Words and phrases I abhor

February 13, 2022 • 2:15 pm

UPDATE: Reader Merilee thought that this collection of grammatical malapropisms might be appropriate for this column:


This is the special Pandemic Edition of WaPIA, as everyone is grouchy and surely we’ll have lots of people who want to share the language that twists their knickers.  I have six—count them, six—bits of argot that irritate me.

Here we go:

1.) “different to” rather than “different from”. Yes, Americans use the latter phrase and other Anglophones the former. But the latter sounds better to me. Perhaps it’s because I was brought up speaking American English, but the notion of something being “different to” something just sounds wrong. “To” sounds like two things are converging; “from” as if two things are diverging. Thus it’s better to use “different from”, emphasizing divergence, than “different to.” The last phrase will always grate on my ears.

 2.) “Nominal” meaning “normal”  This pretentious term should just go away. It has two meanings: one for the whole Anglophonic world, meaning “modest”, as in “nominal returns”, and the other for NASA geeks, who use it to mean “normal”: as in “performance is nominal”. Do space people think they’re so special that they need their own words? Why can’t they say “normal” or “as expected”? This is, of course, the group that also coined “copacetic”, which pretty much means the same thing.

3.) “Any more” versus “anymore”. Let’s get this straight: “any more” refers to quantity and “anymore” to time. You can say “I don’t want any more tequila; I’m already drunk.” And you can say, “You’re no fun anymore, you don’t drink.” “Anymore” as one word means “any longer”.  When you should not use “anymore” is as a synonym for “now”, as in “They don’t serve tequila here anymore.” That’s just heinous!

4.) “Medaled” as a verb in the Olympics. Every two years this comes up, and every two years it’s wrong. “Medal” is a noun; it is not a verb meaning “to get a medal”. Here’s a wrong usage: the video “10 most medalled male athletes at the Summer Olympic Games“.

Now some of you Pecksniffs are going to root around in a dictionary and find that what I see as wrong usages are actually valid. Maybe some wrongheaded dictionary tells you that “medal” can be a verb. You know what? I don’t care!  These phrases irritate me, even if some lexicographer thinks they’re fine.

5) “Funeralized”.  Now this is a new one on me, and I didn’t even try to look it up. It apparently means, “was the object of a funeral service”. When I was preparing tomorrow’s Hili dialogue, I noticed that Gregory Hines, the dancer, died quite young. Going to his Wikipedia page to find out why (yes, we elders do that), I read this (my emphasis):

Hines died of liver cancer on August 9, 2003 en route to the hospital from his home in Los Angeles. He was diagnosed with the disease more than one year earlier, but informed only his closest friends. At the time of his death, production of the television show Little Bill was ending, and he was engaged to female bodybuilder Negrita Jayde, who was based in Toronto.

He was funeralized at St. Monica Catholic Church in Santa Monica, California and buried at St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Catholic Cemetery in Oakville, Ontario.

Is that a word in anybody’s dictionary? And even if it is, it shouldn’t be in there.

6). “Deep dive”, meaning “intensive scrutiny”.  This is the latest phrase used by the media to show how hip they are, and I blame the media for popularizing it. It’s one of those phrases that shows you’re resorting to trite and widespread phrases instead of trying to think of a fresh way to say something. Here’s a typical example from HuffPost, the doyen of “we’re-the-cool-kids” journalism:

You know, even the term “close look” would be better.


Your turn! What phrases curl the soles of your shoes or burn your onions?

296 thoughts on “Words and phrases I abhor

  1. “Nominal” still sounds very cool to me. I’m 100% for it. And being non-native, I tend to use “different than” – is this a terrible error? I use it all the time, so it can’t be a mistake by virtue of not being used accidentially. But still horribly wrong. Oh well.

        1. Jerry’s right.
          The way I learned to remember is to think, A differs from B. No other construction makes sense here. OK, if A and B are people, they can differ with each other on some topic of discussion but that’s another sense of differing. For things, A can differ only from B. It can’t differ to B, it can’t differ than B. For things to differ is simply that they are different.. So since A can differ only from B, A can be different only from B.

          Besides, “than” is used only in ranked comparisons. There has to be a “more”, “less”, “uglier”, :tastier”, etc., somewhere ahead of the “than”.

          English-speaking countries or people who say anything else are just wrong. It’s a mutant gene that doesn’t experience enough local selection pressure to be extirpated and will lead to cats living with d*gs if allowed to propagate.

        2. Do people say ‘She is nicer from me”, or ‘She is nicer to me” or ‘She is nicer than me”? The first answer is never; the second means something different. This is not decided by abstract theorizing! But it ain’t so serious, just amusing, isn’t it?

      1. I prefer “different than.” I’m not sure I’ve ever even heard “different from.”

        I also find “reason why” annoying. I prefer “reason that.”

    1. “Nominal” in the space program implied that the situation was not just “normal” but working according to expectations and making everyone optimistic for success. It had a definite positive spin, better than merely normal, since sudden failures (snafus) and long “holds” in the countdown were the norm. All components of a complex system working as hoped lies quite far out to the right on the normal distribution assuming randomness, which of course it wasn’t. I remember David Brinkley explaining wryly to Chet Huntley (the NBC news anchors who covered the space program) that when a NASA engineer’s wife asked him if his breakfast eggs were OK, he would reply that they were “nominal”.

      Like so much jargon, it neither aged nor traveled well.

      Except: a Canadian expat working in New York City found herself hearing, and soon saying, “a nominal egg” a lot, in reference to the prices of things. She thought it was some local expression she should become au fait with to fit in. Until one day, someone asked her, “Why are you making fun of our accent?” The expression she was mishearing was, of course, “an arm and a leg.”

      1. “Nominal, in this technical context, does not mean “normal.” It means as planned, as named, or as written (in the mission plan). Often, it means “within acceptable or expected boundaries.””

        “Nominal” is so routinely used so to constitute a de facto precise term rather than jargon, I think. It is also a well placed term for orbital mission descriptions, since they have “anomaly”:

        “v: True anomaly is the geocentric angle between perigee direction and satellite direction. The sum of the True Anomaly and the Argument of Perigee defines the “Argument of Latitude”. Notice that for a circular orbit (e = 0) the Argument of Perigee and the True Anomaly are undefined. The satellite position, however, can be specified by the Argument of Latitude.”

