Category Archives: Words

Words and Phrases I Want to Ban

Here are some words and phrases that annoy me or that I am just tired of or both.

Please do not say your call is important to us unless you really mean it.  Show me by being helpful.  And if you are a machine, then the people who programed you to say it definitely didn’t mean it.

Stop talking about the actual facts.  There are no other kind.

Do not say that a movie or movie star is the winner of five nominations.  A nomination is not a win.

Please do not put Mc- in front of anything else.  It’s just annoying.

I wish that nurses would stop asking how are we today.  Obviously you are doing better than I am.

You should not say that somebody set an all time record until an eternity has actually gone by.

Please do not give whatever as an argument.  It is rude.  It also means that you  are not smart enough to think of a good argument.

There is no such thing as negative growth.  Say that something is shrinking or decreasing instead.

I think that app is a very inelegant word.  Is it really too time-consuming to say application?  Are the only words we can use now the ones that are short enough to fit on a tiny hand-held screen?

Why did people think we needed the word wellness Just say health.

Please do not tell me to stop giving you an attitude.  Everybody always has one kind of attitude or another.

Stop saying I feel when you are giving your opinion.  You think it or believe it.

I am tired of hearing about wardrobe malfunctions.  It’s one of those things that is only funny the first time.

Don’t say campaign rhetoric, unless you know what rhetoric really is.  It isn’t calling your opponent names or making outlandish promises.

I don’t think that a place can be overcrowded, since it is impossible for it to be undercrowded.  It’s just crowded.

There is no such thing as virtual reality.  Things are either real or unreal.  They can also be realistic or fantastic.

It is not necessary to say center median.  There are no side medians.

Don’t say that you want something because it is in the public interest when it is really in the interest of the people who gave the most money to your campaign.

Please don’t utilize things.  Just use them.

Things are not classic until they are very old and still popular.  There are no instant classics.

Don’t implement things.  Just start them.



Some of the New Lingo

I wrote quite awhile ago about things that my kids say that annoy me.  One of them was the overuse and misuse of the word awesome.  The other was like.

I’m glad to say that I do not hear them using the word awesome that much anymore.  Maybe they haven’t destroyed its original meaning.  Once in awhile something happens that is truly awesome, and it is nice to have a word that describes it.

I’m sad to say that they still pepper their speech with like.  It’s bad enough that they sometimes use it incorrectly and sometimes use it unnecessarily.  What bothers me the most is when they insert it after every three or four words.  It’s sloppy and terribly inelegant.  It is like smacking gum or tapping fingernails on the table or twirling one’s hair.

Three new words have entered the vocabulary.  Have you heard them?

The first is fail as a noun.  That was a major fail, they will say when something that they tried does not work out well.  I have tried to explain that the noun is failure, but they look at me as though I am a primitive monkey-man scratching my armpits and grunting.  It reminds me of bad used as a noun, as in my bad.  When did that start, and why?

The second new word is epic.  Anything that is somewhat nice or good is epic, although they do tend to use it for something out of the ordinary or slightly exciting.  If one of their friends launches his or her bicycle off a ramp, it is epic.  If they take a hike up a mountain, it is epic.  But so is a trip to the store to buy potato chips or a silly prank that they played on somebody.  I have told them the real meaning of the word, but they don’t care.

The third new word is more of a prefix.  It is the German word uber.  It apparently can be affixed to any adjective.  A jalapeno pepper is uber spicy.  A bad comedy film is uber lame.  (Lame is another of their slang words, but it has been around for awhile.)  A beautiful new outfit is uber gorgeous.  (I’m not sure how gorgeous can be intensified, but there you go.)  As I have told them, the German prefix has the connotation of something’s being above and beyond the norm, like the English super (a cognate) in the words supernatural and Superman.  It literally means over, and usually has that simple meaning in German, even as a prefix.  It is also related to hyper, as in hyperactive and hyperinflation.

