Friday, September 15, 2006

Words we'd like to ban

Here for your edification and amusement is a summary of the list compiled a couple of posts ago by your humble and assorted commenters of the weasel words we most abominate at this point in time, going forwards:

actioning **NEW** 'Bored clerks have been actioning agenda items for some time now.'

at the coalface -- 'a glib little meaningless number which should only be applied to coal mines'

at the end of the day, 'except for those rare and precious crepuscular moments'

Aussie battler (with or without 'little') -- 'Though with rising interest rates, IR changes etc etc they're an endangered species, so it may drop from parlance without a helping shove.'

connection 'as it applies to fancying someone the utterer met on a reality TV programme ... The next time I hear some adolescent vacuum say "we really made a connection" I swear I will put my fist through the screen.'

devoted to his/her family, to mean 'married at least 3 times and have abandoned at least 2 kids to "move on" - "find yourself" and "now realise what fatherhood /motherhood can be and enjoying spending quality time with my (new) offspring"'

edgy to mean anything but 'jumpy and twitchy'

engage 'without a ring in sight'


finding oneself

fulsome wrongly used (as it nearly always is) to mean 'really, really, really a lot'

going forwards -- as distinct from going backwards, which, as we know, businesses do often also do. See also retromingent, below.


investment to mean 'We have charged you $850 to spend an hour drawing meaningless crayon doodles on butcher's paper, suckahs!'


journey to mean any new experience, particularly on a reality TV show

lifestyle (almost always refers to a life with no discernible style)

literally to mean 'really, really, really a lot', as in 'He was literally killed in that passage of play, and may have to spend the rest of the game on the bench.'

line in the sand


on the same page

outcomes (is this the opposite of incomes?)

pain except in the literal physical sense, as in 'I've felt no pain since I met my best friend Codeine'

seeking closure

take that offline

touch base **NEW**

the real me

Like most dead metaphors, these things were vivid figures of speech when first they were used; so vivid, in fact, that they caught on big-time. The whole purpose of metaphor is to make the abstract concrete: to provide an image that will give you an instant understanding of what's meant. Places like the coalface, the same page and the line in the sand, even now when these metaphors have officially carked it, still arise as images in our minds to show us exactly where we are in a conflict, a project or a transaction. But when repeated often enough, they become totally meaningless, as when you say the word 'purple' over and over again.

It's not that we don't get it. It's just that it drives us bonkers.

But here are some words we like:


cromulent **NEW**





resistentialism **NEW**

retromingent 'but that one is particularly hard to find a use for', says Mousicles. Pav had to look it up; it means 'urinating backwards'. Could this be the logical opposite of 'going forwards'?

schadenfreude This German word is pronounced SHAR-den-froy-duh and transliterates as 'shame-joy', referring to the guilty pleasure you feel when something dreadful happens to someone you don't like.



bK said...

Is this what we call running it up the flagpole to see if anyone salutes?

Amanda said...

Whats the beef with "translietrate"? Is there a businesspeak use of it I am unaware of.

If we ban transliterate what will I call what I do when I'm translating hieroglyphs?

Pavlov's Cat said...

No, no -- 'transliterate' was on the list of Words We Like.

BK said...

'transliterate' is one of the good guys, I believe.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Even if I have apparently been using it wrongly all these years. Thanks for the link, Amanda, she said through her blushes.

See, this is the peril of trashing other people for their usage: the shame of one's own limitations becomes apparent almost instantaneously.*

*I am probably misusing instantaneously as well.

Zoe said...

ooh, actioning. Can we ban actioning things?

Pavlov's Cat said...

It's become a verb? 'Action' is an action word?

'I actioned, you have actioned, s/he has been actioning, they would have actioned, this requires to be actioned.'

I believe that last one may or may not be some sort of gerund.


Pavlov's Cat said...

Oh and BK, yes, it's up the flagpole. What interests me most is whether the money salutes.

ThirdCat said...

Is it too late to add one? Touch base.

And you may have noticed a drop in your site statistics over the last few days as my children have lost their fascination with your kitten.

Mousicles said...

I forgot to add a favourite word... resistentialism - the belief that inanimate objects are out to get us.

This thread has been fun. Some very good words to hate and like.

Zoe said...

Oh, bless PavCat, you show yourself up as a hardy freelancer by not knowing the actioning. Bored clerks have been actioning agenda items for some time now ;)

ThirdCat said...

Oh. I have just discovered your most excellent virtual pet at your other address. How long has that been there? I will not make the mistake of using that as a diversionary tactic with children, although they would love it.

tigtog said...

I like your list of cromulent words, Pav. I'll have to think of some to add.

Amanda said...

Oh. D'oh. Sorry. Thems the perils of sneaking blogging in between your boss passing by.

Too much scrolling, not enough .... um, engaging.

Pavlov's Cat said...

