Words and phrases I detest

April 30, 2021 • 1:00 pm

Yes, it’s that time again, and what better time than Petulant Friday to bring up the words and phrases that we most dislike? I’ve managed to collect a few, and, as usual, at lest half come from HuffPost, that bastion of Wokeness and “look at us; we’re young and cool” language.

Here are a few words and phrases I dislike, with the source. The object, of course, is to stimulate readers to bring forth their own pet peeves.

Today I have four:

1.) “Bright line” or “bright line in the sand”.  Now I can understand “line in the sand”, as a line over which you’re not supposed to step lest you suffer dire consequences. But “bright” line? What is a “bright” line? According to Wikipedia, “bright line” is a term of law:

In United States constitutional law, a bright-line rule (or bright-line test) is a clearly defined rule or standard, composed of objective factors, which leaves little or no room for varying interpretation. The purpose of a bright-line rule is to produce predictable and consistent results in its application. The term “bright-line” in this sense generally occurs in a legal context.

Bright-line rules are usually standards established by courts in legal precedent or by legislatures in statutory provisions. The US Supreme Court often contrasts bright-line rules with their opposite: balancing tests (or “fine line testing”), where a result depends on weighing several factors—which could lead to inconsistent application of law or reduce objectivity.

But a “line in the sand” means pretty much the same thing in common language: a line that is not to be crossed without consequences.  Ergo, “bright line in the sand” is completely redundant, as well as a mixed metaphor. But that hasn’t stopped HuffPost—and many others—from using it (click on screenshots if you must read them):

2.) “Vacay” for “vacation”.  This irks me the same way that “fam”, short for “family”, and “sesh”, short for “session”, irk me. (I believe even Andrew Sullivan used “sesh” in last week’s column!) It’s close in sound to “vacate”, and could even be mistaken for it in conversation. “Vacation” is good enough for me, for I dislike these “aren’t I cool?” truncated neologisms. Why not say “conflay” for “conflation”? Here’s one from HuffPost:


3.) “Impactful” for “consequential” “influential” or “important”.  This is one of those words that sounds so juvenile that it instantly grates on me. Here’s an example from the New York Times, for crying out loud:

The quote:

It was awkward. Even Beyoncé’s recognition for “Black Parade” — a good song, sure, but hardly among her best or most impactful work — felt strangely conciliatory, a mea culpa for not giving “Lemonade” its proper due several years ago.

You can be more specific here, using words like “influential” or “important” (in a critical sense), but in this context it’s unclear who or what is being “impacted.”

4.) “On social” for “on social media”.  I haven’t seen this on HuffPost, which, after all, IS social media rather than journalism, but I hear it on the television news all the time when the anchors say, at the end of the show, “Follow us on social.” Is it too much to ask them to add the word “media” so we know what they’re talking about? Most people use it correctly, but there are those “too cool for my shirt” miscreants who haven’t learned that “social” is not a noun but an adjective. Like this site:

Your turn! Tell us all what words or phrases get your knickers in a twist.


April 8, 2021 • 10:10 am

Here’s a photo I just took at the Austin airport.

Isn’t the word “water” enough here? What does “hydration” convey that “water” doesn’t? Is the rhyme between “hydration” and “station” the motivation?

And what about people who don’t speak English well? They might know what “water” is, but “hydration”?

Words and phrases I detest

January 22, 2021 • 2:30 pm

Yep, it’s time for another edition of the Curmudgeon Gazette: a list of words and phrases that rankle me. As usual, most of them come from HuffPost, and, as usual, people will tell me that some of these phrases are fine. “Language evolves,” say the Excusers. Great, but I still don’t like these phrases.

On this cold but sunny Chicago afternoon, I have three for you. (Click on screenshots to see article.)

1.) “I’m all about X.” This one really burns my onions (see the subtitle below). First of all, nobody is all about anything—every human is multifaceted and has multiple interests and concerns. The phrase is simply gross exaggeration, and could easily be replaced by phrases (as in the sub-headline below) like, “This month, we focus on. . . ” or some equivalent.

You will never hear this phrase pass my lips.