        In other words having a small anomaly is often a nominal orbit, which has a certain elegance to it.

        And I wouldn’t presume to tell another area what their terminology should be, unless it is problematic (such as easily confused with other areas’ terminology).

      1. Expresso -yup😹 That crazy compendium was on FB and I had to send a screenshot to Jerry.
        I liked the doggie dog one🐾🐾

  2. People, especially in the media, use less for fewer. “Less” people in the stands, not fewer. My understanding is that fewer refers to numbers and less refers to quantity.

          1. The definition makes it sound discrete but in Twain’s examples (and in other old usages. for old people I know from New Orleans, and most Google n-gram) it is non-countable. That is one of my pet peeves but I am not sure if I am correct.

  3. Many Americans use “different than” rather than “different from.” The latter is the only logical form, however, because it also has a verb form: “differ from.” “Different to” makes no sense to me.

        1. Sure, and it is right. Because to be “indifferent to” is a state of mind that has no cognate as to be “different to”. You could be indifferent to a choice between anchovies and oysters on the joint pizza order because you like (or loathe) them equally, on pizza at least. But anchovies would still be different from oysters in ways that you, as the person who is indifferent to the choice, would certainly agree.

          Maybe we once were “different to” choices. If I would much prefer oysters back in Shakespeare’s day, I might state that I was different to the choice and insist on oysters. I would (beg to) differ with the oaf who was demanding anchovies and would draw my rapier to show just how strongly different to the choice I was.

          Mark Forsyth in The Etymologicon discusses these fossilized words where only the derivatives survive but the roots have vanished. Disgruntled we are but never gruntled. Feckless we are, but what is feck?

        1. Not ‘not interested in’ but ‘not having an interest in’. I’d expect a judge to be interested in the outcome of a trial but not to have an interest in it i.e. interested but disinterested

  4. Being an Irish speaker of English, ‘different to’ sounds natural to me, but I suppose it’s a matter of what you’re used to. I’m not sure about your argument against the use of ‘anymore’. The usage in the tequila example means more than just ‘now’; it means they used to serve tequila, but no longer do. Is the fact that they used to serve it implicit in ‘now’?

    The horror that is ‘funeralized’ is new to me, and I hope to never see it used again!

    1. In these sad times, illnessization often results in hospitalization, which can unfortunately lead to funeralization with burialization.

      (with bow to Ken K. in #23–and at least my spellchecker objected to 3 of 4, so maybe ‘funeralization’ can murdered quickly and silently before serious infection of the language occurs.) I have noticed that the words ‘die’, ‘killed’ and related are almost considered criminal in obituaries, with undertakers populating my list of uglies along with the usual salesmen, grifters, some lawyers, university administrators, etc.

      (The virus is no joke, but sometimes an attempt at black humour is the only response one can muster.)

  5. I’ve developed a tick related to fewer and less. It seems to me that less is used more and more often to mean fewer. When I hear it used incorrectly, I’ve started saying “fewer” out loud.

    1. This is also one of the misuses that I find painful, as well. Fewer applies to countable quantities. “There were fewer people at the concert this year”. Less applies to the continuous: ‘There was less milk in the glass than there was yesterday”. Note that the verb used also differs. “There were less people at the concert this year” not only sounds a bit wrong in and of itself (though “there was less people”… is much worse, and painfully common usage) it also implies partial persons.

      As for nominal, the usage is in line with “the measured value matches the value as named”. I don’t have to like the overuse in rocketry/space travel, but it isn’t out of line with longstanding usage in many engineering fields.

    2. I understand and use those words as you do. However, we have lost that one. The definition of less as synonymous with fewer is in the dictionary. It bumps against my ear, but it is here to stay.

      1. Yes I think “fewer” is moribund, unfortunately. Curious that no distinction similar to less/fewer is made with “more”. “Less water” and “fewer people but “more water” and “more people”. This probably hasn’t helped “fewer”. I wonder whether there used to be a “fewer” equivalent to “more”, but it disappeared from the language, now to be followed by “fewer”.

        Related: using “amount” instead of “number”. Hearing the “amount” of people rather than the “number” of people makes my skin crawl. But I’m hearing it more and more.

      2. Less = fewer? Say it ain’t so! That’s just illiterate. I suppose if you add unnecessary syllables somewhere (as with “orientate”) you have to cut them somewhere else. But are syllables with sounded w’s that hard to say that we cast them out? Pronounce it “f-yer” if you must. Zero sum. Sigh.

        1. What? And go against advertising’s “LESS CALORIES.”
          “Fewer” just doesn’t do well, up against “less.”

    3. The fewer and less things is one of those examples where the pecksniffery referred to by Jerry applies. Using “less” where you mean “fewer” dates back to at least the 16th century according to the dictionary. In my opinion that just means people have been wrong for 400 years.

      1. +1

        Fewer and more if you can count them
        Less and more if you can’t count it.

        I drank 3 fewer pints of beer than Bob did.
        I drank less beer than Bob did. 🙁

    1. The despicable verb Medaled isn’t one the British team is likely to be troubled by at the Winter Olympics. Although it would be “medalled” with an extra “l” in the unlikely event that I’m being overly pessimistic. (Of course, US English occasionally uses double letters where we Brits use only one just to keep us on our toes – e.g benefit(t)ed.)

  6. One that I do not like is positivity. They use this all the time in reporting the positive rate on covid testing.

    1. Would ‘positiveness’ be ok?
      With my daughter, we used to have lots of fun with ‘..ness’ versus ‘..ity’, playing verbal tennis. For example, ‘he is a local busiity leader so should be important in this localness’—or behold the Lochity Monster’, that one really being a non-example, what with the Scots’ word for fjord or lake—I guess I’m confusing a ness with a firth.
      But maybe it’s the converting of an adjective into a noun that annoys you.

  7. .. and the other for NASA geeks, who use it to mean “normal”: as in “performance is nominal”. .

    The NASA-geek usage is not so much “normal” but “as nominated”, or “as we specified that it should be”. There’s a difference between “normal” and “as nominated”, as illustrated by the acronymn “Snafu”.

    1. Yes. And it isn’t like NASA or NASA geeks invented “nominal,” either. It’s a word long used in engineering to indicate a specified dimension or property, which is never exactly achieved in practice.

