Stuff that’s too expensive

August 7, 2023 • 12:15 pm

If you do grocery shopping (and who doesn’t?), you may have noticed that a lot of stuff—and not just groceries—have skyrocketed in price since the pandemic.  I’m not sure whether this is gouging or a normal economic response (maybe they’re the same), but I’m pretty sure that people are charging what the traffic will bear and that somehow competition hasn’t kept prices down.

The other day, for instance, I bought a baguette on my way home, and the price at the local bakery (the Medici, if you want to know) had jumped from $2 to $3 in one go: a 50% increase. When I wrote to the bakery manager (or owner) complaining, saying that I could get just as good a baguette for $2 at Trader Joe’s, the guy wrote a stinging response saying that he’s just making sure that his workers get a living wage and I could shop at Trader Joe’s if I wanted a place where (presumably) workers don’t make good wages. In fact, Trader Joe’s gives the wages of its Chicago employees, and here they are:

Average Trader Joe’s Crew Member hourly pay in Chicago is approximately $17.79, which is 36% above the national average.

I won’t be going to that store any more, and I presume that the Medici didn’t hike all the employees’ wages 50%.

Here are other things that seem much more expensive than a few years ago, and for some of the price hikes there are good reasons (eggs, for example, skyrocketed because of a chicken shortage).

Bread It’s a crime to pay more than $1 a loaf for decent sliced white bread (that’s what Aldi’s charges), but you’re lucky if you find a loaf for under three bucks in a grocery store.

Eggs (see above)

Toothpaste  I don’t know how the manufacturers get away with charging four bucks per tube when Pepsodent (now almost impossible to find) cost $1 per tube for years. It’s as if adding a bit of potassium nitrate (to reduce sensitivity) to the common stannous fluoride suddenly boosts the price to the stratosphere. Do you know what potassium nitrate costs if you buy it in the lab? Almost nothing! In my view, products like Sensodyne, which is just regular toothpaste with those anti-sensitivity ingredients added) are huge ripoffs. But I use them anyway, as there’s no alternative.

Cereal.  I occasionally used to buy “healthy” cereals like Raisin Bran or Shredded Wheat, but now they’re uber costly. My breakfasts now consist of a latte and two slices of toast. Speaking of which:

Fancy coffee.  I know what it costs to make a latte, because I have a good one every day, made in my Breville espresso machine from good French roast beans from Trader Joe’s (I have a good grinder, too). I’ll estimate the the price of the coffee is about 20 cents and the milk about 25 cents. That makes the latte cost 45 cents.  If you get one in Starbucks, it’ll be about ten times that high. I know there’s overhead and decent wages for the employees, but that is a big profit margin. And if you favor those fancy coffees that are really liquid desserts (peppermint lattes and the like), you’re getting ripped off more, not to mention ingesting a lot of unhealthy calories.

Cars. I haven’t bought a new or used car in years; I’m happy with my 2000 Honda Civic that I keep upgraded by installing stuff as it wears out. (It has only about 78,000 miles on it.) But the reports on the news about the hikes in prices of both new and used cars are scary. Imagine paying 50,000 for a new car!

Airfares.  I won’t kvetch at length about this, but as service goes down, and lots of extra fees get tacked on (e.g., checking luggage, which I never do, mainly because of the bag-loss factor), the airfares go up.

What prices curl the soles of your shoes these days? Now’s your turn to kvetch.

It’s “FREE REIN”, not “free reign”

May 7, 2023 • 9:15 am

In the last week I’ve seen the term “free reign” used three times. It almost seems more common than the correct usage, which is “free rein.” And it’s not as if the language is changing, either, for “free reign” simply doesn’t make any sense, while “free rein” makes a lot of sense.

Here, let Merriam-Webster explain it to you, though I expect most readers here will know the correct usage:

Origins of Free Rein

The expression “free rein” originated as horseback-riding jargon referring to the act of holding the reins (the straps by which a rider controls the horse) loosely so as to allow the horse to freely move along at its own pace and in its desired direction. Figurative use of the phrase referring to freedom of action goes back to the 17th century.