Language changes, and that’s just the way it is, but I have a hard time with the changes, especially the rapid ones that occur in informal dialogue.  During my lifetime I have heard good things called neat, groovy, cool, hot, bad, boss, fly, fresh, dope, radical, tubular, awesome, and now epic.  (I haven’t heard uber epic, but I’m sure that I will.)  Most of the earlier ones sound silly now, even embarrassing.  Do they show creativity and originality?  I think that they show laziness and sloppiness.  We already have words to describe good things, and some of them are much more specific and less exaggerated.  It just takes a bit of thought to use them.

I’m such an old fuddy-duddy!

About Words and Definitions

     “A horse is a horse, of course, of course. . .”

     That was the opening line of a theme song for a television program named Mr. Ed.  Have you seen it?  It is about a talking horse, and it is very amusing.

     People often mix up words, their underlying concepts, and their definitions.  Although those three things are very closely linked, they are not the same.

     In our minds we have a concept of what a horse is.  We tend to visualize the typical or quintessential horse whenever we are prompted to think of one.  To that concept we ascribe the word horse.  We define it, either as it is commonly used or as zoologists use it, which turns out pretty much the same.

     If we wanted to, we could call it a caballo, as they do in Spanish, but English speakers have pretty much unanimously agreed to call it a horse.  We could call it a goat, but then we would probably have to come up with a different word for the animal that we currently call a goat.  We could assign it a numeric code or, as in sign language for the deaf, a particular gesture.  However, our ancestors decided to call it a horse, and dictionaries record that word and its definitions, as we use it.

     Prescriptivists are those people who see word defintion and usage as pretty much fixed.  They see the job of dictionaries as telling us what words mean and how they should be used.  Decsciptivists, on the other hand, see definitions and usage as subject to change.  They see the job of dictionaires as reporting  how most people define and use words.

     The thing that I think we should keep in mind, however, is that the concepts behind the words, and the underlying realities, are what they are.  No matter what words we use or how we define them, a thing or an idea is whatever it is.  We do not live in a magical world in which entities can suddenly be transformed by calling them different names or by imagining them in different ways.  We can humorously refer to weiners as “tube steak” but that does not transform them into sirloins.  A woman can imagine that her cubic zirconium ring is a diamond, but that does not make it so.

     What is this about really?  A commenter recently wrote that marriage is whatever we define it as.  That sounds good at first glance.  Most people would read that statement and nod in agreement.  However, I humbly suggest that the person who wrote it, Scott Erb, was mixing up real things, concepts, and definitions.

     Take another example that is totally unrealted.  Would we say that a skyscraper is whatever we define it as?  It is hard to define that word precisely.  For example, is a ten-storey building a skyscraper?  I doubt that most people would refer to such a building that way nowadays.  They certainly would not call a three-storey building a skyscraper.  Does that mean that the word has no meaning at all?  If so, we would hardly be able to use it.

     A skyscaper is a very tall building, one that figuratively scrapes the sky.  When I think of one, I visualize the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building.  I probably drift into thinking about the John Hancock Building in Boston, because I have an early memory of being at the top of it.

     Whatever word we might use for those buildings, the concept exists.  We all can imagine a skyscraper when prompted to do so.  And the reality exists; there really are buildings that are much taller than average.  It does not matter one bit how we play around with the word or adjust its definition, the thing is what it is.

     What if we decided to call every building a skyscaper?  We could do it.  After all, a skyscaper is whatever we define it as.  However, I don’t think it would catch on with most people.  They would think it odd to apply the term to a structure that is only 15 feet tall.  Although it is scientifically imprecise, we think of the sky as being way above our heads.

     Now, let’s turn to marriage.  When most people hear the word, they probably think of a man (probably dressed in a black tuxedo) and a woman (probably dressed in a white gown).  Or they think of their own spouse or perhaps their parents or perhaps some of their friends who are married.  So, there is a concept of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and that has been almost the exclusive concept since the beginning of America–indeed throughout all of European history, if not human history.

     Our concept of marriage almost always involves opposites, even when we use it metaphorically.  We can speak of the marriage between coffee and milk in a cafe latte, which combines something dark and bitter with something white and mild. 

