Recently I got into a discussion about words you refuse to use in your writing, or everyday language. I did a very informal online poll on my blog in hopes of garnering more examples, so here’s a summary.
A writer said she’s trying to rid herself of judgmental words, not only ones with obvious ethnic pejoratives, but ableism ones, like ‘lame’. She said “You hear ‘lame’ around everywhere now—it’s hard to avoid it.”
What synonyms does she prefer? Weak, empty, wacky, absurd, ludicrous, and her favorite, preposterous. I offered ‘stupid,’ which I always thought came from ‘stunned’ or ‘stupefy’ but others disagreed, saying it’s a synonym for mentally challenged people.
Another person said she refuses to use the word ‘literally’ because she hears it so much, usually used as an emphasizer, and not in reference to ‘literal’—which she sees as sloppy writing, or a lazy way of saying ‘very’ that just sounds pompous.
Someone else pointed out that ‘literally’ as well as ‘really’ and ‘totally’ have been used for ages as emphasizers, and while they might be boring when encountered a lot in prose, they aren’t wrong.
In another direction, a person said he refuses to use business jargon, especially words like ‘impactful’ and ‘prioritize.’ ‘Onboarding,’ ‘ideate,’ and ‘value-added’ were others he found real teeth-gritters—muscling adjectives or nouns into verbs, or verbs into nouns or adjectives.
A couple people pointed out that ‘prioritize’ seems to have slipped into the language, though everyone agreed that ‘impactful’ was pretty painful on the ears, and what does ‘value-added’ really mean?
For that matter, what does ‘value’ mean anymore, after being earbanged by it in countless commercials trying to sell you stuff you don’t need?
One person offered ‘nuance,’ which she claims is overused, and ‘subtle nuance’ is redundant.
That sparked discussion of the differences between subtle and nuance, one older person saying until ‘nuance’ became a buzzword, it was mostly used in reference to shades in painting, in his experience. He admitted he has a tough time when he hears ‘nuanced’ used as a synonym for’ logical’ or ‘convincing’. Do people not study logic anymore? Do they even know what it is?
Everyone agreed that it’s tough to curate your own vocabulary—especially as you get older.
Words you grew up with become hot-button words, or date you (and not in a good way), or confuse others. Even words you had thought were neutral, turn out not to be. Examples offered: Oriental, gypsy, and one woman nearly eighty, who had been silent, asked tentatively if anyone could explain the difference between ‘colored people’ and ‘people of color’ and why the first is wrong but the second is right?
After that one went around (triggering a discussion of historical connotation and hidden baggage attached to words and phrases) we got onto outdated language—the older woman said she highly resented as a teenage girl being called a bobby soxer, as she never owned a pair of bobby socks, it was nylon stockings all the way, as you were supposed to be a lady.
Now if you called a teen a bobby soxer they would be completely confused.
I said that for my part, I am so very glad not to be hearing ‘actualize’ anymore—it was popular back in the days of leisure suits (also not missed) and disco.
Some terms really need to be staked and buried.