2.) “All the feels”. I’m pretty sure that I’ve used this one before, but I keep seeing it, and it never ceases to irritate me, as in the HuffPost article below:

The word is “FEELINGS”, chowderheads! And even that is hyperbole. No movie moments give you the totality of human emotions, which run the gamut from despair to horror to complacency, to anxiety, to elation—and many more.  Can’t these peabrains just say “13 Emotional Movie Moments”? My “feel” when I read headlines like this one is disgust.


3.) “The thing is. . . is that. . ” Now this one baffles me. Why can you just say “The thing is X” instead of “The thing is. . . is X”?  For example, “The thing is, is that he’s been a real jerk to me for a long time” can be replaced by “The thing is that he’s been a real jerk for me for a long time.” Better yet, deep-six “the thing is” part, which adds little, or replace it with “The important thing is.”

Here’s a discussion from the website Language Rules:

From that site:

It may be much more clear to see when sentences are rearranged. One of the above examples [JAC: the grammatically correct sentence”How correct this is is clear to see”] can be arranged as follows:

    • How correct this is is clear to see.
    • It is clear to see how correct this is.

In this instance, we can immediately tell that “how correct this is” in this case is a complete noun phrase able to stand on its own. When we try to reconstruct an example of an incorrect sentence using “The thing is is…” in exactly the same way, we get this:

    • The thing is is that this is incorrect.
    • It is that this is incorrect the thing is.

Most folks should be able to tell that the second sentence is totally jacked, which immediately tells us that the first sentence, merely a rearrangement of the words, must be incorrect as well, even though it sounds slightly better.

You know the drill: it’s time to be petulant and put your bête noire phrases below.

California passes law to test prospective cops for both explicit and implicit bias: a poorly written article in The Washington Post

October 29, 2020 • 10:45 am

This law sounds good in principle, but seems impossible to use as a way of detecting racism in potential hires. The law and its problems are described in a long and poorly-written article in the Washington Post; I’ll have more to say about the writing later.

Click on the screenshot to read:

Here’s the skinny, and I’ve condensed an article whose published version is at least three times longer than it need be:

An ambitious new law in California taking aim at potential biases of prospective officers has raised questions and concerns among police officers and experts who fear that if implemented inadequately, the law could undermine its own mission to change policing and the culture of law enforcement.

The law, which was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Sept. 30, will expand the present screening requirements by mandating all law enforcement agencies conduct mental evaluations of peace officer candidates to identify both implicit and explicit biases against race, ethnicity, gender, religion and sexual orientation to exclude unfit recruits.

Experts, police unions and lawmakers agree on the value of identifying whether those who aspire to become officers carry considerable degrees of biases, yet it is the lack of clarity on what tools and measures will be used to look for implicit biases that is raising concerns and prompting questions.

“If police departments start to reject applicants because they have implicit biases there will be no one left to hire,” said Lorie Fridell, professor of criminology at the University of South Florida and founder of the Fair and Impartial Policing program, one of the most popular implicit-bias awareness trainings in the country.

That’s one problem with the implicit bias test: it shows that nearly everyone has implicit bias (the article mentions that 88% of whites and 48% of blacks have an implicit bias for white people (when I took the test, it showed I was “race neutral”: the optimal outcome). Not only that, but the IAT (Implicit Association Test) has been widely criticized on many grounds, not the least that it doesn’t seem to translate into measurable behavior, which is the reason you measure it. You can see The Replicability Index‘s useful summary of all the analyses by clicking on the screenshot below:

From the article’s conclusions:

An unbiased assessment of the evidence shows no compelling evidence that the race IAT is a valid measure of implicit racial bias; and without a valid measure of implicit racial bias it is impossible to make scientific statements about implicit racial bias. I think the general public deserves to know this. Unfortunately, there is no need for scientific evidence that prejudice and discrimination still exists. Ideally, psychologists will spend more effort in developing valid measures of racism that can provide trustworthy information about variation across individuals, geographic regions, groups, and time. Many people believe that psychologists are already doing it, but this review of the literature shows that this is not the case. It is high time to actually do what the general public expects from us.

(See also this article from the British Psychological Society’s “Research Digest.”) Based on the widespread criticism of these tests, it’s simply not valid to claim that everyone has implicit bias.