The tongues of Angels are not able to expresse what benefits doe redound unto man by the right ordering of the tongue, and what harmes and inconveniences againe, when we give it free reines to lash out.
— Alexander Read, The Chirurgicall Lectures of Tumors and Ulcers, 1635

Then things begin to go downhill:

About two centuries later, the phrase perplexingly begins appearing in print in the form “free reign.”

Here we may give free reign to our imagination, with the moral certainty that science will supply nothing tending either to prove or to disprove any of its fancies.
— The Salvator and Scientist (Chicago, Illinois), September 1896

Why it begins to appear during a time when the horse was still the primary mode of transportation is puzzling. On the other hand, in modern times, misinterpretation of “free rein” as “free reign” is a bit more understandable—though still grammatically wrong—after all, how often does the average person handle the reins of a horse? To those unfamiliar with the equestrian origin of the phrase, reign with its association with monarchy (influenced by the media’s obsession with the English Royal Family) might seem the better choice than a word for straps to control a horse, and an Internet search will confirm that quite a few people agree.

If you are one of those people, we would like to offer a couple of mnemonics to help you mentally autocorrect “free reign” before it becomes an acceptable (yet still illogical) variant of “free rein.” First, remember that reigning as king and queen entails having the freedom to choose and make decisions; therefore, monarchs have “free rein” during their reign. Also, there are a handful of other common figurative phrases originating from a horse’s rein that you can associate with “free rein” if you have a brain cramp.

The supervisor has/keeps a tight rein on every stage of production.

We need to rein in our spending.

She handed over the reins of the company to her successor.

As you can see, rein is the word to use when implying holding back or granting freedom of action; reign, on the other hand, is reserved for the ruling over a people or land. “Free reign” might sound impressive to you but not to your editor or teacher.

In summary: Reign is royal authority, the influence and sway of a ruler, or one who resembles a ruler. Rein is the strap fastened to an animal (such as a horse or mule) by a bit, which allows a rider or driver to control the animal. If you rule over something you may be said to reign over it. If you are allowed a great deal of freedom you might be said to have free rein.

Don’t bother to tell me that this is just another example of language changing. It may be changing, but it’s also becoming wrong, as “free reign”, as a metaphor, conjures up nothing. As Orwell said, if you use language, it should express something you can visualize as meaningful.


Squabbling with Amazon

April 29, 2023 • 1:00 pm

In the past, one advantage I found in dealing with Amazon is that you can actually talk to a human rather than a bot. Well, you could get to a human quickly. Now it’s almost impossible to do that.  (This of course is a perpetual beef of most of us.)  I call companies like Amazon only when I have a problem that REQUIRES a human being to resolve, but of course you have to keep stating your problem to a bot, and the bot can never grasp an issue that’s not absolutely common. (So much for the Turing test!)

Today I called Amazon because I ordered something with free shipping but, at checkout, they told me I had received a membership in Amazon Prime—something I don’t want (it costs like $15 a month). This was AFTER I’d already rejected Amazon Prime earlier in the ordering process. This is now what you see just before you press the “order” button.

I don’t fricking WANT “prime FREE for 30 days!”So I called the company to get that “free 6 months membership” off my slate, because after that month they start dunning you.  And of course the bot couldn’t deal with that.

After shouting “REPRESENTATIVE!” a gazillion times into the phone (I bet you’ve done that!), I got Mariana from Guatemala on the line, and she also proved unable to solve my problem, either. I finally realized how to fix it myself by realizing that they’ve simply added a second offer of Amazon Prime (they always offer it while you’re ordering it) but have disguised it as if it were an automatic membership that comes with your order. If you get that at the final check-out, click the “Try Prime” box at the upper left and you can opt out of it.

Mariana told me that I could eliminate these come-ons from Amazon myself, and she’d send me an email showing how. This is what I got (note what I’ve put in bold); my solution was supposed to be in the part in bold.