ThirdCat, the pencil and rubber (I'm sorry, it's un-Australian to call it an eraser and I don't care what rubber is a synonym for) have not been at FP long; I believe they're new @ bunnyhero labs. Small boys would indeed like them, I think. Also, surely you have shown them the wolf? I believe it was you who told me about the wolf in the first place.

If small children are playing with Pav's Kitten I had better watch my, erm, language.

cristy said...

What about "desperate bid for..." and "furore"?

My friend and I once contemplated creating a magazine called "Desperate bid for furore" due to our amusement at the overuse (and misuse) of those two expressions.

Laura said...

Actioning at the Coalface

whitebait said...

I've noticed that 'impactful' is in vogue among students and frankly it isn't on.

Thanks for facilitating the summary list PC :-)

Georg said...

What about 'intertextualising'? One of my tutors at Uni once said 'Oh, sorry, I think I am intertextualising xx with yy". She meant: I think I'm getting mixed up.

And "get some traction"? As in, "I thought I'd throw this idea out there and see if it got any traction".

Pavlov's Cat said...

'Among students', Whitebait? Don't you mean 'among clients'?

Anonymous said...

What's the definition of petrichor? Cromulent? Merriam-Webster doesn't have them listed.

Pavlov's Cat said...

The authority to which I bow is the OED, actually, but petrichor and cromulent are both neologisms so that probably doesn't have them either. 'Cromulent' is a Simpsons joke: 'a perfectly cromulent word' was originally used in the relevant episode to mean one that is acceptable and perhaps a shade more than acceptable, but it has taken on the ironic meaning of 'bogus' in Simpsons-fan usage.

'Petrichor' was coined by two Australian scientists in 1964 to denote the smell of rain on dry ground (and more specifically the organic oil from which that smell derives), and is a whole lot more etymologically legitimate than 'cromulent'.

Personally I like something my ex-GP's receptionist (who always addressed the GP as Doctor and frowned ferociously whenever she heard me call her Lillian) said once when I asked her some now-forgotten question about whether I should do X or Y. 'I don't know,' she said earnestly, 'Doctor didn't stiplify.'

Ampersand Duck said...

Ha. I wrote a paper for my ex-boss to read at a conference and suggested the phrase 'at the coalface of making' as a joke but she leapt upon it and now uses it in most of her writing. It was at that point that I realised that she would say *anything* I wrote, especially if it was subtle. In our last weeks together I had fun with that. She also calls Bunbury 'Bumbury' even when in the fair city, and I'm happily letting her run with that one.

I just got a note from my son's teacher inviting me to a demonstration of the class's 'Learning Journey' next week. Erg.

Black Knight said...

Hah. Anyone with a University IP should be able to check the latest of the One True Dictionary, at .

Pretty sure 'petrichor' is in there, not at work now so can't check 'cromulent'.

There's one word that really bugs me, and that's 'obligate'. WTF is wrong with 'oblige'?

Laura said...

Do people read Language Log? Deeply satisfying every day. The blog that invented the term snowclone.

Anna Winter said...

From memory, the word cromulent was used to describe another made-up word. One teacher complains that she'd never heard the word "embiggens"* before coming to Springfield, and another looks suprised, as it's a "perfectly cromulent word".

And yes, I do wish I'd put my memory to better use in my younger days.

* "A noble spirit embiggens even the smallest man."

ThirdCat said...

It's a scourge! Just now in the backyard, five year old to three year old: 'seek permission and keep on task'. They are playing soccer. I have taught them the word beginning with F (well, I taught them to say it, they learnt to spell it at the tram stop), but I didn't teach them to keep on task.

ThirdCat said...

Sorry. It is, apparently, 'stay on task' not 'keep on task'. Which does scan better, I suppose.

BK said...

petrichor n

from the OED:

A pleasant, distinctive smell frequently accompanying the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather in certain regions. Also: an oily liquid mixture of organic compounds which collects in the ground and is believed to be responsible for this smell.
1964 I. J. BEAR & R. G. THOMAS in Nature 7 Mar. 993/2 The diverse nature of the host materials has led us to propose the name 'petrichor' for this apparently unique odour which can be regarded as an 'ichor' or 'tenuous essence' derived from rock or stone. This name, unlike the general term 'argillaceous odour', avoids the unwarranted implication that the phenomenon is restricted to clays or argillaceous materials; it does not imply that petrichor is necessarily a fixed chemical entity but rather it denotes an integral odour. 1971 Listener 4 Nov. 612/3 No matter what kind of rock or earth was used, the oily essence always possessed the aroma of petrichor{em}the smell of rain falling on dry ground. 1975 Sunday Mail (Brisbane) 2 Nov. 32/2 The globules, nicknamed 'petrichor' or 'essence of rock' by the researchers, contained at least 50 different compounds, not unlike a perfume and were absorbed into the ground from the air. 1993 Canad. Geogr. Sept.-Oct. 13/1 Petrichor comes from atmospheric haze, which contains the terpenes, creosotes and other volatile compounds that emanate from plants. 1998 L. FORBES Bombay Ice (1999) 11 First there is petrichor, the dry smell of unbaked clay, from the Greek for 'stone-essence'.

worldpeace and a speedboat said...

a good word: omniscient (did I spell that right?)

a crap phrase: "they died doing what they loved."

given the choice, chances are that was *living*. most people right now are doing what they love - being alive.