Now onto the writing quality of the article. It’s long, tedious, and the prose is convoluted and abysmal. There are also some errors. I’ll give a few examples:

The law comes amid a moment of social upheaval where police departments across the country are facing scrutiny. . . .

WRONG. A moment is a period of time, and so it should be “when police departments” rather than “where police departments”. This is a common mistake, but an editor should have caught it.

None of the experts interviewed by The Washington Post claimed to know of law enforcement agencies that screen for unconscious biases — those that people are unwilling or unable to identify — as a hiring standard.

This is awkward. Although the antecedent to “those that people are unwilling or unable to identify” should be “unconscious biases”, it could also be “law enforcement agencies that screen for unconscious biases.” The awkward sentence could easily be fixed to “None of the experts interviewed claimed to know of law enforcement agencies that hire using screenings for unconscious biases—those biases that people are unwilling or unable to identify.”

. . . . he is skeptical of taking implicit bias evaluations like IATs, as benchmarks of deep-seeded beliefs that would lead to discrimination.

IT IS NOT “DEEP-SEEDED” but “DEEP-SEATED”. Everybody should know this, but the mistake is common. But that doesn’t excuse it from appearing in a major newspaper.

These screenings vary agency to agency and often include review of social media postings for sexist or racist comments, interviews with acquaintances, past employers, family members and thorough mental evaluations.

That’s another awkward sentence implying that the review of social media posts includes “thorough mental evaluations”. This could have been solved by putting “thorough mental evaluations” before “review of social media postings.”
A shared concern among scholars is on the use of tools such as implicit association tests (IATs) — sometimes used in bias training — as a hiring tool or screening device due to the unreliability of its findings.
The bit after the second hyphen is confusing and hard to read. It would be easy to fix: “Because implicit association tests (IATs) have been found to be unreliable, scholars are concerned about their use to screen or hire applicants, or in bias training.” Further, the construction “a shared concern . . .on” is awkward and should be “Many scholars are concerned about. . . ” or some other construction.

Yes, these errors may seem minor, but don’t newspapers like the Washington Post employ line editors any more? What’s just as bad, or worse, is the painfully awkward prose, with long sentences, that pervades the entire article. Like this:

Kang said implicit bias tests provide useful, yet inexact information, which he compared to weather forecasts, about a person’s beliefs and stereotypes at a certain moment, but they ought to be used as road maps to help law enforcement agencies develop better methods and procedures, rather than as individual hiring tools.

UG-LEE! But examples are easy to find. One more and I’ll leave you:

Catafi said POST will be working with psychologists and law enforcement experts to incorporate these new required items to the current psychological screening manual, and they have until January 2022 to complete the process.

That one has a bad error as well: it’s incorporate INTO, not “incorporate to”.

But where are the editors? There ought to be editors. Well, maybe next year.

h/t: Luana

Words and phrases I detest

March 31, 2020 • 12:45 pm

You’d think that during the pandemic, people might be at home brushing up on their grammar; but of course you’d think wrongly. I never seem to run out of phrases that I detest, and, in this latest installment, all of them come from HuffPost, a reliable source of bad writing by eager but unlettered and underpaid youths just out of college. (You don’t get “lettered” in college any more.)

Read and weep. (No need to tell me that you have no problem with these; the point is that I do.) And feel free to add your own peeves in the comments.

If you must see the article, click on the screenshot, though the headlines in the click-through post aren’t always the same as on these front-page teasers.

1.) “Vibe”.  I have no problem with “good vibes” or “bad vibes” or “vibes” used as an abbreviation for “vibraphone”. I do have a problem with its use this way:

Note: it’s not a “good vibe” or a “bad vibe” or any kind of “(adjective) vibe”.

Here we have the latest with-it noun meaning, I think, “a created atmosphere or emotion”, similar to the odious use of the word “mood” without any adjectives. In this case, they don’t even tell you what kind of “vibe” you’re supposed to feel when Kris Jenner fumbles when trying to use Instagram. In fact, the word is completely superfluous in the headline above; they could have said, “Kris Jenner attempts and fails to livestream Kim Kardashian.”  But then, of course, the headline wouldn’t look cool and edgy.