Hello,Amazon places ads on third-party websites to help our customers discover products and services they will like. Although we may have shown an ad we think will be of interest to you, we have not shared information about you, such as your purchase or browsing history, with the site on which you saw this ad.You can find more information in our Interest-Based Ads notice here: you’d like to stop seeing interest-based ads from Amazon, you can update your Advertising Preferences in your Amazon account here: Please note that if you choose not to see interest-based ads from Amazon you will still see ads, but they will not be based on your interests.For more information about how we collect and use data, please see the following pages:• Privacy Notice:• Cookie Notice: hope to see you again soon.

Best regards,
Mariana S.

Ha! Nope, no way to eliminate the annoying prime box, which they apparently now add (along with the other one) at the final step of checking out. Further, look at this (italics are mine):

Please note that if you choose not to see interest-based ads from Amazon you will still see ads, but they will not be based on your interests.

What good is that? I don’t want to see any ads! At any rate, I solved my own issue, but the Amazon human was of absolutely no help, and Mariana was unable to tell me about me the simple fix I figured out for myself.

But trying to get anyone on the phone was the most annoying part. Even when you want emergency road service from AAA, you are unlikely to get a human. I guess bots are not cheaper, but in the old days, if I had an Amazon issue, I could get a human on the line within a minute, and they’d revolve the problem equally quickly.

I am SO tired of calling a company and being given ten options, each associated with a number to press on the phone, AND NOT ONE OF THEM INVOLVES TALKING TO A HUMAN. Sometimes you can get a human by pressing “0” (they won’t tell you that); at other times you can scream “REPRESENTATIVE” to the phone (I find it helps one’s well-being to yell it as loud as possible), but sometimes you can’t get one at all.

Get off my lawn!


The sterile and expensive Denver International Airport

November 6, 2022 • 1:30 pm

You know what really bothers me?

I have to cool my heels at DIA for several hours before catching a flight back to Chicago, and I swear that I’ve never seen a more sterile airport in my life.  There are long, soul-less corridors of gates, with nary a nom to be found unless you take a long hike towards Baggage Claim. The place may be efficient, but it provides little comfort.

Here are two panoramas of the corridor (click to enlarge):

Can you name a more sterile airport?

Well, at least the restrooms are clean. But the restaurant is also victim of another pet peeve: overpriced food. After you hike a mile to find something to eat, what’s on offer is grossly overpriced food.

Now all airports (like ballparks and movie theaters) have overpriced food, but it’s gotten worse since the pandemic.  One could explain this with reference to the captive audience: there’s not much competition, and if you remember what happens when demand is high and supply is low, well, that’s what you see.

In the San Francisco Airport I wanted a bagel with a schmear, and it was around five bucks. Here I had a chicken salad sandwich, and had to part with $12, not including tax. Now I have to admit the sandwich was good (photo below), but really—twelve bucks?  Do airport food places make a deal with the airport to charge astronomical prices, or do they kick back a lot of their profit to the place?

Well, if you Google “why is airport food so expensive?”, you get a ton of answers. This site gives six, and I was partly right:

  1. Airport rent and regulations, which include extra fees besides rent.
  2. COMMISSIONS TO THE AIRPORT. These can be as high as 10%
  3. Delivery fees of foodstuffs to airports are higher than delivery to normal outlets. For example, delivery people have to go through security
  4. Limited storage space, so you have to rent more space.
  5. Delivery people have to pass extra background checks.
  6. Airports are out of the way and that makes it harder to retain employees, ergo they have to pay them more.

Their solution is twofold. First, avoid beverages in airports, which have an even higher profit margin. But the best solution is to bring in your own food (but not drinks, which aren’t allowed to go through TSA!). That was not an option for me.

But the chicken sandwich was good, and on my Southwest flight I got a free can of cranberry juice (actually, a mixture of cranberry, apple, and grape juice, with the first ingredient being water and the second HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP. The damn can had two ounces (ca. 60 grams) of sugar in it!)