      1. It is common in hazardous waste disposal, for example, to refer to chemical drums as being ‘nominally empty’. The drum is empty for practical purposes as far as the user is concerned but from a disposal and safe handling perspective it may nevertheless still contain a residual amount of the original contents.

      2. Bullseye! It is the named specification about which the tolerances are permitted. In no way is it normally met. (And, in any case, it is only ever met within the precision and accuracy of your measurement instrument.)

  8. Because I try not take issue with how people use language, I’ll take this as an opportunity to ask a relevant question. I tend to use ‘quote’ and ‘invite’ as verbs, and ‘quotation’ and ‘invitation’ as nouns. But I see ‘quote’ and ‘invite’ being used in both modes. Is that new (last couple of decades)? Or was it the case well before that?

    1. It must be a few decades old because my high school teachers (early 1980s) used to correct students who used ‘quote’ as a noun. Having moved to Australia from Canada a few years ago, I notice that there seems to be more of that here – “a supper invite”, “insurance cover” (where I would say ‘coverage’).

    2. The Oxford English Dictionary records the first use of “quote” as a noun meaning “A quoted passage or remark” as 1885, and as a transitive verb meaning “to reproduce or repeat a passage… or statement” in 1548. “Invite” was first used as a noun meaning “an invitation” in 1659 and as a transitive verb meaning “to ask a person” in 1553.

    3. That’s the ‘nounification’ of verbs, as opposed to the ‘verbification’ of nouns mentioned elsewhere. Both can be annoying.

      I better stop before getting way over the limit. Anyway my spellchecker keeps messing everything up.

    4. I’m generally in favour of shortening words where the meaning is not impaired, especially in high-density transmission of information, as occurs in operating rooms, medical hand-offs to the doctor on call for the night, and aircraft cockpits. But after work I think we should then relax and use “quotation” and “invitation” as you do. It makes speech more graceful. A dinner invitation is different from a supper invite. I’d put on a clean shirt and comb my hair for the former.

  9. Speaking of “different”: the redundant use of that word, as in “There are many different ways of getting to the beach.”

    And if I may be allowed a bonbon: “comprised of”. Grrr…

  10. Jerry, Jerry, Jerry… you are forgetting “different THAN”! (Which, you’d have to admit, is pretty good if you are after a preposition that expresses the comparison and distance inherent in ‘difference’.) It’s worth doing a google n-gram on all three of them: “different to” peaked before 1920, so your preference for “different from” confirms that you are, indeed, a speaker of modern English. Congratulations!

      1. ” quotation” unless you think having fewer and shorter words is good for a language, and sometimes it is, like in New Guinea where there is some much linguistic diversity that a simplified way of communicating is needed.

  11. I understand “different from” to be correct usage in both UK and USA English; the obnoxious equivalent to the UK’s “different to” is the USA’s “different than”.

    My onion-burners? There are many. The phrase “reach out to” that has replaced “call”, “write to” and even the coldly impersonal “contact”. The inversion of “may” and “might” (sadly prevalent amongst the New Zealand judiciary). “Ongoing” that may mean “continuing”, “current”–or nothing whatsoever.

    1. Yes yes yes to “reach out to”. Perhaps I’m mistaken but I thought that this expression used to have a useful nuance in that the parties involved had some figurative barrier between them (ill will, isolation) but one of them reached out to the other (and over the barrier). Now it just means to try to contact someone. It’s ubiquitous (at least here in Canada) and very annoying.

    2. I’m going to be contrarian and claim that “reach out to” is a useful phrase, because it’s not exactly synonymous with “contact.” To me, “contact” means “I have succeeded in reaching the other person,” and “reach out to” means “I have tried contacting them and they may or may not have responded” – a useful distinction.

      It’s like calling someone and getting their recorded voice message: “You have reached Joe Blow at Flying Coffeepots Ltd…” and I go, “No, I haven’t reached Joe Blow, I’ve just reached his voicemail!”

  12. “Lay” for “lie” as in “lie down”. and “like” in place of “as” and “as if”. Which means I’m in a constant state of apoplexy, and, unless I cut myself off from all human contact, will be until I go deaf or die.

    1. I think that “lay” is, unfortunately, a lost cause, though it drives me nuts. One of the worst things I’ve heard is “He lied down.”😬

      1. Not a lost cause as long as Faulkner’s narrator “lay dying.”

        The like/as distinction is a lost cause, I think. I still endeavor to observe it, but I don’t get worked up, as I used to, when I reread something I’ve written in which I failed to.

  13. Perhaps you have seen a classic Calvin and Hobbs strip on “verbing” (using nouns and adjectives as verbs). The punch line: “It weirds language”.

  14. The use of “same exact”. As in “He wore the same exact shirt as I did”. Just use the word “same”. No need for adding exact. “Same” means identical in every way and “exact” in this context means accurate.

        1. I remember a HS English teacher asking us to “rewrite something over again”, and some of us smart-asses asking how many versions he wanted.

          1. At a vineyard in Napa Valley many moons ago, we were offered some “typically unique” Chablis, I think it was…

    1. I think “same exact” is a tautology that Fowler would have classified as a “sturdy indefensible.” Same with “self-same.”

      Legal writing is riddled with such tautologies, such as “cease and desist” or “bequeath and bestow.”

    2. Is same exact exactly the same as exactly the same?
      I hear the latter regulary, and it appears to distinguish between quite comparable and exactly the same

  15. I agree with all your beefs, Jerry. I don’t think NASA coined the word copasetic though. I heard that word being used way back when I was a child, and some think that it has African-American origins.

    (Excerpt from online Merriam-Webster)
    “Theories about the origin of copacetic abound, but the facts about the word’s history are scant: it appears to have arisen in African-American slang in the southern U.S., possibly as early as the 1880s, with earliest known evidence of it in print dating only to 1919. Beyond that, we have only speculation. One theory is that the term is descended from Hebrew kol be sedher (or kol b’seder or chol b’seder), meaning “everything is in order.” That theory is problematic for a number of reasons, among them that in order for a Hebrew expression to have been adopted into English at that time it would have passed through Yiddish, and there is no evidence of the phrase in Yiddish dictionaries. Other theories trace copacetic to Creole coupèstique (“able to be coped with”), Italian cappo sotto (literally “head under,” figuratively “okay”), or Chinook jargon copacete (“everything’s all right”), but no evidence to substantiate any of these has been found. Another theory credits the coining of the word to Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who used the word frequently and believed himself to be the coiner. Anecdotal recollections of the word’s use, however, predate his lifetime.”

