers not to a woman, but to an impala:

I’m sure Orwell would find “badass” to be a “problematic” word (“problematic” is another word I detest). Think of something clearer. For the first one above, you can simply leave out ‘badass’. For the second, do the same thing, unless all the women you love are gangsters. For the third, what’s wrong with “determined” or “tenacious”?

Get off of my lawn!  Of course, now it’s your turn to beef, which you can do in the comments.

71 thoughts on “More words and phrases I detest

    1. In American English, the Briticism “arse” is sometimes substituted for “ass” in an effort to achieve a sort of faux politeness — as is “shite” for “shit.”

      1. So I suppose that shite is seen (well not literally I hope, but rather ‘deduced’) to issue from asses, whereas shit from arses. But for an ass which is a donkey, seeing is believing, not deducing.

        Of course ‘issue’ these days is a noun mainly, not a verb, as in Hilbert’s famous 20 or so mathematical issues, some yet unsolved.

        For me, use of ‘issue’ is a problem; but use of ‘problem’ is not an issue.

        ‘Means’ often means ‘implies’ for those 1-syllablers, as in x**3=8 means x=2, which is the closest I’ve ever come to solving one of Hilbert’s issues.

        I just get worse and worse, don’t I?

        1. But for an ass which is a donkey, seeing is believing, not deducing.

          And let’s not get started on Marou’s rooster which is a cock. 🙂

      2. The great John McWhorter claims in Chapter 4 ( “A Kick-Ass Little Word”) of his short book Nine Nasty Words that the letter “r” is prone to be lost in British English words on their journey to America, comparing the case of “arse/ass” with that of “horse/hoss” – so this might be one case where US prissiness isn’t to blame. (But guys, “out back” instead of “behind”? Seriously?)

        McWhorter’s book also covers the “shit/shite” thing in some detail, too. I highly recommend it as an interesting (short) read on the “historical, sociological, political, and linguistic” angles of taboo words.

        1. … the letter “r” is prone to be lost in British English words on their journey to America …

          Like a boatswain’s mate washed overboard from a square-rigged schooner during a Nor’easter? 🙂

          1. Good one, Ken! Lord alone knows what happened to the letters in “boatswain” as it became “bosun” – “(half a) man overboard”?

  1. My eyes are beginning to glaze over at sight of the prefix ‘ trans ‘. Life truly is too short to become entangled in the physical, biological or linguistic connotations thereof.

  2. I agree with everyone of the examples you showed. Must be an age thing? On a good point I would like to congratulate Japan for the job they did putting on the Olympics. Most did not want them to do it and many said it would not work. But Japan did it and they made it work pretty well. Nobody died and it was done with Japanese efficiency. The logistics were huge and they got the job done.

  3. “Going forward” is particularly annoying. Most of the time, the phrase can simply be omitted with no change in meaning. For a writer facing a word limit, leaving “going forward” out can leave room for other words, such as “‘cash out.” It’s a win-win! (Oops, sorry about the “win-win,” yet another annoying neologism.)

    1. Instead of “going fo’ward”, people used to say they were making “progress”. I don’t know why “progress” became an out word, but it seems to have.

      1. Glad to see Jerry also wants to go backwards away from ‘going forward’. I always thought it had come from PR men and politicians originally, wanting to get their way with the public by being Joe Positive, Joe Lover-of-progress. And thought it came from USians, but now I see. BBC even using the damn phrase often.

    2. At the same time, is “going forward” really synonymous with “in the future” as suggested by Jerry? I’m not a native English speaker, but “going forward” feels like a continuous thing, while “in the future” can also be punctual (“the asteroid will impact the earth in the future” works, “the asteroid will impact the earth going forward” doesn’t), what other short expression could you use that has the exact same meaning as “going forward”? “into the future” perhaps, or “from now and into the future”?

      1. Here in the Land of Oz ‘going forward’ seems to be used far too often as a synonym for ‘in the future’, and I, like Jerry, find it highly annoying. Just how can we go backward?

  4. “…we watched the short SpaceX tourist flight.” – Should be Blue Horizon or Virgin Galactic, shouldn’t it? I mean they both beat out Elon Musk who wasn’t immediately interested.

  5. “To medal” (a loathsome usage whatever the meaning) is even more complicated in Scottish golf clubs. There it means to take part in a medal competition. Thus: ‘Good morning, are you medalling today?’, i.e. …are you playing in the competition for today’s medal?. Miscreants should be banned from winning a medal.