Online newspapers coddle their readers by giving them “reading times” for articles

October 11, 2022 • 9:15 am

Although this might have been going on for a long time, I just noticed it yesterday.  Two of the three “MSM” news paper sites to which I subscribe—the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal—are providing “reading times” for most of their articles. See below; I’ve put arrows by the times:

The Wall Street Journal does it, too (for long pieces they just note “long read”):

These times presumably allow a reader to judge whether he or she wants to or has time to read a piece. I guess if the time is too long, you don’t read it.

Of course this raises a number of questions. First, how do they estimate the reading time? Presumably it’s based on the number of words in the piece, divided by a “standard” reading time of words/minute.

I consider myself a fairly fast reader (not always a good thing when I’m reading prose that needs to be savored), so I took one article from the NYT to test the reading time for me. It’s this one (click to read), estimated at 6 minutes reading time.

Excluding the ancillary material at the end, which are notices about other unrelated articles, it took me 2 minutes and 23 seconds.  Although I am a fast reader, I am not that fast, and so the timings must be directed at those who read fairly slowly.

The second question is also obvious: Why are the newspapers doing this?

I will try not to be curmudgeonly here (and will fail), but it seems to me that you should choose which pieces to read based on whether their title interests you. If the article engages you, you read on to the end. If it doesn’t, of you have other pressing issues to attend to, you stop reading and move on.

It appears, in an age when there are a gazillion online sites competing for your time, that this is the way some news sites have chosen to help harried readers decide what to read—a way based solely on the title and the reading time. Perhaps that’s better than the alternative of using only the title, but it may be worse than the alternative of reading based on the title and reading the whole article because it’s interesting and informative, or giving up if you’re bored.

But if you’re going to use these times to decide what to read, you have to know your reading speed. How many readers have matched the estimated reading time with their own reading time?  Would you choose what to read based on estimated reading times?


July 23, 2022 • 9:00 am

Look it up and learn some Yiddish!  I decided to go grocery shopping on Saturday instead of Sunday, as it was raining and the ducks were in hiding, so NO BREAKFAST FOR THEM.

The good bit was that because of the fairly heavy thunderstorms, the grocery store, which opens at 6 a.m., was almost empty at 7. Further, I did all my shopping in record time and got bargains on yogurt, bread, tuna, grapes, my weekly t-bone (a porterhouse, actually, since they were on sale), and chicken thighs. Total bill: $23 and change.  I breezed on through the store, and when I got to the checkout counter, I saw that there was only one guy ahead of me in the express lane, and he had only one item.

Then the bad news. Here’s how he paid:

Yep, IN PILES OF PENNIES, which all had to be counted out and put into the till one by one. (It’s hard to pick them off the slippery grocery belt, too.) It took forever. Why didn’t the guy put them in rolls? (That’s what the cashier asked me when we chatted.) He must have been saving up for months.

I’m sure you know the feeling: it’s always the person just ahead of you whose debit card doesn’t work, and has to go rummaging through wallet or purse to get one. Or writes out an entire check (not pre-filled-out), with the checkbook first fished with difficulty out of a purse. Or doesn’t have enough money to pay, and has to decide which items to leave unbought at the counter.  Or has 30 items in a 15-item express line. If I were paranoid, I’d say that this guy knew I was coming, emptied his penny jar, and then found a way to get right ahead of me in line.

But of course that’s dumb. But it does seem that the slow people are always ahead of me. I think everyone must feel like that sometimes.

One more bit of tsouris. (I get to gripe because this is my site.) Above the first floor mailboxes in my department a pipe in the ceiling is dripping condensate, which fall into the office as well as the mailboxes, are set into the wall outside the office. (It can’t be fixed without removing the wall, so they’ve set drip pans inside the office. GUESS WHOSE MAILBOX IS DIRECTLY UNDER THE DRIP?  You got i!! Mine!  There’s nothing like reaching into your mailbox and grabbing a handful of soggy envelopes and magazines. No other mailbox has this problem. Fortunately, the lovely office staff moved my mailbox, so that one’s solved. But I’ll never get the time back that I waited watching the cashier count those pennies.