     The entity exists, whatever one might call it.  It is true that men and women join with each other in exclusive relationships that involve living together, supporting one another, having intimate relationships with each other, and producing offspring.  Sometimes we call it marriage, and sometimes we call it matrimony.  But whatever we call it, it is what it is.  It would not change if we decided to call it something else, say partnership or coupling.  It would not change if we imagined it a different way–for example, as a relationship between two people of the same sex.  The more common thing, the union of a man and a woman, would still be a very real thing, and we would probably want a unique name for it.

     After all, the union of a man and a woman is substantially and essentially different from the union of a man and a man or of a woman and a woman.  Those unions might be similar, but they are not identical.  Anatomy tells you so.  Genetics tells you so.  The little babies that are the usual result of the opposite-sex union tell you so.

     I am not arguing here that homosexual people should not have mutually exclusive relationships that are like marriage.  In the eyes of the law, they should be able to do whatever they want.  I am not arguing here that they should not call their relationship a marriage, if they want.  I am merely saying that there will still exist something different from that kind of relationship.  There will still be unions between men and women, and there will probably need to be a term for that kind of union, if the word marriage is routinely applied to a broader category of relationships.

     I am also arguing that it is in the sphere of the public, the common ordinary people, that definitions of words should be decided.  The government does have to define words for purposes of the law; for example, they must precisely differentiate between homocide and manslaughter, although the common word killing can apply to both.  However, with such a basic, cherished word as marriage, I am not sure that it is the function of government to tell us what it means or to tell us how we must use it.

     To summarize, the thing we have generally called marriage is what it is, which to most people is a union between a man and a woman, whatever we might have chosen to call it.  It cannot change by having the word marriage defined in a new way.  The concept of marriage to most people includes the essential feature that it joins things or people that are opposites.  The definition of marriage, as most people use the word, already matches that concept and that reality.  Why force a change on people officially?

     If most people are willing to regard same-sex unions as marriages, the change will catch on.  People who don’t like the change can adapt by coming up with a new term for opposite-sex unions.  Eventually the law and the government could officially recognize the change adopted by the public at large.  Why not let it be settled that way?

So Random

     My teenage children use the word random in a way that really annoys me.  Have you heard teenages use it in a nonconvential way?

     The way I first learned it, and the way I still use it, is to mean “not having a predictable pattern or sequence.”  When I first learned to write computer programs, I used a random number generator to create visual effects, such as snow falling, or for certain features in games, such as a virtual roll of the dice.  Radomness relates to things like picking out names from a telephone directory in no particular order or like dealing the cards in a poker game.

     The first time I heard my son use it in a new way, we were watching some mind-numbing teenage movie in which a boy on a skateboard slid down a railing and crashed into the sidewalk below.  “That was so random,” said my son. 

     “What do you mean?” I said.

     “It was random.  It was lame.  He had no reason to do that.”

     I replied, “That’s not exactly what the word random means.”

     “What are you talking about?” he asked.

     “The word really means something happening by chance.  For example, the exact spot that the boy would land when he fell could be thought of as random.”

     “Dad, that’s really random.”

     “What do you mean?” I asked again.

     “What you said.  It was random.  Like, it didn’t follow anything.”

     So, apparently, random can describe a non sequitur, as well as a stupid act done without reason.  Mind you, what I said did follow from what my son had said, but let’s not bother with the facts for now.

     Apparently there is a show on the Disney Channel called “Sonny With a Chance,” and in that show the characters are part of a fictional TV show called “So Random.”  The fictional show-within-a-show apparently includes skits featuring absurd situations.  There doesn’t seem to be much randomness, just a buch of nonsense.  (I’m not opposed to nonsense, I just do not think that it is necessarily random.)

     I have several problems with the new definitions of the word random.

     1.  When kids encounter the word in a math class or in a statistics class, they will have a difficult time understanding the traditional meaning.  They are likely to get confused, as kids are wont to do anyway.

     2.  It seems to be very subjective.  I have heard a group of kids argue about whether something was random or not.

Kid A:  My mother made me eat breakfast this morning.  It was so random.

Kid B:  That’s not random.  My mother makes me eat breakfast every day.

Kid C:  I really like scrambled eggs.

Kid B:  Dude, that comment was so random.

Kid C:  No, it wasn’t.  We were talking about breakfast.

Kid A:  Whatever!  This whole conversation is totally random.

     3.  There are already words to cover the meanings that they have in mind, such as senseless, pointless, unexpected, and irrelevant.  It wouldn’t hurt the kids to learn a few more words, espcially useful ones that are just right for their purpose.

     What do you think?  Have you heard people use the word random in these new ways?  Does it annoy you?  Do you even care?

Dr. Laura’s Slip-Up

     Who knows if Dr. Laura Schlessinger really feels remorse for using the N-word the other day on her radio program?  She has said that it was wrong and made no excuse for it.  I would guess that she knew it was expedient to apologize and confess her “sin.”  She cannot afford to lose listeners or sponsors.

     I would have lost all respect for Dr. Laura if she had called somebody that name.  It is ugly and mean and no decent person would call somebody that.  But that’s not what she did.

     What she did was point out that the word is heard routinely on HBO and elsewhere by black comedians. 

     It’s called context, people.  It would be impossible to condemn the word without using the word or at least obliquely referring to it.  It would likewise be impossible to talk about the cultural phenomenon of the word’s use by rappers and African American comedians.

     I heard a recording of the broadcast in question, and it seemed that Dr. Laura went a bit overboard in making some valid points.  One point that she was trying to make was that sometimes people are overly sensitive and take offense where none was intended.  Another point she was making was that there is a double standard in America when it comes to race and racial epithets.  I agree with both points.

     One thing that I wish Americans would do is to get over our obsession with words, as words.  We need to care more about motives and intentions instead of the words themselves.  Is the person being (or trying to be) funny?  Are they using the word sarcastically, which means that they actually dislike it?  Are they throwing it back at somebody else who is being purposely offensive?  Are they purposely trying to shock people without actually meaning what they say?  Are they imitating somebody else?  Are they commenting on the usage of the word?  Or are they really using the word to hurt others?

     People need to stop applying double standards, too.  It is wrong to condemn a white person simply for uttering a word, but insisting that everything said by Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, or other prominent black leaders must be interpreted correctly and taken in context.  It shouldn’t be the other way around, either.

     And I think many Americans are too sensitive.  I’ve been called so many things in my life that you’d get plain bored reading the list.  I’ve managed to live through it.  In fact, I reached a stage a few years back when I no longer cared one bit what people called me.  It just isn’t worth my time to worry about it.  (I do care when they ascribe bad motives, intentions, or character to me, though.)

     People, including Dr. Laura, should strive to be more civil.  Even though I think many people are hypersensitive, I have also observed more and more that many people disregard the feelings of others.  This is a bad combination of attitudes.   Dr. Laura, as I said above, did go overboard.  She got extremely intense and excited about the topic and was too blunt toward her call-in guest.  It wasn’t necessary for her to get that worked up.

What Did You Call Me?

     On Saturday I ate a Reuben sandwich.  The guy at the deli kept calling me Buddy.

     I started thinking about the generic terms we use to address men, such as Dude, Man, and Pal

     In my part of the country, women will often call each other Honey or Hon, Girl, or sometimes Sugar, Sweetie, Dear, or Darlin’.  Most of them do not seem appropriate for a man to call a woman, unless it is an older man and a much younger woman.

     Which one do you use the most?  Do any of them bug you?

     My son is undergoing physical therapy right now, and one of the therapists calls other men Bro.  He’s white, but he pronounces it as you might expect an African American to do.  It seems awkward to me.

     My parents taught me to say Sir to a man and Ma’am or Miss to a woman.  Those forms of address are pretty rare these days, although I use them frequently.  I appreciate it when people use Sir to address me, especially if it is a younger person, a stranger, or somebody in a business setting.

     In my part of the country, women will often call each other Honey or Hon, Girl, or sometimes Sugar, Sweetie, Dear, or Darlin’.  Most of them do not seem appropriate for a man to call a woman, unless it is a very old man and a much younger woman.