    1. I’m cool with copacetic. There’s no reason there shouldn’t be more than one way to say “everything’s A-OK.”

  16. ‘Original version’ to refer to what is in fact the original, I’ve been ranting on this one for decades. For an example I’ll use The Office, Ricky Gervais’ sitcom. For those not familiar, The Office UK came out before The Office US…
    “I prefer the original version over the The Office US”.
    Here, the person is referring to The Office UK as the ‘original version’, when it is in fact the original because it was the first production of the sitcom. To be an ‘original version’ would mean it is the first variant of the original, as in the ‘first version’, wherein first is synonymous with original.
    So, in fact, The Office US is the ‘original version’ as it is the ‘first version’ to be produced after the original…

    1. In our product database, everything is defined as a Version. Therefore, the original is correctly referred to as the original Version, as horrible as this sounds.

  17. I think I’ve done already my old man grunts here 5 or 6 times. I mostly agree with Jerry’s complaints, so I’ll just add a bit to some:

    1.) “different to” rather than “different from”.

    100% agree–and I’ve lived about 1.5 years in US, 5 years in England, the rest except travel in Canada. But I’m pretty sure I have never heard ‘different to’ anywhere till the last 20 years when every dumbass and his uncle can start writing on the internet. But maybe a Brit can correct me on that.

    2.) “Nominal” meaning “normal” This pretentious term…

    Just like “multiple” when ‘many’ is briefer and perfectly fine–but I’m repeating myself!

    3.) “Any more” versus “anymore”.

    Agree again, though I fear that sometimes I have sinned with the single word.

    4.) “Medaled” as a verb in the Olympics.

    Agree strongly, but it is a completely general (and annoying) thing these days, this ‘verbifying’ of nouns. At least I didn’t say ‘verbing’, in which case the non-verb noun verb would have been verbified, quote marks deliberately omitted.

    5) “Funeralized”. Now this is a new one on me, ….Oakville, Ontario.

    New to me too, and maybe embarrassing if it’s a Canuck invention. That last place is of course in Canada, and where my erstwhile parents lived during their last decade or so.

    6). “Deep dive”, ….the term “close look” would be better.

    Why not just ‘About Ethical Label Claims’? It’s time some of these wet-behind-the-ears headline writers got sent out to sweep the bullshit out of barns (I’m sounding like Mao or his wife!) instead of producing some metaphorical versions of it.

    Maybe off topic, and I do not wish to argue about elementary 1st order logic and the placing of negations vis-a-vis quantifiers with USians again, but here are a couple of recent NYT headlines:

    1/ “All Options Are Not on the Table as Biden Moves Troops Closer to Ukraine”

    2/ “Not everything is going Putin’s way on Ukraine
    Opinion ●  By Fareed Zakaria ●”

    Nice to see the accurate 2/ by someone who may very well have been not raised in the English language.
    But 1/ is not so nice, though completely common in US, even in educated circles. It was quite clear that the article did not claim the falsehood ‘No options are available …’, despite the headline saying exactly that, by miswriting what should have had the same form as 2/.

    1. I’m British and I’ve used ‘different from’ and ‘different to’ interchangeably my whole life and don’t notice or mind when people use either of these. I probably veer towards ‘different to’ in speech but I can’t say for sure. To my ear, ‘different than’ sounds horrific. I’m guessing US English and proper English overlap only in the use of ‘different from’ and so we should, if communicating politely with each other across the ocean, try to stick to this common ground rather than using our regional versions (unless we are using the jarring version intentionally for effect).

      1. I agree (as a USian). “Different than” is a horror. I wouldn’t notice “different to”, except perhaps to notice it as a British usage. “Different from” is certainly standard in the USA.

        1. Is ‘nicer than’ also a horror, he asks in jest? This is one of the few places we two seem to differ! But communication is just possible despite different languages. I think ‘different from’ and ‘different to’ are both slight redundancies, but above did not approve of theoretics here, so am inconsistent..

    2. All Options Are Not on the Table as Biden Moves Troops Closer to Ukraine

      Doubly confusing when you consider that, used as a verb, “to table” means the opposite in British English to American English.

      1. Opposite FROM😂 I found this very confusing when I moved to Canada from the States. I have to acknowledge that the English/Canuck usage makes more sense. To put aside could be “to shelf”.

  18. At the risk of planting an ear worm (mind worm?), when I hear “medalled”, I immediately go to Scooby Doo. I imagine an older, past prime performance athlete during the ceremony: “I would have made it onto that platform if it weren’t for those medalling kids!”

    I’m not sorry.

  19. I cringe when human mass casualties are described as “2 dozen people killed in crash” or 3 dozen people shot..”
    I appears that most of the time they have an actual number. Eggs come in dozens, dead people should be reported as an actual number.

      1. I can see headline writers scanning the reports of air crashes, terrorist bombings, and natural disasters coming over the wire and doing a fist pump when the death toll is exactly 144. Hall of fame right there.

        1. I assume you mean they would write ‘Dozen dozen dead’. Maybe though I completely missed your point.
          Even ‘better’ would be 1728 deaths.

      1. And also, some member of the media chattering class saying “milllions,” or “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds.” Per an NPR newsletter of 2-3 weeks ago, apparently NPR listeners can’t handle a couple of specific numbers/statistics. (But apparently have a specific idea of what “handfull” means.)

  20. I’ve not heard or seen “funeralized” before. But it ought to be cast upon the pyre (or at least burialized).

  21. I’ve always understood “nominal” to mean “in name only” — as in a “nominal fee” being so small as to constitute a fee in name only (although, I think, even this sense, the word is frequently abused).

  22. A couple of my peeves are:
    Orientate instead of orient.
    Commentate instead of comment.
    The dictionary approves of both of these constructions, but I do not.

      1. In British English commentating is normally understood to be the act of describing something (usually a sports event) aloud as it happens. The team covering a football match on tv would typically include a commentator who describes the action as it unfolds and one or more pundits who comment on the significance of it all during pauses in the action.