2.) “AF”. The first time I saw this, I didn’t realize that it means “as fuck”, for example, “I’m mad AF at Trump.”  It’s a way to use obscene words without having to write them out. And, like “vibe”, it’s lazy and annoying. Here’s one example:

Tell me, friends: what, exactly, is added to his headline by using “AF”? Why not just say “really relaxing”? Because of course (see below). You look au courant when you use those two letters—but only to morons, like those people who staff HuffPost. I see that I’ve excoriated the use of “AF” in a previous post, and that makes me angry AF at myself.

3.) “Journal” as a verb. This word, which is short for “keeping (or writing in) a journal” is part of the noxious trend in which nouns become verbs, like saying “gift” for “giving a present” or “medal” for “winning an Olympic medal.” To wit:

What’s next with this trend? “Stephen King is booking”? “It’s about time to start Christmas carding”? “I have to go to the grocery store, so I better do some listing”? The mind boggles.

4. “Because of course.” I’ve already had my Hour of Detestation with the phrase “Because X”, which is gaining in “with-it” journalism. (The example I used before, from HuffPost, of course, was the headline “Which airline to fly based on the free snacks, because free snacks.”)

The possibilities are endless for “X”. But this new variant is even more obnoxious.  In fact, when used as intended, all it says is “read what was written before.” In the following, the “because of course” means “Meghan Markle always inspires the perfect look.”  Well, for one thing she doesn’t, and for another the wording gives me a pain in my lower mesentery. Finally, on what grounds is Megan Markle even an “influencer”? People who read articles like this need a life!

More odious words and phrases

March 8, 2020 • 3:00 pm

It’s sunny outside, the ducks are being frisky, and I have no business trying to brain today. Here: enjoy three words and phrases I have grown to hate. It’s amazing that I rarely repeat these; I suppose that makes me a curmudgeon.  Click on the screenshots to see the source of these irritating usages.

The first one comes from HuffPost, which, according to the New York Times, has just lost its woke editor and is suffering, to my immense Schadenfreude, from layoffs and a loss of business.

1.) “Deets” for “details”. Get this straight: “Deets” is the name of Stephen Barnard’s dog, not an annoying contraction of “details”, like this one:


The only thing worse than “spilling the deets” is “spilling the tea”, another grating neologism (see here)

2.) “At first blush”. People who use this phrase, which can be easily and more clearly replaced by “at first glance” or “at first sight”, almost certainly don’t know where it came from. In fact, it has nothing to do with blushing. As Writing Explained explains:

Nowadays, blush is a verb used for the face turning red. However, in the past, blush had a secondary meaning, “to look or glance.” This definition is now obsolete, with the exception of this expression.

The word blush originated around the year 1300 in Middle English and came from the Old English word blyscan.

The origin of the full idiom at first blush in unknown. However, the earliest written record available to view online is in William Spurstowe’s The Wells of Salvation Opened, from the year 1655.

Got it? You’re using a medieval term that suggests something different from what you’re saying (the flushing of a face), and you don’t even know what it means.  Here’s the New York Times, of all places, using it just last year:

The phrase, like another loser—”sea change”—should be relegated to the circular file. (“Sea change” is simply a “big change”.)

3. “Apps” for “appetizers”. I saw this on t.v. last night: some restaurant chain was offering a 2-for-1 deal with two “apps”, two entrees (in the American sense) and desserts. I’d never heard “apps” used in this way before, but it took about a minute to find it, here on delish.com.  This is part of the “contraction mania” that has turned “family” into “fam” and, as above, “details” into “deets”.  It’s even more odious because “apps” has a completely different usage, as in “applications” for a computer. Somehow I don’t mind that nearly as much, because it seems more of a convenience than a way to act cool. (Don’t get me started on the hyperbolic use of “amazing”, which seems so ingrained that it’s here to stay.)

If you’re going to do this, why not use “fert” for “fertilizer” and “san” for “sanitizer”?

As always, you’re heartily invited to add your own linguistic bête noire in the comments.

Words and phrases I hate

February 6, 2020 • 1:30 pm

Yes, it’s time for another chance to blow off steam about words and phrases that irritate you. I have three today: all, of course, are from HuffPo—the source of everything risible and reprehensible. You’re invited to contribute your favorites in the comments.

