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:

Words and phrases I hate

August 15, 2019 • 2:30 pm

The list keeps growing so fast that I can barely contain my bile.  Here are a few stinkers that have bothered me lately. (And of course, add your own in the comments.) All examples come from that bastion of grammatical degeneracy: HuffPost.

1.) “noms” for nominations. This is one of those “look cool” truncations like “fam” for family or “romcom” for “romantic comedy”. The problem, of course, is that the word also means “food” to all Internet cat lovers. Why can’t they just say “nominations”?

2.) “vacay” for “vacation”. This one really ticks me off, as you save only one lousy syllable. Does this mean that “vocation” will become “vocay”, too? And it’s only a matter of time before “fashion” becomes “fash”.

3.)relatable“.  When I hear someone use or write this word, I immediately mark them down on the neuron scale. I’m not sure why it bothers me so much (it may even be in the dictionary), but somehow the longer phrase “that we can relate to” seems better. Or, better yet, what’s wrong with “congenial” or “appealing”?

4.) “advancements”.  What the bloody hell? Why isn’t “advances” good enough?


Don’t worry—I have more. And I’ll be here all year, folks.

More words and phrases I hate

July 11, 2019 • 1:15 pm

It’s that time of year when the heat makes one splenetic, ready to denounce phrases used by the young, woke, or “with-it”.  Here are a few of my most despiséd terms, and of course you’re welcome to add yours.

It’s time for the Daily Two Minutes of Hate!

1.) “Back in the day”.  Of course this means “way back when” or “in old times that I remember”, but it’s annoyingly imprecise. When I hear it I want to ask, “In WHAT day? When?” It seems easier to say, “When I was a child” or something similar.

Example from boston.com:

He’s a resilient guy, this Conan O’Brien, and now he’s rising from the ashes again, re-re-re-bearded and ready to puppet dance, hoping to promote his C-SPAN3 show by making guest appearances on everything from CNN’s “Spitzer Blagojevich’’ to “The Daily Show With Dennis Miller.’’ But we’ve known O’Brien is a fighter since back in the day, when he was the David to Jay Leno’s Goliath.

2.) “Passed” for “died”.  This, of course, is a euphemism designed to avoid the word “died” or even the notion that someone is gone for good. Further, it implies that there’s an afterlife: that somebody passed on the way to somewhere else. We need to face up to the fact that everyone is going to die, but one way to deny that is to use words like “passed”. Now I don’t call out people for using that about someone they knew, as that would be churlish, but it still curls the soles of my shoes when I hear it.

“Passed away”, however, is better and doesn’t rankle nearly so much.

3.)Salty”. I can’t tell you how much I despise this word, which, according to the Urban Dictionary, means “when you are upset over something little.” Alternatively: “The act of being upset, angry, or bitter as result of being made fun of or embarassed. Also a characteristic of a person who feels out of place or is feeling attacked.”

Here’s one example by a social-media-savvy Congressional representatives who is trying to be cool (note the Spanish—an attempt to show solidarity with her equally vocal sister).  I also can’t stand the “sorry not sorry” phrase, which is odious but should at least have a comma or semicolon after the first word:

4.) “It is what it is.” (I’m sure I’ve highlighted this before.) A friend said this the other day and I said, “What does that mean?” The response: “You can’t do anything about the situation.” But often that’s not the case, and if that’s true then the phrase devolves to a watered-down version of Vonnegut’s “so it goes.” In other words, it’s a conversational place filler meant to make you sound cool.

Your turn!

“Gender reveal parties”: a gross misnomer

June 22, 2019 • 12:15 pm

All of a sudden, “gender reveal parties” are all the rage. I read about them everywhere, but at first didn’t know what they were: I thought that they were affairs in which adults who had changed gender, or realized their gender, revealed this to their friends and family. But noooo, here’s what they are, as characterized by Wikipedia:

gender reveal party is a celebration where either the guests, the expecting parents, or both find out the sex of the baby. This has become possible with the increasing accuracy of various technologies of prenatal sex discernment. For example, less than half way through the normal pregnancy, an ultrasound technician can visually determine the sex. If the parents decide they want to have a gender reveal party they will notify the technician before hand so they won’t tell them during the appointment if they want to be surprised. There is also an early sex blood work exam that can be done as early as 7 weeks with 95 percent accuracy. Gender reveal parties will typically be held midterm so that the first trimester is surpassed and the chances of Miscarriage are low.

Nota bene: it is sex that is revealed.

Parents magazine even has a how-to guide on how to throw such parties (hints: no pink or blue themes before the reveal), and the Wall Street Journal, predictably, has decried the excesses of such parties.

