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J.A.A. Purves

Words & Phrases Banned from Your Vocabulary

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As a writer, I've grown to love and revere the English language. But I'm also realizing that there are words and phrases that I just can't stand. In order to preserve the beauty of the English language, there are things I would eliminate from both spoken and written English if I could. For example:

agreeance

emerging

embourgeoisement

historicity

holistic

interrelationship

macro-level and micro-levels

meme

meta-narratives

meta theory

missional

nexus

on-message

paradigm

pinterest

power constructs

power structures

problematize

self-actualized

social constructs

synergy

“gone viral”

“come on now”

“do you know what I mean”

“if you know what I mean”

“like I said”

“my bad”

“that was dope”

While some slang originates out of cultural tradition, I'm also starting to think that some slang originates out of no cultural tradition at all. The result is a bastardized psuedo English that isn't even worthy of being called slang. For example:

diss, dope, hella, homie, like, lol, meh, pimpin, omg, woot, word, wtf

What about you, do you have words or phrases that you are determined never ever to use in your writing?

Edited by J.A.A. Purves

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snip

You forgot "musical Pinterest"!

A few that come to mind:

"quirky" as a description for anything, but especially in music reviews. To me, that translates as, "you're too lazy to actually describe what's going on."

"Here at ____." I don't know why this bugs be, but I avoid it.

"___, you know?" No, I don't know.

Edited by Jason Panella

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diss, dope, homie, word, pimpin are not cultural orphans. they're from urban hip hop, and if I'm not mistaking, are the very essence of slang.

word may even be rooted in the african american call and response church tradition, but I'm speculating.

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You forgot "musical Pinterest"!

Added.

diss, dope, homie, word, pimpin are not cultural orphans. they're from urban hip hop, and if I'm not mistaking, are the very essence of slang.

I guess I can grant that. Except that now they've been appropriated out of hip hop culture and used relentlessly by the white, middle-class world of "bros" and internet addicts.

Another one: saying "I could care less." This makes no sense at all because it is never used to say what it actually says.

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Nice list, J.

I can dig most of your examples, although I'm not sure how I would get along without "historicity" and "paradigm," and occasionally I have recourse to "problematize" and "social construct." But I have no particular use for "missional," "holistic" or "synergy," and I can't imagine anyone wanting "agreeance."

Other examples? I generally try to avoid business jargon like "pro-active," "value-added," "action item," "going forward" and the metaphorical use of "bandwidth."

A word that I actually like, but that I have forced myself to abandon, at least in speech, is "forte," simply because the inevitable two-syllable mispronunciation ("for-tay") is so widely accepted that to pronounce it correctly ("fort") is to invite misunderstanding or worse, correction, and then you have to correct the corrector and you look like a jerk.

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Wendell Berry's influence over my life has also extended to language, since I go out of my way to avoid using computer or tech jargon when talking about humans or life. ("brain is wired this way," and so on)

This website on common errors is useful, and a lot of fun to boot.

Edited by Jason Panella

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A word that I actually like, but that I have forced myself to abandon, at least in speech, is "forte," simply because the inevitable two-syllable mispronunciation ("for-tay") is so widely accepted that to pronounce it correctly ("fort") is to invite misunderstanding or worse, correction, and then you have to correct the corrector and you look like a jerk.

Nuh-uh!

61-05923-1-P.jpg

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A word that I actually like, but that I have forced myself to abandon, at least in speech, is "forte," simply because the inevitable two-syllable mispronunciation ("for-tay") is so widely accepted that to pronounce it correctly ("fort") is to invite misunderstanding or worse, correction, and then you have to correct the corrector and you look like a jerk.

Nuh-uh!

61-05923-1-P.jpg

Ha. There is also the Italian-derived musical term forte (as in pianoforte), which IS pronounced as two syllables. The French-derived word, though, is meant to be one syllable (even though both derive from the same Latin term).

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I can live with most words and phrases because I am rather post-modern about language. A lot of people can't accept the irony of me saying that and being a Christian writer.

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Taliesin - Word. As an applied linguist, I find myself in the odd position of being someone who devotes his professional life to studying and teaching English, yet also having to explain why I don't really get het up about nonstandardisms, cliches, and the like. This is often made out to be a kind of "conservative vs liberal" thing (see, for example, the recent flare-up in the New Yorker about "descriptivism vs prescriptivism") but I don't really see it that way. I love the great things that have been written in standard English, but I also really enjoy learning about the myriad variations, nonstandardisms, etc, that proliferate throughout the world.

I have a paper on my desk in front of me called "the phenomenology of eror" by Joseph Williams which I recommend checking out.

(That said, we all have our pet peeves. I groan when I catch myself using the word "obtain" to mean "be relevant in a certain context." And if I ever do another book I am going to assiduously eliminate "basically." Oh, and I really hate "at turns," as in "the book is at turns melancholy and uplifting.")