    1. I haven’t gone on a good walk spoiled for nigh onto three decades now. But I played quite a bit in my younger days and caddied as a youth and, as I recall, “medal” is term of art in golf — signifying a competition in which the winner is determined by the total number of strokes taken (hence, its alternative name “stroke play”) as opposed to “match play,” in which the competition is decided according to which golfer wins the most holes.

      1. Your progress in the matter Oscar’s walk sounds almost identical to mine, though I did go out later in life several times to get back to doing stuff with my Dad in his last few years, golfing we’d done often way back.

        On the ‘medal’ stupidity as a verb in the way Jerry quoted it, now we can have no end of wonderful new verbs, as in:
        “Those Swedish women, so many speedy and clever on the ball, medaled, but unfortunately only silvered, since the Canadians golded, whereas the USians only bronzed this time. Of course, Mr. Drumpf likes to bronze with a liquid spray rather than bronzing with a photon spray. Some would say that he was oranging (orangeing?) rather than bronzing.”

        I had to fight like hell against the damn spellchecker there!

        1. When you don’t have to “fight like hell against the damn spellchecker” we’ll really be in trouble, of course.

          1. It’s a US English vs British English thing – the former generally uses single letters where the latter uses double ones. There are exceptions (it’s English!) like benefitted/benefited where the tendency is reversed, although I’ve noticed the double ‘t’ spelling in a few British English articles recently.

  6. “Two dozen people killed in xxx tragedy”. Whenever the news reports death tolls in “dozens” I get annoyed. Eggs come in dozens, people come in exact numbers.

    1. Yes, the NY Times employs the “dozens” locution frequently, as well as “a handfull,” as “in a handfull of states,” whatever “handfull” means. Also, the protests were “mostly” peaceful.

  7. I’m pretty sure that over the course of the course of the Olympics I heard another ugly new verb for coming first, second or third in a competition: ‘to podium’.

  8. I’ve begun to hate “problematic,” an indication that its user has thought deeply about whatever the word is modifying, and is unhappy about it, though almost never offering analysis or proposing solution.

  9. “In the future” is not a universal substitute for “going forward”. The latter implies a continuous condition whereas the former does not. If I tell someone I’m going to do something in the future, it it may happen at any future time. Instead, if I say I’m going to do something going forward, I can be expected to start doing it immediately.

    1. I realize that precise language has almost become a vice rather than a virtue, but:
      ‘in the immediate future’, ‘in the near future’, ‘in the far future’, ‘in the distant future’??

      1. Those don’t work either as they lack the continuous aspect of going forward. Off the top of my head, the best substitute would be “from this day hence”, or just “henceforth”, but they sound a bit old fashioned and require a different sentence structure which may not match the author’s intentions in other ways.

        1. Continuity arises from what precedes the phrase at issue, e.g. ‘I intend to breathe more deeply in future’ or ‘I tend to eat a banana every day in future’, or (godforbid) ‘I intend to commit suicide in future’, the latter rather dramatically discrete, but redundant obviously. Maybe ‘Manu will win the Premier Division in future’ is better, though as soon as you have the future tense “will”, again it becomes redundant, as is my ‘intend’ above.

          Actually it’s when one starts the sentence with ‘In future…’ or with the stupidity ‘Going forward…’ that the avoidable redundancy doesn’t happen. And that would always be the way those politicians and PR men would phrase it, loudly for that phrase!.

          Besides, the possibilities of ‘continuously’ or ‘at every opportunity’, or ‘at least once’, etc. make the use of the inanity ‘going forward’ as being some kind of descriptive phrase rather feeble, to say the least.

          Nothing against ‘forward’ itself : ‘from this day forward’ could get away from the “old fashioned” aspect you fear in ‘from this day hence’.

  10. As far as I know, there have been no tourist flights yet conducted by SpaceX, though they plan to do them in the future. Perhaps you were thinking of the recent ones by Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin.

  11. I don’t think “cash out” means what you, or those two sources you quote, think it means. Merriam-Webster defines it as “to convert noncash assets to cash”. I think it has a more general definition derived from this one, meaning to reap whatever benefit one can get from one’s investment. This is also what it means in gambling, as far as I know. If you have made some money gambling, cashing out is to stop gambling and convert one’s chips to cash.

    1. After reading what I wrote here, I realize I didn’t explain my point properly. I know you acknowledged the casino definition and were expressing dislike for a supposed second definition, which is to explain or analyze something. I don’t see this as truly a second definition but merely a use of the first in a more general context When a philosopher makes an assertion, their investment is in the creation of that assertion, the payout (conversion to cash) is when that philosopher turns that investment into something useful.

  12. That must be the first instance ever of choosing the verb “to defecate” to illustrate intransitive verbs.

    To medal seems to be the Olympic equivalent of to show in horse racing, as in win, place, or show.