        1. We have sports commentators in N. America, as well, but not sure we call what they do commentating.I could be wrong. Maybe bloviating?LOL
          Loved whatever it was that Ray Hudson did/does for Barcelona football! MAGISTERIAL!

            1. We don’t watch him anymore since Messi buggered off to PSG, but I used to get a real kick out of Ray. He had so many expression: “ice down his y-fronts”, “easy-peasy Japanesey”, and MAGISTERIAL!!! – especially for Messi.

    1. The verb ‘orient’ was not coined in the noun ‘orient’, but rather in the occident.

      I suppose that a commentation is a pompous, too-lengthy comment such as many of mine are.

      Anyway, I agree with you in both cases.

      1. Then there’s “visitation.” Our Superintendant was having a visitation to our school and I was expecting him to be dressed like the Poop.

        1. Maybe I’m wrong, but ‘visitation’ has this unreal quality to it, like a hallucination: the realm of demons and angels.

        2. This may be a geographically limited usage, but “visitation” to me has the specific meaning of attending a wake or other pre-funeral gathering with the deceased and loved ones; you would not generally want to have a visitation at a school. The visitation would precede the funeralization. 😉


          1. Yes, those pre-funeral “dos” are called visitations around here, too.
            I think some teachers were hoping that the superintendent’s visitation would be of this type🤓

    2. IIRC, fairly recently the use of “Orient” or “Oriental” has become “problematical.” (Notwithstanding that new employees go through “orientation.”) May one reasonably anticipate that “Occidental” and “Occident” will suffer a similar fate, whether by accident or not?

  23. What makes me bristle is ‘outside of America’ rather than ‘outside America’, and ‘media is’, ‘algae is’, ‘criteria is’, ‘data is’, rather than ‘media are’, ‘algae are’, ‘criterion is’, ‘data are’.

    1. Unfortunately, those of us who took Latin are vulnerable to the bad sound of subject and verb tenses not agreeing more than those who didn’t.

      Every time I hear “data is”, I think, “The tomatoes is ripening on the vine.”


      1. Like it or not (and I don’t, so resist it) I think “data” and “media” are on their way to becoming collective nouns — such as “group” or “team” — that can be paired with singular verbs.

        1. ‘Data’ has always seemed like a mass noun, and insisting that it be treated as plural has always struck me as pedantic.

          1. Datum, singular
            Data, plural

            Most (Americans) don’t know the singular, for some reason.

            Same with criterion, criteria.

            There is no such thing as a criteria.

            1. I’d bet that the majority of Americans know what ‘datum’ means. But that simply doesn’t reflect how ‘data’ is most often used (i.e. as a mas noun). As evidence, we have the tendency to pluralize ‘data’ with classifiers. Eg. ‘three data sets’ is analogous to ‘three bottles of water.’

              FWIW, Wikipedia agrees with me…

              “Data is most often used as a singular mass noun in everyday usage.”

              Normally, I tend to side with prescriptivists when it comes to these sorts of debates. But in this case, I think that treating ‘data’ as a mass noun (analogous to eg. ‘information’) really does make intuitive sense.

    2. I agree re ‘criteria’; likewise ‘phenomena’ and ‘bacteria’ are frequently (mis)used in the singular. Even the BBC in recent times are culprits.
      Personally, the expression “A bacteria was identified…” grates on my ear just as much as “A horses strayed on to the M1, stopping traffic…” would, if used.

      1. I guess it should be a new strain of bacteria. A bacterium was discovered also sounds weird because you’d rarely have just one of the little buggers.

  24. English verbs nouns all the time 😛 Having said that, though, the use of ‘language’ as a verb (“How should we language this?”) really grates on me. It’s become trendy to refer to language mixture (what used to be called ‘code-switching’) as ‘translanguaging’.

    I too am used to ‘different from’ (and ‘different than’ sounds okay to me), but living in Australia I’ve had to get used to ‘different to’. It’s just different to how I was brought up 🙂

  25. Not sure I’ve ever heard different to, but it seems a contraction of different in relation to, which I have heard. So different to is needless laziness, when different from does the same job with only two letters more. Did this originate from texting?

  26. I wonder about the modern use of cliche and cliched (don’t know how to make accents on my phone). I thought cliche was a noun but now I see phrases like “that is so cliche, where before in English you’d see “that is so cliched”.

  27. Let’s not forget the bugaboos hot water heater, irregardless, unthaw, and debone. I suppose the last is necessary because, these days, “bone a chicken” has a meaning far removed from its original intent.

    1. I’ve always found it funny that unravel and ravel meant the same thing. And why do Brits and Canucks say UNpick something, like a seam?

        1. There is no such word as “flammable”, except for something that could be put into a flame without damaging it, like a cattle branding iron. But people would just sort of know that, without needing a word for it. Gasoline cans always said “inflammable” on them when I was a kid. Until creeping illiteracy caused people to think that you could safely smoke a cigar while pouring “inflammable” liquid into your lawn mower. So they made it “flammable” to protect insurance company shareholders from morons.

            1. For branding irons, no doubt. 🙂
              Oxford calls it rare and then chiefly in combining form as non-flammable.
              But if you have a dated citation, I yield.

          1. I am sorry Leslie, this is very, very, very wrong. In science and engineering texts, flammable is the recommended use and inflammable is not recommended.

            1. Yes I know, nowadays, as I explained, for the reason that some people think inflammable means it won’t burn. Safety first. Of course. The MSDS must be clear and the placard on the gasoline truck must not deceive. A lost cause.

              But the word is still inflammable. You inflame a mob with inflammatory rhetoric intended to ignite their fury and induce them to throw bottles filled with, what? merely “flammable” liquids? No, the Molotov cocktails must be as inflammable as your speech was.

              Flaming a mob is something else, like insulting them or viciously criticizing them on social media. You can also “flame” meat, to make customers think it has been charcoal-broiled.

              1. MSDSs changed to SDSs back in 2015. I can recall decades ago, if not fifty years ago being encouraged to use flammable rather than inflammable.

                I take your point with words like inflammatory. But as a practicing chemist I can’t help thinking clear language is useful. Flammability depends on context and more importantly flash point.

                Don’t get me started with flammable versus combustible.

                Your statement, there is no such word as “flammable”, certainly not true today.