1.) “Sick” meaning “cool” or “great.” This is another neologism which means the opposite of how it sounds. And it’s one of those words whose use brands you as being au courant, though of course anyone using “sick” in this way wouldn’t know what “au courant” means. Here’s an example from HuffPo, which further degrades itself by putting quotes around “sick”, quotes whose purpose is unclear. Is it to indicate that they know the word doesn’t really mean “sick” in a bad way, or to show that it’s slang? Who knows? Who cares?

The most famous use of “sick”, of course, comes from this viral video of “supermodel” Bella Hadid going shopping for Nike sneakers. If you have any ear for the spoken word, her use of language will curl the soles of your shoes. Note her continuous use of  “sick” and “dope” (means the same thing as “sick”), as well as her annoying sentence preface, “You know what?” Note also her implication at 1:38 that if you wear the right sneakers she’ll have sex with you (“get it”), but if you wear the wrong ones, well, it’s “quiet for you.”

You need to listen to this as part of your cultural education, but take my word for it—it’s painful.

2.) “I’m all about” or “We’re all about”. This really irritates me because it’s not even close to being accurate. Except, perhaps, for an Olympic swimmer in a competition who’s “all about swimming”, nobody is ever “all about” anything. But HuffPo’s editors (all privileged white women, of course), were all about being hydrated and wearing “comfortable-as-hell” tights.

Oh, which brings up another irritant: the word “hella“, a wrongly used contraction of “hell of” and actually meaning “really” or “strongly” (see above). Belowis example from HuffPo, which is calling out a swimsuit worn by a model of the wrong race:


3.) “You do you”, meaning,  “just act as you normally would.”  Everything I could say about this puerile Deepity was said in my earlier post about “It is what it is.” Both are examples, as the NYT article below says, of tautophrases (see below). And don’t get me started on Chrissy Teigen, who has become internet famous without any discernible talent beyond Tweeting. “You do you, Chrissy”.

From the NYT piece below:

William Safire, writing in these pages in 2006, coined a word for these self-­justifying constructions: “tautophrases.” This was in the midst of his investigation into the ubiquity of “It is what it is,” as evidenced in its use by cultural specimens as disparate as Britney Spears and Scott McClellan, a press secretary for President George W. Bush. (Pause to reminisce.) Whether the subject is an imperfect situation to be endured (“The new coffee in the break room is the pits”) or an existential conundrum (“My body is a bunch of atoms working in brief harmony before death returns them to the universe”), “It is what it is” effectively ends the discussion so that we can stop, nod in solemn agreement and move on.

Words and phrases I hate

December 26, 2019 • 12:30 pm

The dreadful neologisms just keep pouring in, almost as if I were a bad boy this year and get these things instead of lumps of coal at Christmas. In just a few days I’ve accumulated four words that should be ruthlessly expunged from the literature and from the vocabulary of thinking people. Three of them come from the fount of bad writing—HuffPost—but one comes from Marie Claire, a fashion magazine. Click on each screenshot to go to the article.

The first one is particularly odious:

1.) “Gift” as a verb.  Since when do we need to use the word “gift” as a verb instead of simply “give”. You could argue that “Well, gift means giving a present as opposed to other things you could be giving.” My response: “Take a number and kiss my tuchas: the context tells you the meaning.” Here’s one example from HuffPost:

Sadly, “gift” as a verb is so firmly ensconced in the argot that I fear it will be with us forever.

2.) “Tea”, meaning “gossip”.  This is a term much beloved by Generation Xers (okay Xer), but it’s not useful, for it’s the grammatical equivalent of virtue flaunting. Using it tells the reader or listener, “If you understand this usage, you’re as cool as I am.” And so we have “spill the tea” for “divulging gossip”, and ludicrous headlines like the following.

(By the way, the fact that PuffHo even publishes articles like this shows how pathetic they are.) This one takes the metaphor farther by rating how titillating the gossip is on a scale from “room temp to scalding”:

3.) “Insta” for “Instagram”. One of the more useless platforms of social media is Instagram—basically a platform for showing yourself off or for making money by showing off you using somebody else’s products. Now that’s not always true of everyone, but it’s a general truth the whole world knows. And “Insta”, as a repugnant contraction like “fam” (for “family”), has given rise to the deplorable phenomenon of “influencers”, which I’ve mentioned in this series before.

