You know those little words and phrases that seem to come from nowhere and suddenly pop up all around you like virulent pustules for where there is no known ointment? Do you have your own set of bête noires that haunt you and cause your ears to bleed and your eyeballs to pop out as you heckle the speaker regardless of whether that speaker can hear you or not? Maybe that's just me.
For my sins, I have written and edited in the halls of both academia and corporatus alike. Both worlds are rife with the kind of jargon, buzzwords, cant, and plain stupidity that makes one want to do something highly illegal to the perpetrators, preferably with knitting needles.
And so I present a rather surly twelve: a bête noire for every occasion. Some of these I was reacquainted with through Don Watson's awesome and hilarious Dictionary of Weasel Words, but others are my own work and all are universally appalling.
And if you use any in the comments to my blog, I will publicly humiliate you. You've been warned.
- 'De'-anything (motivate, conflict, friend)
- 'In terms of...'
- Any noun turned into a verb ('to friend', 'to leverage', 'to service')
- 'Going forward'
'Definately', will be familiar to anyone who has read a bad blog post or an ill-informed comment to a bad blog post, or indeed three out of four Facebook status updates. My advice? It's not a word. Stop using it.
I used to work for a place called the Independent Living Centre. The place changed its name to stop morons using the aggravating 'independant'*. I repeat, it's not a word! It's not a word! Is it that hard to learn the correct spelling?
* Not actually true.
Enhance means to intensify or raise the value of. Here's a rule of thumb: you can't 'enhance' outcomes.
Demotivate will just scrape muster with me. 'De-friend' makes me want to reach for a rusty razor blade (mostly because it violates two of the twelve—see below).
Will somebody tell me what '...in terms of...' means other than '[I don't know what I'm going to say next, so I'll use these nonsensical syllables to buy myself some time until I come with the right...ah...I've got it]'?
When you say 'embolden', you sound like you're about to vomit up a whole nectarine. Need I say more?
Pedagogy. Education jargon I find particularly galling. These people are teachers. Surely they know better. But no. From the world of education bureaucracy comes this little polished turd of inscrutability. It even looks ridiculous, like it should rhyme with foggy, which more than aptly describes the reader's state of mind when they encounter the word.
True, 'aging' is the American spelling (which earns it a few 'de'-merit points from the get go), but American spelling is a 'de' facto standard, especially online. In any case, the word has a similar effect in writing to the 'foggy' effect. It looks like it should be pronounced 'agging'. It does make academic articles sound hilarious when you use the 'agging' pronunciation. Try it.
I suspect people who use a nouns as a verbs think they're being kind of cool: a coinage trendsetter perhaps, who secretly hopes that you will be more likely to 'friend' them if they 'appendage' their language with something that sounds like thing kind of thing teenagers say. Teenagers do much more than mangle language, you know. Next time you hear a grownup sprouting this nonsense, let them know that they sound like they're awfully fond of 'pleasuring' themselves.
I've worked for many years with people who have a disability and I included the next one more for the sake of clarity than anything else. I'm not going to lie, the language of disability is a minefield, not least because of the tendency for legitimate and socially acceptable words to be co-opted by snot-nose school yard brats for their next taunt (see 'spastic' especially). The goalposts had a tendency to move quickly in the past (see 'handicap'), but I think things have settled quite nicely in the last twenty years or so. I can't stress enough, if you're writing anything to do with disability issues or about people with a disability, refer to the excellent resources from Disability Services. Alright, I've put the soapbox away.
Name me a single sentence that can justify the words 'going forward'. We think we will be more successful going forward, rather than backward, sideways, or indeed attempting to use yogic techniques to stick our collective head up our collective rectum. That one works.
And to number twelve. Critical, essential, vital. There are three adjectives from the top of my head that render the word 'key' useless. 'Strategic thinking is key.' Somebody said that to me once, shortly before I laughed at him. Closely related to 'key' is the very strange word 'turnkey'. I usually read it as 'turkey' and you should too: 'This is a turkey opportunity'. See? Much better. I confess, I had to look up what 'turnkey' actually means (fortunately my dictionaries—even Watson's—were no help so I turned to some godawful glossary somewhere) and the results were not particularly enlightening. I prefer to think that use of the word 'turnkey' reveals the author as someone afraid of being caught out as a fraud and a shyster. Take note the next time you hear this word from the mouth of a politician and don't say I didn't warn you.