But my point is not whether such parties are good or bad. It’s that they are completely misnamed. We all know—though three evolution societies apparently do not—that there’s a difference between sex and gender. Sex is a biological feature, based on sex-chromosome constitution (in humans, XX vs XY) and accompanied by characteristic traits such as genitalia, testes, and ovaries. It’s almost completely binary, with very few intermediate or undiagnosable cases (I’m talking to you, evolution societies).

In contrast, gender is, as they say, a “social construct”, and corresponds to a person’s sex “role” or self-identification. Thus, a biological male can be a self-identified female in gender, someone can identify with both genders, often using the pronoun “they”, or there can be people who assume genders that don’t involve either male, female, or a mixture. As I’ve repeatedly said, while biological sex is a binary, gender, while also fitting a bimodal distribution (most people identify as either male or female) is a bit less of a binary, since there are more self-identified intermediates. And there’s no reason not to respect people’s self-identification.

But let us have no nonsense about “gender reveal” parties. It is not the fetus’s gender that is revealed, but its sex. The parties are revelation of one prong of a binary: male or female. No hermaphrodites are revealed, nor any “genderqueers”, “neutrals”, “pangenders”, or any of the other 58 genders listed here.

Gender is a role or an identity that you adopt after you’re born, usually well after. It can’t be revealed before birth.

And so the parties should be called “sex reveal parties.” QED

Why do they use the “gender reveal” term? I have two theories, both of which which are mine:

1.) “Sex reveal parties” sound too much like parties in which people flash their genitalia.

2.) “Gender” is a more woke and trendy-sounding term than “sex”. Naming a party with “gender” shows that you’re cool. That, however, leads to the misnomer identified above.

If you’re gonna have one of these parties, for Ceiling Cat’s sake get it biologically correct!

The most repugnant headline ever

May 20, 2019 • 5:00 pm

It’s from HuffPo, of course, and I count 4.5 repellent words or phrases in the  two headlines below. If you click on the screenshot, you’ll see another stinker in the second-page headline:

Apparently this is the way HuffPost thinks its readers talk, and perhaps they do.

And of course it’s about a tweet: that’s all that HuffPo reports on these days since its “reporters” are too lazy to do anything but look at Twitter.

More words I hate

May 19, 2019 • 1:45 pm

It’s time for another installment of “words and phrases that repel me”. Today we have four, and I’ll use as examples my favorite website to hate, HuffPost. (Click on screenshots to see the shameful usage.)

1.) Impactful.  I’m not even going to look this up to see it’s a word; it probably is in the OED or some place similar. But it’s odious, repugnant, and odiferous. Yes, I know it’s shorter than the alternatives, though some adjectives, like “effective” can occasionally replace it. It sounds awkward.

2.) Dragged.  As in “throw shade on”, meaning, “criticized” or “vilified”. It’s with-it millennial jargon, and it’s also confusing, for those who don’t know its use in the argot might think that someone is literally being dragged. (And don’t get me started on “literally”.)

3.) Haters. To shut down discussion of any topic, just refer to critics or opponents as “haters.” Nobody wants to be a hater, and it’s a good way to mock (even if it doesn’t silence) those whom you don’t like. And no, AOC didn’t “shut down” anybody: as far as I know, the GOP critics of her views are still there. I may have used this word before in a “words I hate” post. I guess I’m a word hater.

4.) Minoritized. This is an example of Orwell’s notion that new words and phrases can be constructed to carry a hidden political message.  It used to be “minorities”, which was accurate in singling out groups that were not in the numerical or political majority. By referring to “minoritized” people, you now add the notion that they have been diminished or oppressed. That may be the case, but sometimes it’s not, and, at any rate, why not use the words “oppressed minorities” or “oppressed” instead?

Now, of course, it’s your turn to vent.

More words I hate

April 18, 2019 • 12:30 pm

It’s time for another edition of Words I hate, with the implicit invitation of readers to share words (or phrases) that they find repugnant. I have but two today:

1.) Relatable. Yes, this is in some dictionaries, but it really grates on me for reasons I can’t understand. Perhaps it’s because HuffPo, my bête noire, uses it so frequently, as in the following article (click on screenshot).

2.) Word.  And here I mean the use of this word in a single sentence, as in this entry from the Urban Dictionary:

But I often see an individual using it to praise themselves, meaning “What I just said was awesome, and pay attention to it.” For example, to put a number of things that irritate me in a single sentence, “Beyoncé’s new album from Coachella just dropped, and it’s awesome. Word.”

Have at it. After all, the purpose of this post is to blow off steam. And if you want to say something like “Languages evolves, and this is fine,” please refrain.