You Don’t Say!


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.





You Don’t Say! — 20 Comments

  1. Then there is the news commentator who says “Absolutely” in response to everything and brings it into his own verbiage every other sentence.

    I think someone called him on it as it has been missing from his reports for about a year.

    • Another of those intensifiers! That reminds me, back in the day, a local radio announcer used to use his own version of the redundant “at this point in time” (as if ‘point’ doesn’t cover it all) by saying “in this day of age.” We used to wonder if anyone was going to correct the mistaken preposition, but if they tried, no one got through.

  2. I need to go back and catch this conversation on your blog–fascinating!

    Sometimes old or odd slang can be so charming or fun–but probably because you don’t see it overused. It’s partly overuse that makes some words set our teeth on edge.

  3. I stopped using gendered pronouns, at least on social media. Not to express an opinion about them, but it’s all I can do to remember people’s names. There’s no way I’d remember their preferred pronouns.

    The funny thing is, after all the angst about pronouns I don’t think anybody has noticed that I don’t use them.

    • Could be you express things well enough that people don’t notice their absence. Wouldn’t it be nice if our language borrowed from Mandarin and did away with gendered pronouns altogether?

  4. I hate the word “commentator”. Why can’t we use commenter? What does commentate mean? Does one say, “I’m going to commentate on the baseball game right now?” That word very much bugs me.

  5. I hate hesitancy instead of hesitation. Actually there are a lot of -ancy words like that that have come into regular use and annoy me, even though I know they are perfectly fine. I stumble of gypsy a lot because I want to use it for various reasons, but am aware it has negative connotations, even though to me, it has positive connotations. But I tend not to use it. I know a lot of people hate the word ‘moist.’ I don’t get it. I really hate plural pronouns for use instead of singulars, but I understand the why. I tend to use (in non novels writing) either s/he or his/her together to avoid it. Not that those are really any better. I’d prefer a genderless pronoun singular. I have a ton of other pet-peeves regarding language choices, too, but I do love that English has so many choices, and I can make up words to suit myself when I want to. A student once used: neglection. Not a word, but should be.

    • I’ve met people who dislike the making of nouns out of adjectives by adding ‘ness’ when there is already a perfectly good noun, like fierceness instead of ferocity, etc.

      I, too, always felt positive connotations from the word ‘gypsy’ but got scolded out of using it.

      • As a kid, I was looking for a noun form of ‘obvious’ and came up with ‘obviosity’. ‘Obviousness’ is probably right, but it didn’t sound right. I was telling a coworker about that quest recently, and she independently came up with ‘obviosity’ before I had said it. Such a good word. 🙂

        • I usually see the ‘ness’ added on, but I love the sound of obviosity!

  6. In general, I like language changes. I think the adaptability of English to new words from all kinds of places — other languages, technology changes, slang — is one of the reasons it works so well despite being over-complicated in spelling and pronunciation. I admit to preferring changes that come from our ethnic and cultural diversity to those that seem to have been crafted on Madison Avenue and in business schools, but the fact that we can make nouns of verbs and vice versa in English gives us flexibility.

    • True about the flexibility. In retrospect, I (being very visually oriented) resent anything that tosses me out of the flow of imagery of any text: typos, grammar issues, oddnesses of any kind that call attention to the words themselves and break my immersion.