Oh, one more: it’s always when you’re in a hurry when your shirt catches on the door handle—and sometimes rips.

As my father used to say to me in (bad) Yiidish when I was a kid: “Tsouris mit mon”: “Troubles as numerous as poppy seeds”.

Feel free to have a Saturday vent below. Tsouris mit mon!

Why keep a landline?

June 25, 2022 • 11:00 am

I’m in a conundrum that many share: I have a cellphone and an AT&T landline (at home), as well as a work phone. I never get calls on my landline and I use it only when I’m calling my cellphone because I’ve misplaced it in my flat and need to find it by making it ring. But I can do that on Skype, too, for you can use Skype as a telephone, buying ten bucks’ worth of calls, which will last for months (overseas calls by phone using Skype can be as low as 2¢ per minute, and of course video calls are free).

So why do I keep a landline. Laziness, I suppose, but also I have the fantasy that one day I won’t have my cellphone and need to call 911, which you can’t do on Skype. In that case I’d use the regular phone. But I always have my cellphone, so that is an improbable event.

I pay about $45/month to keep the damn landline (I also have AT&T wireless), but while I use the wireless, I never use the landline. Give me one reason why I should keep it!

It’s strange, as I usually have no trouble getting rid of stuff I never use, but this is an exception.

I just found an article from 2020 (I knew I would) called “8 reasons you should consider keeping your landline“. It turns out that it’s somewhat of a geezer thing: 60% of adults over 45 have a landline, and I bet that many fewer under 30 would have one.

The reasons given:

1.) “It’s a connection to your past.”  I don’t give a hoot about that.

2.) “The sound quality is better.” It’s fine on my cellphone.

3.) “It costs almost nothing.” Not for me, as I don’t have a phone bundled with cable.

4.) “You need it for medical devices or security systems.” I don’t use these things, and anyway I suspect these will now be compatible with cellphones.

5.) “You send and receive faxes”.  Nope. I would get them at work, but who faxes any more? People can send documents as pdf files.

6.) “You need your phone to work when you lose power”  Both cellphones and Skype on my computer work fine, and I keep both devices charged.

7.) “You really just don’t see the need for a smartphone.”  Seriously? Smartphones have greatly improved my life and my ability to get work done. Yes, I know we lived without them, but we used to live (or die) without antibiotics.

8.) “You want 911 access tied to your location.” I think that my iPhone 13 is as well, but you can always tell 911 where you are.

None of these reasons are convincing for me. Maybe I’ll ditch the landline.

You? Do you have one? If so, why?

The ice cream scams

June 5, 2022 • 9:15 am

When I was younger—actually, it doesn’t seem that long ago—when one bought a big tub of ice cream, it was a full half gallon. Then the companies started shrinking the sizes of the containers from 64 ounces to 56 ounces, and now the big container of most name brands, like Breyers (the go-to “quality brand” of my youth), are a paltry 48 ounces. That’s a quart and a half, or a full 25% reduction in size from the original.

Why do you think they did that? We’re not stupid: they shrunk the containers but did not commensurately shrink the price, so a given amount of ice cream cost more.  It’s capitalism, Jake! Now you could figure this out if you look at the unit price (price per ounce) required to be posted in the grocery stores, but who ever does that? In the end, it was pure duplicity whose effectiveness counted on consumers not paying attention to per-unit prices—or even noticing the size change.

Another trick is that what looks like “ice cream” is, if you scrutinize the label, often described really a “frozen dairy dessert” (this is particularly true of exotic flavors). They are not the same thing. Breyer’s also did this downgrade, as described in the New York Times in 2013 (see picture below):

First, as part of typical trompe l’oeil packaging, the cartons now hold 48 ounces, not the half-gallon’s 64. (The good news is that your hands haven’t become freakishly large; the bad news is that you’re not suddenly much stronger.)

Second, that age-old Breyers boast of “All Natural” has been replaced with “Quality,” which is one of those impressive words that loses impact the more you think about it.