Often “Insta” is a noun referring to the site, but, even worse, it can be a verb—as in the subheading of the article below:

To me, the world would be a better place if Instagram were to vanish. I can see uses for Facebook, like connecting with old friends, and even for Twitter, like posting cat photos or breaking news, but the only use I see for Instagram is to flaunt yourself before the world and, if you’re female, often en déshabillé. I believe even I have an Instagram account, but I assure you that I didn’t set it up nor do I post on it. Somebody else fabricated it.

4.) “Shoppable.” If I mentioned this word, and asked you what it meant, what would you say? I would have answered with a question: “A venue where you would be able to shop, like a ‘shoppable’ food exposition?”  Wrong! It apparently means “something that even you are able to buy”, as in this headline from Marie Claire.  Yes, for only £395, you lesser mortals of the female persuasion can own a pair of the same shoes that the Duchess of Cambridge wore during the holidays.

The word sounds ugly and out of place, and would be so even if it were moved before the words “Green Emmy Shoes”. My own suggestion would have been: “Where to buy Kate Middleton’s Green Emmy Shoes from her Sandringham Walk”, but that wouldn’t have been so hip.

Now you know what to do: all of us are nurturing pet peeves about certain words or phrases. Air your grievances below.


Words and phrases I hate

August 28, 2019 • 12:30 pm

Beyond the depressing news from Britain (and Matthew has promised to write us a daily summary during the “troubles”), there’s not much I feel compelled to write about today. So let’s return to a favorite curmudgeonly pastime: describing words and phrases that rankle us. I have three today:

A.) “This. Just this.” This phrase is used to agree with or emphasize some statement or sentiment. (Sometimes it’s just the single sentence “This.”) The word is the verbal equivalent of an emoticon: a cheap and not particularly appealing way to express assent. For some reason it seems widely used by Social Justice Warriors (and I am referring to the offense-brigade type) to align them selves with a group that is distancing itself from others.

B.) “because why not” or “because. . “ I don’t like this because it’s ungrammatical, and that alone is enough to rile me. I’ll give an example: “Why did you eat your hamburger but leave the bun?” “Because carbohydrates.”  And that’s one of the less disturbing examples. An article at Sentence First goes into more detail on why and how “because” has become a preposition, including this:

‘Because’ has become a preposition, because grammar

If the title of this post made perfect sense to you, then you’re way ahead of me. But just in case, we’d best recap. Neal Whitman wrote a good article at Grammar Girl recently on the possible origins of because as a standalone preposition. This helpful passage from Whitman sets out the context:

In Standard English, the word “because” can be used two ways. One of them is to introduce a clause, as in “Aardvark was late because he was waiting for the repairman to show up.” Used this way, “because” is a subordinating conjunction. The other is to team up with “of” to form what’s called a compound preposition. For example, “Aardvark was late because of heavy traffic.” In the past three or four years, though, a new usage for “because” has been developing.

The new usage – older than 3–4 years, mind – is what Laura Bailey and Mark Liberman, respectively, have referred to as “because+noun” and “because NOUN”. Liberman says the idiom usually seems to imply “that the referenced line of reasoning is weak”. Sometimes, yes, but it’s also commonly used just for convenience, or effect: No work tomorrow because holidays!Of course evolution is true, because science.

Because X is fashionably slangy at the moment, diffusing rapidly across communities. It has a snappy, jocular feel, with a syntactic jolt that allows long explanations to be forgone. Because time-strapped. Maybe the causal factor is so obvious as to need no elaboration, or the speaker is distracted or giddy, or online and eager to save effort and move on, or maybe the construction appeals for undefined aesthetic or social reasons.

Anything that’s “fashionably slangy” is suspect from the outset! (Which reminds me: “outset” is not the same as “onset”, yet many people use the latter when they mean the former.)

C.) “Impactful.” There is no use for this word. “Meaningful,” “consequential”, “important”, “effective”, or, best of all, “influential.” With all of those words, there’s no need for the clumsy and bothersome “impactful”.  But of course HuffPost loves it:

You know the drill: go ahead and rant: