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:
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.