    As Paul indicated, in the future is not an ideal substitute for going forward. From now on is better.

    Badass is certainly overused, but I did think the impala was pretty badass.

    1. That must be the first instance ever of choosing the verb “to defecate” to illustrate intransitive verbs.

      Intransitive as in a dog trying to pass a peach pit? 🙂

  13. I agree with our host about the ugliness of the verb “to medal”. WEIT reader Dom recently complained to me about hearing “podium” also used as a verb in this way, shortly after which I saw the following article in The Grauniad in which the author says that the first such usage of podium dates back to a 1948 piece in a “Portland newspaper”. He doesn’t specify which of the many Portlands the rag was published in, but my money is on Portland, Oregon…!

  14. Listening to the news coverage of the wildfires raging out west, I take it that the back-formation “flammable” has all but replaced “inflammable” (for the benefit of the illiterate who think the latter denotes “flameproof”).

      1. D’oh – flammable/inflammable are different words meaning the same thing, so my reference to contronyms is misplaced. I guess I’m in ranks of the the uneducated.

    1. It’s more complicated than that. When speaking technically, say wood is not flammable but is combustible. Technically flammability is related to a flashpoint and an application. In scientific writing inflammable is all but eliminated. Of course we can still inflame a temper.

  15. I’m afraid I remain in a “kind of” and sort of” (frequently combined with “like”) obsessive rut. A few recent examples from podcasts featuring the dialogue of allegedly university-educated professionals, at least one of whom has written in the NY Times (they should be tied to a chair and made to listen to themselves, and then to listen to Hitch, Dawkins, A.C. Grayling, John McWhorter, Andrew Doyle and Douglas Murray – I gather they surely don’t write like they talk or at least some editor doesn’t let them):

    “far too kind of simplistic”

    “what his sort of theory is”

    “These sort of extraordinary supernatural claims”

    “Some of the most sort of egregiously bad bills”

    “It’s like sort of not a good idea”

    “There’s a lot of sort of confusion”

    “trying to sort of really destroy somebody”

  16. I grew up surrounded by space and aviation people, and “nominal” always meant “within acceptable tolerances”, and has been in common use with that meaning for longer than I have been alive.
    Engineering is often about such tolerances. My son and I did engineering today, and were working with nominal values. All of the objects we made were of different lengths, as we were measuring them to .001″, and differed similarly in weight. Those differences were not deliberate, but no two such things are the same if you use enough decimal places. Having a nominal range keeps you from wasting your time trying to machine off another 1/100th of an inch unnecessarily . The ones that were nominal were kept, the others were rejected and tossed. In aviation, concise language is necessary. If I am watching my gauges, and you are watching yours, you can tell me that engine temperatures are nominal, and it communicates most of what I need. Another term with almost the same meaning is go/ no go. If we were going to do a lot of what we did today, I might have made a go/no go gauge, instead of measuring each one with a micrometer.
    I expect the announcers were not showing off, but using the language in common use among the engineers there.

    I suspect the word came into use as a means to express that the measured values differed in very small amounts from the expected ones.

    1. Nominal is more specific than that: It is the target value from which the acceptable tolerances are defined.

      If you hit nominal in strict terms, you hit your target exactly (within the precision of your measuring instruments: A given reliability and confidence level).

      Anywhere else would be defined as nominal plus or minus X amount.

      The tolerance width (e.g. defined requirement of nominal ± X.XXX) defines what is acceptable, given the system overall design (assuming the engineer(s) did their analysis properly).

      1. If someone says that a reading is nominal, it obviously means that it is in-between the allowed minimum and maximum. But you seem to be saying that it means more than that — that the reading matches some ideal value (or a “design value”) which may or may not be halfway between minimum and maximum. But then that introduces the question of how close the reading needs to be to the design value to warrant being called “nominal”.

  17. The phrase I’ve hated the most for approximately a year now is “…. like no other,” especially when referencing an event in conjunction with the pandemic. Examples: an Olympics like no other, a time like no other, etc., etc. Obviously nothing is exactly like something that has come before. In addition, everyone already knows we are living in a very strange time unlike anything most of us have ever experienced so the phrase is superfluous.

  18. More of a spelling dislike. … I tend to use the older spelling when it comes the iseversus ize wars. ize being the older. But I refuse bastardize words derived from lysis with “lyze”. That is just plain horrible.

    It is just like spelling surprise with a zed!