     Speaking of age, old folks around here call younger people things like young fella, young lady, son, boy, and girl.

     What do you think?  What do you like to be called?

I Shouldn’t, But. . .

     I shouldn’t mention it, but there is something that really bugs me.  It is when people pronounce multisyllabic words with the stress on the wrong syllable.  I’m talking about words like:

  • Carribean (pronounced incorrectly as ca-RIB-e-an)
  • contemplative (pronounced incorrectly as con-tem-PLA-tive)
  • despicable (pronounced incorrectly, thanks to Daffy Duck, as de-SPIC-a-ble)
  • formidable (pronounced incorrectly as for-MID-a-ble)
  • illustrative (pronounced incorrectly as il-lus-TRA-tive)
  • incomparable (pronounced incorrectly as in-com-PAR-a-ble)
  • inexplicable (pronounced incorrectly as in-ex-PLIC-a-ble)
  • infamously (pronounced incorrecxtly as in-FA-mous-ly)
  • irrevocable (pronounced incorrectly as ir-re-VO-ca-ble)
  • irreparable (pronounced incorrectly as ir-re-PAR-a-ble)

     I wish that it didn’t bother me, but it does.  I never tell anyone to their face that they are pronouncing such words wrong, but I play the mispronunciations over and over in my mind, cringing each time.  I would like to just let it go, to never mind.  I really would, but Ijust can’t.

Terrorism or Crime

     I have a respectable IQ and a master’s degree, but I just do not understand why people get so hung up on whether to label certain incidents as crimes or as terrorism.  I think that flying a plane into a building is a crime no matter what.  I also think that it inspires terror, so it is obviously terrorism.  It’s not that hard to figure out.

     The man who flew the plane into the building n Austin, Texas, apparently had a beef against the government.  He ran his plane into a building that housed an IRS office.  Of course it’s terrorism, and of course it’s a crime.  There doesn’t need to be a detailed investigation, let alone an opinion poll to determine that.

     For liberals it is important to label it terrorism.  They can add one more example to their short list of terrorist acts by non-Muslims.  “See,” they’ll say, “Muslims are not the only ones who commit acts of terror.”  Granted.  But since many liberals like to point out statistics, they should compare the length of the two lists.

     For me it doesn’t matter what a person’s skin color or ethnicitiy or religion are. A crime is a crime.  Terrorism is terrorism.  An angry young man in the ghetto who goes on a drive-by shooting spree is committing an act of terror.  So is a sophisticated techie who sends bombs in the mail.  So is a redneck in a white robe who burns down churches.  It’s all terror, and it’s all criminal.

     Let’s not get hung up on words.  Let’s just stick to dealing with evil actions the best that we can.

Leaving God Out

     I don’t know if you have ever noticed it, but Christian ministers tend to mention God from time to time.  It goes with their job.

     A hospice organization in Florida seems to be surprised that a minister would actually bring up God sometimes.  I’m surprised that they are surprised.  Why have a chaplain if the chaplain is not supposed to express religious beliefs?

     Hospice by the Sea in Boca Raton tried to forbid the Reverend Mirta Signorelli from mentioning God when she prays during staff meetings.  Why even ask her to pray if you don’t want her to mention God?  Who is a Christian minister supposed to pray to anyway–the great nobody?

     The CEO says that the ban was enacted because they do not impose religion on their staff.  How does using a certain word impose anything on anyone?  Are the listeners so weak that they crumble in abject submission before the Almighty because the minister utters a certain word? 

     I’ve heard lots of words in my life.  Not one of them has caused me to  adopt a belief against my will.  Not one of them has scared me so badly that I demanded that people not say it in order to protect my tender little ears from hearing things I don’t agree with.

          What do you think?

Rules of Blogging Engagement

     I have been reading and commenting on blogs for over two years, and I have been writing and editing this blog for nearly that amount of time.  During that period I have seen all sorts of interesting attitudes and behaviors.  Some of them sadden me, some of them delight me, and some of them actually frighten me. 