Lastly, not all Breyers is what we once understood the name to mean. A Breyers carton in the store’s freezer might be ice cream, but the Breyers carton right beside it, identical in nearly every way, might be something called “frozen dairy dessert” — which, when translated from the original Orwell, means: not ice cream.

One example from a 2013 article in the New York Times (circle is mine):

More from the NYT:

Remember the old schoolyard song?

I scream,

You scream,

We all scream for frozen dairy dessert …

You might ask what the difference is between ice cream and a frozen dairy dessert, and I might answer that it is the same as the difference between a slice of American cheese and a slice of Kraft Singles American Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product. Since this is not helpful, we turn to a spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration, the guardian of “standards of identity,” who explained the distinction in a written response: “Ice cream requires specific levels of milk fat content, nonfat milk solids content, total solids in each gallon of ice cream, and total weight in each gallon of ice cream, while frozen dairy products do not.”In general, ice cream has at least 10 percent dairy fat, and a frozen dairy dessert does not. In my freezer, the Breyers vanilla fudge twirl frozen dairy dessert has the ubiquitous corn syrup, and the Breyers vanilla ice cream does not.

Clearly the change in wording is another bit of duplicity to reduce manufacturing costs. I discovered this when I finally started inspecting the cartons, only to find that what I thought was ice cream was in fact a “frozen dairy dessert.” I was not happy.  Here’s how the NYT described the ingredients for Breyers vanilla ice cream vs. vanilla “frozen dairy dessert”.

Breyers natural vanilla ice cream: milk, cream, sugar, tara gum, natural flavor. Period.

Breyers extra-creamy vanilla frozen dairy dessert: milk, sugar, corn syrup, cream, whey, mono and diglycerides, carob bean gum, guar gum, carrageenan, natural flavor, annatto (for color), vitamin A palmitate, tara gum.

Years ago I wrote to Breyer’s about the size change (as a curmudgeon, I did that from time to time), and the company wrote back bloviating about how “it’s what the consumers wanted”.  Of course that’s bullpucky. It’s capitalism, Jake! I want a full half gallon!

Last night I discovered what might be another trick, though I’m not sure. I had a pint of super-premium ice cream in my freezer, and decided to dip into it. When I looked at the calories, it said in big letters “320”.  But I didn’t look close enough, for that was the first nutritional ice cream on the label. But when I looked again, it was “320 calories PER SERVING”.  Closer inspection showed that there were supposed to be THREE servings per pint, so the total calories in the small carton was 960—a substantial number of calories. But that information appeared after the “per serving” information.

(In fact, all containers seem to specify a number of servings greater than those consumed by a normal person. Who decides what a “serving” is?)

Now I may be wrong, but shouldn’t the total calories per container appear first on the label? Do they put the “per serving” calories first so you think you’re eating healthier? Because NOBODY I KNOW GETS THREE SERVINGS OUT OF A PINT OF PREMIUM ICE CREAM!  I usually get two, but many of us, particularly when we need comfort, eat the whole damn pint.

Could it be that what I thought was a favor to the consumer (it isn’t; this is mandated by law) was really a way to make you think what you’re eating is less calorie-laden than it is? And that could result in your buying the ice cream when you wouldn’t if you really knew how many calories it had.

That is for Solomon to decide, but one thing’s for sure: the size reduction (not limited to ice cream, as the NYT mentions) is the result of pure greed. And it’s even more nefarious because it is hidden. You’ll never see on the label: “NEW SMALLER SIZE”.

So we have three potential tricks involving carton size, ingredients, and unrealistic serving sizes.

Oh, and I just remembered Steve Gould’s old Natural History article, “Phyletic size decrease in Hershey bars,” one of his funnier essays (still online), in which he describes the shrinkage in Hershey bars over time, always ultimately accompanied by an increase in the price per ounce. Here’s the graph Gould showed, putting it in an evolutionary context. Note that the article describes how Hershey’s tried to bribe Gould by offering him a free ten pounds of chocolate (they didn’t come through after his piece appeared!).