          2. Accident statistics suggest that there has never been a shortage of people capable of harming themselves as a result of their own stupidity but do you have evidence for your assertion of ‘creeping illiteracy’? Although too many people still lack functional literacy it seems that around the world literacy rates have steadily improved in most countries throughout the past century but perhaps you are aware of some reversals of this trend?

            Of course, illiterate does not necessarily mean stupid and (although I don’t suppose the statistic is available anywhere) I would be curious to know the relative numbers of illiterate vs educated people who have succeeded in immolating themselves by smoking over gasoline cans. It might be surprising!

      1. Henceforth, when “much” people as me how I’m doing, I’m inclined to reply, “I’m much gruntled, thank you.”

  28. “He played good.” WELL, God Dammit! He played WELL! What burns my ass these days is sportscasters (I guess that’s a word) commonly using the adjective, good, as an adverb. They’re supposed to be professional journalists! One would think they studied grammar and composition at some point in their training. Sorry, Jerry, I know you don’t frequent sporting telecasts, but this one bugs me.

        1. “My bad” is also incredibly rude, if you ask me. This is what people say when, say, someone points out a mistake they’ve made, or that they’ve done something that hurts someone’s feelings, etc.

          “Hey, you left the lawnmower out in the rain, and now it’s ruined.”

          “My bad.”

          What should be said is, “I’m sorry.” “My bad” is self-centered dismissal of the concern expressed.

          I also don’t like when I thank a service person and they respond with, “No problem.”

          How about, “You’re welcome”? “No problem” suggests, to me, that the customer is imposing on the service person.

          1. “What should be said is, ‘I’m sorry.'”

            Or when owning the blame: “my fault,” or “my mistake,” or even “mea culpa.”

          2. Everybody has their own nits to pick and I don’t begrudge you this one, but I’m curious. I don’t get how “my bad” is self-centered dismissal. It’s an admission that the speaker did something wrong.

            jamie b. below offered “my fault” and “my mistake” as acceptable similar responses, but that is exactly what “my bad” means.

          3. Who should first say “Thank You” at the conclusion of a business transaction, the customer or the (as some say) “service associate”? I as the customer often find myself saying “Thank You” first. What I most often hear from the service associate is “There you go” when I receive my change and/or receipt.

          4. In similar vein is “No worries”, which is becoming greatly overused as a response to all sorts of comments.

            There was a para in The (London) Times the other day about a woman who had been particularly distressed at the end of a long telephone conversation with an undertaker about the arrangements for her husband’s funeral. When she politely thanked the person at the other end, he replied “No worries”. Not exactly thoughtful!

  29. Until recently I hadn’t considered the awkwardness and judgmental nature of “commit suicide.” I’m starting to see “complete suicide” used instead.

  30. “This is, of course, the group that also coined “copacetic”, which pretty much means the same thing” – By an extremely bizarre coincidence, this word came up in a family discussion earlier today and I looked up its origins.

    According to Wiktionary:

    Stephen Goranson says “there is good reason to think that Irving Bacheller invented the word [with spelling “copasetic”] for a fictional character with a private vocabulary in his best-selling and later-serialized 1919 book about Abraham Lincoln in Illinois, A Man for the Ages, and its currency increased by use in the 1920 song “At the New Jump Steady Ball”. Alternatively, it has been speculated that it may have originated among African Americans in the Southern US in the late 19th or early 20th century, perhaps specifically in the jargon of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who certainly helped popularize it in any case. Many hypotheses about its origin (etymon) exist, all lacking supporting evidence.

    At lunchtime, i argued that the YouTuber my daughter claimed she had learned the word from was unlikely to be familiar with the cited sources and was sceptical about its currency. And now, a few hours later, and here the word is in the context of NASA – so I take it all back. It’s still a horrible addition to the vocabulary that I have managed without up until today though, and don’t imagine I’ll be using it in the future.

  31. A peeve of mine is a word or phrase that is used as both a noun and a verb.

    The noun should be a single word, as “closeout”. The verb should be two words, as “close out”.

    When I see something that is written, for instance, “Would you like to closeout your account?”, I want to scream.


  32. ? Nobody uses ‘nominal’ as ‘in name only’? That wall stud is nominally 2 x 4 but actually measures 1.5 x 3.5.

  33. And then there is police argot: she attempted to “actively resist” by “going limp and crumbling on the sidewalk.”

      1. And they insist on saying “proceed” (at least in the UK – a friend was once fined for “proceeding in a northerly direction along South Street on his bicycle”).

        1. So true😹😹😹
          Was it illegal to go “northerly” on South Street?🤣
          I watch lots of British detective shows but I think the Yank and Canuck cops use the same stilted language.

          You may now proceed🤓

        1. ✔️
          And why do cops always have to put their hands on the perp’s head as they help him/her “enter” the car??

              1. Maybe in the past a suspect has accidently hit his head on the way in and tried to sue the police for brutality?
                I do know it’s common practice in the UK as well as the USA, so in both cases it’s probably drilled in during police training.
                (I watch a lot of foreign cop dramas – Scandi, French and Italian, so I” keep my eye on whether it’s the rule their as well?)

      2. I used to get a laugh out of the kids when they were little by telling them “Ok, it’s time to deass the vehicle,” when it was time to get out of the car.

        1. I’m inclined to think that K-5 ought to feel free to frequently utter “ass” (and “damn”) in school. After all, it’s in The Good Book.

    1. That woman’s crumbling on the sidewalk must have quite alarmed the police! A gruesome act of resistance indeed!

      1. I was thinking along those same lines. What a picture!
        It is a good example of an eggcorn…humorous and unintentional. Eggcorns would make a fun topic for a different article. Merilee’s submission at the beginning of this blog post is “ripe” with them.

        1. “Eggcorn”?? Great! I had never heard that before. Like a malapropism?
          Not quite the same but I was remembering today about how my son at age two or so pointed out, loudly, the “fire distinguishers” in the grocery store.

          1. Merilee said: “Like a malapropism? Not quite the same….”
            Unlike most malapropisms, eggcorns have a certain logic to their construction….which adds to their amusing charm. The eggcorn hits close to the right note, but no guitar.