     I’m not innocent of blogging crimes, I will admit at the outset.  I have written things that I should not have.  I have been too forceful, too unthoughtful, too unfeeling.  I hope that other guilty parties who read this will admit the same thing.

     Along the way, I have developed some rules for myself, which I follow more or less consistently.  I think that they are good rules.  Some of them have been suggested by other readers and writers.  Some of them have roots in my college philosophy and rhetoric classes.  Others are just plain courtesy.  What do you think about these rules?

1.  Stay on topic.  Although you might have a different agenda than the blog owner, it is not polite to go way off on a tangent just to satisfy your need to be heard.  Write about anything you want on your own blog, but show proper respect to other bloggers by sticking to the topics that they choose.  If a person writes a blog about dogs, don’t keep posting comments about the superiority of cats.  It’s childish and annoying.

2.  Read carefully.  I myself have made stupid comments because I misunderstood what I was commenting on.  Sometimes it is my own dunderheadedness, and sometimes it is the awkwardness of the writing.  Nevertheless, it is important to summon up all your reading skills and try to clearly and carefully understand what is being communicated.  If somebody says that dogs are stupendous, don’t reply, “They are not stupid.  They are quite intelligent.”

3.  Have realistic expectations.  Most blog posts are only a few hundred words long or shorter.  They cannot discuss a topic comprehensively.  They cannot reflect every nuance of the writer’s thoughts on a particular matter.  They cannot be the definitive statement on any subject.  They cannot answer every question.  Take them as brief statements that make very limited points.  Consider them discussion starters.  If a person says that he likes dogs but doesn’t mention cats, don’t assume that he hates cats.  And don’t assume that he wants to marry his dog  or nominate the dog for president or transform himself into a dog–unless he actually says so himself.

4.  Take the words at face value.  If a person makes a statement about his beliefs, attitudes, or opinions on a blog, you pretty much have to accept that the person is sincere and accurate.  You cannot prove otherwise, unless you can point out where the writer has been inconsistent.  In that case, the writer might be able to reconcile the two statements and clarify his or her position.  If you comment, “So you are really saying that dogs are the only thing that matter in life.” you are probably misrpresenting the writer’s actual viewpoint, and that’s neither fair nor kind.

5.  Avoid the ad hominem fallacy.  It looks like this:  You would think that, since you are a Christian or Well, of course you think that, because you are a liberal.  It’s not nice to pigeon-hole, stereotype, or generalize about people.  It’s not actually a logical argument, either.  That’s why it’s called a fallacy.  Some Christians like cats, and some liberals like dogs.  Other Christians prefer dogs, and other liberals prefer cats.  Hardly anybody can be labelled precisely.

6.  If possible, back your statements with evidence.  I don’t always do that on my blog, because a lot of what I write about is simply general opinions that I hold based more on my core principles and my reasoning.  I don’t always have time to look up sources, either.  It’s a major weakness of my blog.    When I’m really on the ball, I link to smarter people and to informative websites.  Please, if you choose to challenge a fact statement, it is good to at least gnerally describe the basis for the challenge if you cannot give a reference to a legitimate source.  If your challenge is not of the factual kind, try to use good deductive reasoning for your view.  (And, no, “You’re just stupid,” is not good deductive reasoning.)  “Dogs are bad pets because they smell bad when wet” is more like it.

7.  Don’t get hysterical.  It’s a bit over the top to write.  “Oh, so you ONLY like dogs.  You said so yourself.  You probably want to send cat-owners to prison.  No, you probably want to kill them.  You’re a dog-lover, so of course you want to kill people.  You’re just as bad as the Nazis.”

8.  Be honest.  People know what they themselves think and feel, and they know what they wrote.  It’s pretty silly to lie and say that they think or feel the opposite of what they have stated.  It’s pretty silly to claim that they wrote the exact opposite of what they actually wrote.  Not only are they aware that you are lying, but anyone who reads the posts and the comments knows it, too.  They won’t look down on the person that you are lying about; they will look down on you.

     By the way, I like cats.  I don’t really have a preference between dogs and cats.