I haven’t bought a Hershey Bar in years, but I bet it’s a lot more than 25¢ now. And here’s one of his conclusions—classic Gould:

So, your lessons are these:

  1. If you’re counting calories, always look at the “per portion” count as well to see if the portion size is realistic. Will you really consume only one potion?
  2. If you’re out to buy ice cream, look at the carton to see if you’re getting “frozen dairy dessert” instead. Maybe you want this ersatz ice cream, but I don’t.

And get off my lawn!

“You know what really bothers me?”

May 23, 2022 • 2:15 pm

The title of course comes from the late Andy Rooney of CBS, who made a fine living as a Professional Kvetcher. Now it’s my turn.

Look at the photo below. Do we really need to do this? How did fruitmongers survive before the days of these ridiculous stickers?

This is my after-lunch plum, and of course the skin tore when I removed the label.

It’s even worse with ripe tomatoes: there’s almost no way to remove the Dreaded Paper Tags without ripping the skin.

Word and phrases I despise

April 7, 2022 • 1:45 pm

I believe all of these words or phrases are new, but since I don’t keep track I can’t be positive. At any rate, here are the latest four entries in my list of words and phrases I cannot stand. I offer these, of course, expecting readers to respond with their own linguistic bêtes noires.  I will use examples from the HuffPost when I find them, as that’s the epicenter of despiséd words and phrases.

1.)Perfect storm“.  This comes from a “nor’easter” turned hurricane off New England in 1991; it killed 13 and caused millions of dollars in damage. The Perfect Storm resulted from a concatenation of unusual meteorological conditions, and now is used by chowderheads to mean “a bad situation caused by the co-occurrence of several contributing factors.” It’s perhaps better known as the title of a 2000 movie about the storm.

There are two problems here. The first is that the phrase is shopworn, a cliché that is no longer especially cute or especially evocative. Second, it’s often used just to mean “concatenation”, even of good things, as in this HuffPost article (click all screenshots to read):

When someone uses this phrase, I consider them grammatically lazy. Because it can mean either good or bad stuff, it’s lost its original meaning. And there are simpler and less cutesy phrases that can substitute, like “bad outcome of many causes”  As Orwell said, avoid shopworn phrases.

2.)Deep dive.” Doesn’t this sound erudite and official? Well, guess what, there’s nothing it says that the phrase “close look” or “closer look” doesn’t say as well. Those who use it”deep dive” are grammatical sheep, employing the phrase because everybody else is. Let’s take a “deep dive into empathy,” meaning “discussing empathy in detail”:

Don’t brand yourself a linguistic ovid by emitting this odious phrase.

3.) “Sammie” “or “sammy” for “sandwich”. This is one of those attempts to be cute that fails badly. In fact, used in the singular, you save no syllables by saying “sammie” for “sandwich.” Further, when I hear the word, I think of Jews, often nicknamed “Sammy” if their real name is Samuel. (I had an uncle Sammy.)

Here’s a comestible that’s been doubly debased by that name:

There are many people who don’t like their own names shortened this way. Matthew Cobb goes by “Matthew”, not “Matt” or “Matty”; Richard Dawkins is “Richard,” not “Dick.” We respect their choices. Please respect the tasty sandwich by not calling it a “sammie”! This is one of those words that I may even correct if I hear someone say it. For example, if someone says to me, “Would you like a sammie?”, I may reply politely, feigning ignorance, “Do you mean a sandwich?”

4.) “Firestorm”, meaning “big kerfuffle” or “brouhaha”.  And we’re very close to #1 again, because many of the benighted use “firestorm” in the same way they’d use “perfect storm”.

In fact, a firestorm is what happens when fire and wind meet in a particularly dangerous conflagration. If it’s just a ruckus or kerfuffle or controversy, call it that. Don’t be like this HuffPost slacker, reaching for the nearest metaphor to describe Hillary’s emails:

Again, I’m with Orwell, who opposed stale metaphors, and this one has all the appeal of a week-old slice of Wonder Bread left out on the counter. Best to make up your own metaphors, if possible, and if not, well then avoid trying to be au courant.

Your turn. And get off my lawn!