Edited by Joel

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And if I ever do another book I am going to assiduously eliminate "basically."

I need to do the same thing. Basically, while there is nothing wrong with the word in and of itself, it has a tremendous addictive quality that is far worse than either caffeine or nicotine.

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An increasingly important part of my job as a Communications Director is replacing "utilize" with "use."

I'm pretty wide-and-open about language--but this, this, oh this. Also, from my En 101 students I have learned to hate "states" for "says" (they got the idea somewhere in High School that you can't use "says" in papers. Which is, of course, nonsense). Also "due to" for "because". And I ditched "worldview" a long time ago....

Otherwise, I'm pretty much in the Stephen Fry camp. "There's no right language or wrong language" and all that. And also the Joel camp:

I love the great things that have been written in standard English, but I also really enjoy learning about the myriad variations, nonstandardisms, etc, that proliferate throughout the world.
Edited by NBooth

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Lake Superior State University's 2012 List of Banished Words list:

The 2012 list of unfriended words includes the following: amazing (the most nominated), baby bump (a close second), shared sacrifice, occupy, blowback, man cave, the new normal, pet parent, win the future, trickeration, ginormous, and thank you in advance.

I could happily live the rest of my life without ever hearing the term man cave again.

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I've long been familiar with that Stephen Fry video. Am I the only one here who thinks it's a bunch of hooey? Just about every one of its assertions is wrong. No, people who take pleasure in the creative use of language are not dying out. No, people who care about the minutiae of grammar and "proper" usage are not dry legalists with no poetry in their souls. Yes, the clarity argument is absolutely valid if you have any historical perspective on language at all.

I don't know whether there is "right" and "wrong" language, but I'm quite sure there is more useful and less useful language, beautiful language and ugly language. When most of the people speaking or writing in a language are careless about it, they take some of the joy of it away for everyone else.

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I used to have a boss who relied heavily on two phrases that I can no longer stand hearing. He'd give a long speech about the day's activities, setting up the scenario for various installations, and the care needed to make sure everything went according to plan. But he was also mindful of every dollar he was spending, so he'd always punctuate the long speech with "That being said", and go on to the second speech about getting the job done fast. Sometimes he'd drop the "That being said" phrase in favor of, "Be that as it may", a phrase that made no sense in the context of his speech. I think I grew to have a greater dislike of the second phrase because of his misuse of it.

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I love 'non-standard' English: dialect and idiom. And I know that living languages are fluid and disorderly. I still have trouble adapting to changes - like 'for she and I' or the one in the post right above mine, 'impact' in place of 'has an impact on'. Usage like that grates on my ears. I find certain words beautiful in how form, sound and meaning coalesce, but even ugly words can have utility and integrity. Reading the original post, I think the perception of beauty in language might be closely aligned to use - and overuse and misuse. In that list, nexus seems like a good Latinate word to me and embourgeoisement simply a French borrowing (though it sounds awful in English, it does fill a space in our vocabulary.) I 'd also defend a few more, like 'historicity' or 'metafiction' or 'paradigm' - not aesthetically, but because they have no real synonym and fairly precise meaning - over vaguer jargon like 'power structures' or 'power constructs' or 'identity constructs'. Yet none of these are words I associate with Creative Writing or literature. And I'd rather not read or write the prose that list evokes.

In my own writing, I'd like to purge overly academic words. Like 'imbricate' or 'integuement'. Periodically, I actually forget what they mean & I think I've only used them (sparingly) in mimicry, to sound the part.

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SDG wrote:

: There is also the Italian-derived musical term forte (as in pianoforte), which IS pronounced as two syllables.

Huh? When I was a kid, my parents played for me a tape with songs sung by musical instruments, and one of them began, "I am Mort / The pianoforte". The "forte" part was just one syllable.

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: There is also the Italian-derived musical term forte (as in pianoforte), which IS pronounced as two syllables.

Huh? When I was a kid, my parents played for me a tape with songs sung by musical instruments, and one of them began, "I am Mort / The pianoforte". The "forte" part was just one syllable.

So, okay: Forte, the Italian-derived dynamics directive meaning "loud," is two syllables (for-tay).

Fortepiano, meaning "loud and then soft," is pronounced accordingly, for-tay-piano.

As for pianoforte, it has two meanings:

1. When used as a dynamics term, "soft and then loud," it's piano-for-tay.

2. Pianoforte also means what we call a "piano" for short, so named because it can play both soft and loud. When used to refer to the instrument, apparently it can be pronounced either "piano-for-tay" or "piano-fort."

The latter I would guess is an Anglicization, perhaps given added incentive to distinguish the instrument from the dynamics term. Personally, I'd still prefer the Italian pronunciation.

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