            Toddlers say hilarious things…fire distinguisher! We have a 16 mo old grandson living in our house. I think at age 2, it is more likely he will be “setting” fires rather than “distinguishing” them. 😮

            1. “Setting fires”😹My “fire distinguisher” son now has a 20-month-old out West whom we got to see for the first time at 16 months (because of Covid). She does the best “guilty dog” imitation when asked not to feed the dogs from her high chair. How nice for you to have a little one in your house! Their friend and tenant has a puppy whom Jade calls a “kitty” because it’s smaller than the adult dog.

        2. Some of the eggcorns make more sense to modern ears than the correct expressions. The Economist had a short feature about this a few months ago. “Toeing the line” is what military recruits are told by their pettifogging corporals to do for inspection, boot toes perfectly on the chalked line. Few people do this anymore, although stepping precisely on those painted foot prints for social distancing is reminiscent. So when someone talks about “towing the line”, he can be forgiven, in the interests of kindness, for imagining he is trudging along a towpath beside a canal, dragging a heavy barge. Yes, I know you tow the barge, not the line, but be kind. The pandemic is soon over. We need to be face to face again, not in each other’s faces.

          But not a doggie-dog world. No.

  34. “Any more” versus “anymore”: This is part of a larger problem. Sometimes two words which are used in a compound word come together in a sentence. I see many instances where people spell these as the compound word when they’re not: “The story maybe true.” “Sometime elapsed before he came back.”

    My biggest complaint these days is using the past tense form when the past participle is called for. I hear this quite a lot. “I haven’t saw that movie yet.” “We haven’t went to the store lately.”

    1. Past participle abuse destroys me. God, it sounds awful. But as McWhorter himself often notes, language does evolve. It’s one of its fundamental properties.

      1. Ya beat me to it, darrell. There’s also the Mann act about crossing state lines for immortal porpoises.
        (One of my late dad’s groaners).

  35. If we’re not just talking about recent linguistic developments, then I would say that “my bad” is one that absolutely drives me up the wall. First heard it when I was in the army (early 90’s) and figured that it was just an army thing. I was so annoyed to discover that everyone was saying it.

  36. “3.) “Any more” versus “anymore”.”

    “Quoth the raven- never more.” As in “I was never more bored than I am right now, standing outside your chamber door listening to you whine about your ex.”

  37. I just came up with another one, inspired by you, Jerry!

    “It is a true fact that one of the reviewers of The Origin said that Darwin’s discussion of pigeon breeding (at the book’s beginning) was fascinating, but all that other evolution stuff should have been left out!”
    – ‘true fact’
    Either word alone serves the purpose here, together makes the latter redundant. Then there’s the point that there is just one type of fact anyway; true ones!

  38. In engineering, nominal has a very specific meaning. It is the target value. There are tolerances on that target value. Plus this and minus that. “Nominal” means you are hitting the bullseye.

    Of course, this is not what most people mean.

    I’d be fairly certain that NASA means nominal in this sense.

    1. That’s my understanding as well. I added a discussion of nominal orbit terminology above, I think there may be a larger cultural context.

  39. A pet peeve is words and phrases that are not misused but can still be stricken from a sentence without changing its meaning, such as:

    1) “going forward” in all but concrete physical direction senses such as, “My car will lay rubber going forward but it won’t in reverse.” People just stick this phrase in anywhere in a sentence. “Going forward I want you to stop biting your little brother.”
    2) “the fact that” “He would have made it home OK but for the fact that he was high as a kite.” -> “He would have made it home OK but for being high as a kite.” Of course if we know how being high interfered with his safe progress home we should say so. The world wants to know. Where did he end up instead? What adventures can he report?
    3) “to be honest. . .”. Usually a tell that the speaker is about to lie, so best avoided if the illusion of honesty is to be maintained
    4) “no offense but . . .” Similar construction to #3

    Oh, and a couple of malapropisms for the file:
    -“less we digress”
    -“without further adieu.”

      1. I’m not sure, Ken. I had to look up pleonasm. Saying the same thing twice isn’t the same as just plopping “going forward” into something that masquerades as an action plan. “We will sit immobilized while we contemplate fully our options going forward before deciding to do nothing.” doesn’t have any nase to pleo. Pleonasm can be a rhetorical flourish. “Going forward” is anything but.

    1. “Going forward” creeped into common language from business talk, I am fairly certain. It is similar to “reach out” instead of contact/ call/ email.

    2. Along the same lines as “to be honest”, one often hears people start a sentence with “Obviously…”, when what they are about to say is anything but obvious, in fact may be highly dubious. Tony Blair was a frequent offender.

  40. Deep Dive has also been used in engineering for forty years (longer?). It means an very detailed vertical review of an issue. Go deep into the details on a narrow range of subjects rather than broadly over many subjects.

  41. With regard to which word is correct following “different”. I cannot resist pointing out that the use of
    prepositions and conjunctions in different languages is perfectly arbitrary, as anyone learning a new language discovers.

    1. Indeed. I once spent most of a day (in Nepal) discussing with a German friend the proper use of prepositions in our respective languages.

      Indeed: Arbitrary!

      E.g.: Am I sitting: At the table, by the table, to the table, on the table, next to the table, near the table, close to the table, adjacent to the table, with the table?

      Most of those are correct in some circumstances! But they differ, depending on the actual meaning and context.

  42. With all the Ukraine noise: “troops” for personnel, as, “The Russians have moved 150,000 troops.”
    A troop is a bunch of people, as in “a troop of boy scouts” (cognate to a theater troupe). Similarly, “forces” for soldiers (“the Russians have moved 150,0000 forces”). This is just unsubtle propagandistic enbiggeration of the evil Russki threat.

  43. I don’t think ‘nominal” should be on the list. It actually has several definitions, which differ by the circumstances in which it is used.
    In name only- “Puyi was the nominal leader of Manchukuo”

    In economic matters, very small or symbolic. “The charity purchased the old theater for a nominal fee”

    But I am an engineering and aviation sort of person. My Dad was a test pilot, so it was a word we heard a lot. For us, nominal means that the measurement under discussion falls within acceptable tolerances. It is a concise word meant to be used when economy of words matters.

    We are agreed that misusing words can be detestable behavior. It is the misuse that grates, not the word itself.

  44. I despise the use of “…reason why…” when “reason” is not a verb, as in “…the reason why he did that…”. There is no situation in which the word “why” is not redundant.