    1. Yup, the Oxford English Dictionary traditionally preferred “-ize” endings. According to Wikipedia,

      Hart’s Rules for Compositors and Readers at the University Press, Oxford states: “In verbs such as analyse, catalyse, paralyse, -lys- is part of the Greek stem (corresponding to the element -lusis) and not a suffix like -ize. The spelling -yze is therefore etymologically incorrect, and must not be used, unless American printing style is being followed.

      Although the same article also notes that Samuel Johnson’s 1755 dictionary used “-yze” endings.,_-yze

    1. Indeed, although as the Temple of Apollo at Delphi reminds us “ΜΗΔΕΝ ΑΓΑΝ (Nothing in excess)”… A very beautiful place, I hope that the wildfires in Greece aren’t too near.

      1. Most def.🤓 Though raggedy-assed is so very versatile and no actual ass need be involved: raggedy-assed car, raggedy-assed hair, the list is endless.

  19. “Are we ready to order?” asks the waitress. Only appropriate response I can think of is “I don’t know. I’m ready to order, I don’t know if you are. And I’m kind of surprised you’re ordering with me.”

    1. I hate that “we”. My lovely young vet, whom I love, uses it about my dog and cats. I don’t have the heart to call her on it.

      1. My new doctor uses it. I called her on it right away. She’s trying not to, but it’s a habit. Sigh. Makes me feel like she thinks I’m a kindergartener.

        1. Reminds me of an old New Yorker cartoon:

          First panel–Nurse standing in doorway of hospital room: “How are we this morning?”

          Second panel–Nurse looks concerned.

          Third panel–Nurse calls down hallway: “Doctor! Come quick–I think we’re dead.”

          Speaking of medical personnel, I hate when they use words like “tummy.” I’m 61 years old, dammit. Don’t say “tummy” unless you’re talking to a toddler or a puppy.

          1. My very nice male Chinese-Canadian gynecologist, probably 60ish, who must weigh 99 lbs. dripping wet, says “bum bum.” Doesn’t bother me with him.

  20. Price point as a euphemism for a cost of something the seller presumably believes a prospective buyer will think is too pricey if just the price of it is given, e.g., something offered at an attractive price point.

  21. This ‘going forward’ has irritated me since it first cropped up a few years ago, and it shows no signs of ‘going away’.

    I second JezGrove’s recommendation of McWhorter’s Nine Nasty Words, and I also agree with #20 about the inane ‘like no other’. My son, who is old enough to know better, uses it all the time.

    As for ‘podium’ as a verb, I’ve heard that for years in the bike racing and ski racing crowds that I hang out with. But my main gripe with podiums (podia?) is people who don’t know their podiums from their lecterns. One stands on top of a podium, but behind a lectern.

  22. “Bad ass” is exactly like “world class” applied to cities. If you have to claim you are, you’re not.

  23. William James introduced to philosophy the idea of the “cash value” of an idea. It was a pithy and vivid way of expressing the pragmatic conception of truth, that the truth of an assertion lies in its practical value to some undertaking, be that science or living. It’s a conscious rejection of the Idealism that dominated much philosophy in his day. In Idealism, truth is to be found in Empyrean Ideas, so a proposed belief is True if it corresponds to Platonic Reality. For James, truth was a process, not a state.
    In this he was very much influenced by evolution–species are not fixed Ideal Types as in Plato, or defined by fixed essences as in Aristotle–they change adaptively to changing circumstances. A trait that once worked well may not in a changed environment, so a new one is needed. The old trait lost its cash value, and a new one must show that it has cash value.
    European philosophers such as Bertrand Russell hooted at the phrase as crassly American, but James never retreated from using it. I think that the current use is an extension of James’ use. A philosopher may propose an idea or concept, but unless it can be “cashed out” as having some theoretical or practical import, it lacks value. So, for example, for Daniel Dennett, the philosophical concept of “qualia” can be dropped today, because it has no “cash value” in cognitive neuroscience; qualia are part of the “user illusion” of consciousness. Similarly, concepts such as God or free will can be dropped for having no “cash value,” either.
    On points such as this, James disagreed profoundly with his fellow pragmatist C. S. Peirce. Peirce was on Dennett’s side in taking a hard-nosed scientific conception of consequences. James’ was more artistic, including feelings of hope and happiness (James was a depressive), and thus believed in things such as free will because they had cash value for him in life.

  24. Nominal in engineering (usually) means the target value. The value from which the acceptable tolerances in performance are defined.

    So nominal (usually) means you hit the the bullseye in engineering terms. “Bullseye” certainly has more panache. 🙂

    1. Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut on YouTube, coined the word “norminal”, a cross between normal and nominal. It started out as a slip of the tongue but his audience liked it so much he’s kept it and I believe one can buy t-shirts emblazoned with it.

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