Anonymous said...

can I add 'losing his/her battle with (cancer)'?

every time I hear that I want to reach for a crowd pleaser.

Anonymous said...

Hey! Wot about "passionate"?

I can understand the management of a brothel claiming they are passionate about their clients - but a computer company?? It just makes me feel uncomfortable.

ps: memo to self: come here more often.

redcap said...

Gah! The word "closure" makes me grit my teeth no matter what the context. I also detest "synergy", "benchmarking" (but especially "triple benchmarking" - is this three times as meaningless?) and "address" for anything but an envelope.

Mikhela said...

oh goody! - we're off again.
I hate 'conquering' when applied to climbing a mountain - what an egotistical idea it is that a mountain would feel defeated by a small gnat picking a labourious path up the crags and planting a stick with a bit of rag tied to it at the top.

Susoz said...

My particular bugbear is "Aussie icon".

(I gave my reasons and some examples a few months ago:

Ariel said...

Scribe publisher Henry Rosenbloom has recently blogged about his loathing of the term 'issue' as a eupemism for 'problem', illustrating the larger issue of the way that corporate 'doublethink' has infested the langauge. It's an interesting post (though I have to admit, I think Henry, who generally says what he thinks and publishes what he likes, is always interesting!)

He says:

'What does this have to do with book publishing, you ask? Not a lot, directly. But I can’t help thinking about it most days, as we look at piles of unsolicited submissions and manuscripts, most of them struggling to breathe life into a common language that has been systematically denuded of colour and movement.
The problem for serious book-publishers isn’t just the increasing incidence of time-poor readers, or competition from other media, or the attractions of other leisure activities. It’s also the fact that we’re dependant on a staple product – the English language – that’s being robbed of vitality by a Western culture that’s had enough of reality. Except, of course, on television.'

Full post is on:

tigtog said...

I don't have much to add to the weasel word list, but what about the horrific increase in eggcorns?

I hatessssss them, except for the occasional point and laugh value at the most (ooh! Ooh! Miss! I found an overused phrase!) egregious examples.

Helen said...

literally to mean 'really, really, really a lot', as in 'He was literally killed in that passage of play, and may have to spend the rest of the game on the bench.'

The SO is very bad with that one.

And I love the smell of petrichor in the morning.

(Word verification is HZHAT - I think that one should get a place in the lexicon. Kind of a cross between Asshat and Hazmat.)

Mentis Fugit said...

Two legitimate but less acknowledged usages of "engage":

1. In military parlance (which I suspect is the aura the word's abusers hope to invoke.)
2. In setting a scrum - "Crouch and hold ... engage!" Admit it - it sounds dead cool.

Otherwise, yes.

TimT said...

I wouldn't mind too much if the following words were banned:

'Dog whistle'

There's more, but I can't think of any at this time.

Kate said...

I think petrichor is the best word ever.

Bad words: I recently did a council job and I have subsequently developed a huge hatred of the words 'outcomes' and 'holistic' and 'strategic'. Pah.

I've always liked 'defenestrate' though one barely gets a chance to use it.

BK said...

I've always liked 'defenestrate' though one barely gets a chance to use it.

Use your imagination! Or get some more annoying cow-orkers. . .

Wordbitch: nclroxx

I'm just waiting for nclsux0r, now.

Pavlov's Cat said...

One of my all-time favourite ever writers, the great Dorothy Dunnett (and I can't think why I haven't blogged about her yet) has her hero say, when he is comprehensively shot through the gut with some kind of messy 16th-century weapon and his brother is insisting that he can bandage him up and fix it, something like (through gasps of pain) 'I don't think so, Richard, the fenestration seems fairly extensive.'

I assume this is the 16th-century equivalent of that charming contemporary expression 'tear him a new one'.

TimT said...

There's a comic that appeared in Viz about a year and a half ago where Isaac Newton (who is trying to persuade an apple to fall of a tree and thus prove his theory correct) stumbles through the window of (who else?) Dr Samuel Johnson, in the process of writing his dictionary.

Johnson then utters the immortal line: "Bust my glazed fenestral aperture, would you? Take THAT!", and bashes Newton over the head with a club or similar.

In the next frame, we find Newton at it again with a rake: "I'll twat one of them sodding pippins with me rake!" Hilarious stuff.

sexy11 said...