Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bad Words

We all have hang-ups when it comes to language. (Some of us have hang-ups about the term “hang-ups.”) And we react in an almost Pavlovian fashion when certain language is used. That’s why it can be extraordinarily easy to flip out a portion of your audience simply by using everyday words.

I used to work in a headquarters where the top staff studied the chief executive’s word preferences with the intensity of a Cold War CIA analyst examining the pecking order of the review panel during the Soviet May Day Parade. As I recall, “render” was one of the prohibited words because the CEO associated it with melting fat. “We provide services” – it was whispered – “not render them.” When that CEO left, a new one arrived, and another lexicon was developed.

A late friend of mine, one of the most enjoyable language snobs I’ve known, hated to see any qualifiers or additions to the word “unique.” She rightly noted that “unique” is like being pregnant; an item either is or isn’t and so it can’t be “really unique” or “fairly unique.”

I’m not immune from such prejudice. To my ears, “irregardless” is like nails on a blackboard - although I haven’t heard that sin in years – and whenever someone describes a product as a “quality product” I’m tempted to ask, “Poor quality?”

Aside from “hang-up,” are there any words that drive you nuts?


Anonymous said...

Envision. I just HATE it! And the lousy, clumsy word has made its way into the OED and other dictionaries. The lovely word 'envisage' was already there in the lexicon. Why did some klutz have to go and louse it up?

Envision sounds to my ear like a corruption of envisage - perhaps its first use was by an inarticulate, but important person and the word was taken up by his fearful acolytes and moved into common parlance? Yuck!

Carolyn Manning said...

Oh, yes, Michael! Perhaps I'll never understand why people refuse to properly use their native tongue. The misuse that aggravates me the most is "try and do"; either you try or you do.

Michael Wade said...

Two great comments. It can be exciting and frightening to see how words slip into common usage. (I still cringe at "parenting.")"Envision" has a bureaucratic whiff.

I haven't heard "try and do" although one manager told me that he wanted an erring employee "hurt and punished."