  45. Many good ones here already. Some others that make me want to gnash my teeth and rend my garments:
    – ‘nuanced’ – we got along fine with out this word until a couple of years ago
    – ‘curated’ – why does every collection of stuff need a curator? (I wonder what my friend Graeme, who actually is a curator, thinks of this?)
    – ‘alot’ – this is a word now?

    I enjoyed (in a masochistic way) Merilee’s collection of crimes against the English language. But I’ve never seen ‘scotch free’ – it’s often spelled ‘scott free’, although, as all Scot(t)s know, ‘scot-free’ is correct.

    1. “My so-called ‘friends’ just told me they were planning a Scott-free birthday party,” Scott managed to choke out between sobs.

    1. That unnecessary juxtaposition merely forms a shibboleth meaning the speaker expects people with Enlightenment-based opinions to just shut up.

    2. That’s like saying “past history”. You only get history that isn’t in the past in science fiction, which can give us future history.

  46. Although “different to” is now rampant in the UK, ‘different from’ was considered the ‘impeccably correct’ (Partridge) and ‘the standard’ (Gowers) usage. Fowler did say ‘different to’ was OK, but he acknowledged that ‘different from’ was widely regarded as the most correct usage. I very rarely hear or read someone in the UK whose speech or writing I admire use ‘different to.’ but my sample size might be too small or eccentric.

  47. There are several Americanisms that grind my gears and one in particular is “off of” instead of “off’.” And what makes it worse is that now many Brits are saying it, especially those that that should know better like TV presenters and newsreaders. Shame on them.

    1. Actually, “off of” has been used by some British as well since at least as far back as the 70s. At that time I was working in London and noticed that quite a few locals used it; I believe was was used mainly in estuary English.

      Those of us from the North thought it was definitely a weird phrase, but when one asked one of his (Londoner) friends why she used that, she didn’t understand the question: she thought it was standard English.

  48. Growing up in the UK, English lessons in primary/junior school were not based on an analytic approach to the language (I never came across that at all until I learned French and Latin later on), but simply on “does it sound right?” Now, this was in the early sixties, in a uniformly white British rural area, so it probably worked quite well as we probably did all come from homes where ordinary English was spoken , though not always with an RP accent, being deepest, darkest Wiltshire. I recall one thing we were told would never sound right was the construction ‘than what’, which should correctly be ‘than that which’. It used to irritate me no end in the old Mac OS when installation dialogues would say ‘This system is newer than what you have’. It still sounded wrong, and it still does.

  49. Other Americanisms that bug me are “Los Vegas” instead of “Las Vegas” and “missle” instead of “missile.”

      1. But why can’t most Brits pronounce my native city properly: Los Angeless, NOT Los Angelese🙀Even Trevor Noah (granted he’s South African) says Angelese.

        1. Maybe they heard Arlo Guthrie sing, “Comin’ in to Los Angeleeze / Bringin’ in a couple of keys / Don’t touch my bags if you please / Mister Customs Man.” He was coming in from London (from over the Pole), after all.

        2. I only recently discovered that the correct pronunciation of “Maryland” is not “Mary land”.

          On the other hand, Americans have no idea how to pronounce “coupé” (note the accent at the end) or “herbs”. Are you blind? Can’t you see the “h”?

  50. Do space people think they’re so special that they need their own words?

    Yes of course. Experts in any field tend to invent their own jargon. I’m sure “nominal” has a particular nuanced meaning in engineering much like, in statistics, the term “normal distribution” doesn’t mean a normal distribution in the general sense. I tend to think of “nominal” as meaning “within the prescribed tolerances”.

    In fact, I’ve just thought of an example of the difference between nominal and normal. In SpaceX’s Starship flight tests only SN-15’s flight was nominal. It is normal for a test flight to end in a fiery explosion.

    1. In engineering design, nominal is the target value. The tolerances are the allowed differences form that target value (that will still fit and function as intended in the design).

      A dimensional example: 25.6 cm ± 0.2 cm (25.6 is the nominal (“named”) value.)

      A motion example: Speed at stage shutdown to be 1,000 meters/second ± 10 meters/second. (1,000 meters/second is the nominal value.)

      Or: Rotation speed is 137 nautical miles per hour (kt.) minimum. (137 kt. is the nominal value and any higher value is acceptable.)

  51. A phrase I suffer hearing everyday is “How it looks like”. An awful merging of “How it looks” and “What it looks like.” As in “We can add that and see how it looks like”.

  52. It is not a beef and does not annoy me at all but a linguistic curiosity I have noticed is in the different use of “whenever” by speakers from Northern Ireland and speakers from elsewhere in the UK (and I think elsewhere in the anglophone world). In England “whenever” typically means “every time that” as in “whenever I hear this song it reminds me of you” but in Northern Ireland it is used instead of “when” as in “whenever my dad died I was still a student” .

    1. It has appeared in Scotland as well. The great mountaineer WH Murray once wrote something along the lines “Whenever Dunn arrived, we put on the kettle and lit our pipes”. Conjures up a slightly bizarre picture: “Oh, God, here comes Dunn again. Better get the kettle on”.

  53. I’m coming late to this thread and my complaint is about is about the mis-use of the term “alliteration” on Jeopardy, which I watch nightly. The most recent and flagrant abuse was using “all ages” an example of alliteration. Alliteration is the repetition of the same initial consonant sounds (note, not the same consonants but the same consonant sounds: “kissin’ cousins” is alliteration even though the initial consonants are different; “circus clowns” is not, even though the initial consonants are the same.) The repetition of the same initial vowel sounds (again not the same vowels but the same vowel sounds) is not alliteration, but assonance. In the case of “all ages,” however, the initial vowels are the same, but the vowel sounds are different (short “a” sound in “all” and long “a” sound in “ages”). So “all ages” is neither alliteration nor assonance. Maybe it’s only because I’m a poet, but this drives me crazy.

    1. Jeopardy was trying to make an assonance of themselves.

      Thanks for the reminder, I had forgotten the word and the distinction, as well as the illustrative examples!

  54. A deep dive ought to be limited to aquatics! I also get irked when the newscasters inform me that “we’ll break it down for you” and “we’ll unpack it for you.” Just give me the damned details!! 🙂

  55. Can’t agree with Jerry on the first one. You compare something to something else not from. Hence different to is the correct usage. I know Jerry will not agree but this is my view and we’ll just have to agree to differ.

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