Verbal Abuse of the English Language

Gentle Reader: The annual List of Banished Words— a release by Lake Superior State University—has caught my attention again. Fortunately, normal people can take consolation that much of the blame for this year’s list goes to politicians and the news media.

For the rest of us, the advent of texting, instant messaging, and Facebook has created another media which has leeched into our more formal writing and punctuation. While I must admit to the fun of using some fad words, I also take notice when slang begins to unknowingly permeate my conversational speaking and, worse, shows up in my professional writing.

Here is my personal list of top 6 offending words and phrases for 2012 and if I were queen they would be banished.

#6.  Right, right, right or Yes, yes, yes—(said rapid-fire.) Why isn’t just one yes or right enough? What’s possibly more offensive is ‘No, no, no’ because it is dismissive to the 3rd power.

#5.  At the end of the day— This phrase has replaced other weary words: ‘the bottom line’ and ‘when all is said and done.’ There you have it.

#4.  Look . . .— Sometimes said at the beginning of a sentence to stop others in a group from over-talking, but more often it’s a maneuver to convince others what he/she is about to say is really important. Usually, others are not convinced.

#3.  Breaking News— Why is Day 2 of an oversaturated story still breaking news?

#2.  Clearly— Among many intensifiers that are overused, ‘obviously’ is another. While making the writer feel more effective, both can render the words powerless rather than more powerful.

#1. Green— Including all variations, such as: ‘going green,’ ‘green buildings,’ ‘greening,’ ‘green technology,’ ‘green products’, topped the LSSU list in 2009. However, I would be willing to let the term ‘greenwashed’ (yes, a form of brainwashed) be overused until all the others fade.

As long as I’m on a soapbox, here are some grammatical fingernails on my proverbial chalkboard:

Invite— While some dictionary sources have relaxed this rule, the word is more properly used as a noun not a verb. I wrote a poem about this for a daily poetry contest on the subject of pet peeves. (See below)

Impacted— Just think of bowels or wisdom teeth as a reminder not to misuse this word. Better to use ‘had an impact on’ or use the words affect and effect correctly.

Golfing— A few dictionary sources have also softened the rule but it’s not the queen’s English, albeit this queen. We play golf. We don’t say hockeying, tennising, or wiiing*.

* Wiiing could only be remotely acceptable if one is toilet training a child.

© Bonnie Staiger

Oh, Peeve, My Pet!
You may INVITE me
to your party.
But don’t you dare
send me an INVITE.

For fear I shall bite
Your head off
for sloppily using
the verb instead
of the noun.

However, an INVITATION,
Yes, I shall gladly accept.
And secretly extol
That you have the class
to know the difference.

Author: Bonnie Larson Staiger

Winner 'Voices of the Plains and Prairies Poetry Award' by NDSU Press. My chapbook, 'Destiny Manifested' is scheduled for release Nov 4, 2018. Fascinated with the fusion of the written word on the printed page. On my blog, North Dakota Roots, I share poetry and observations about life.

15 thoughts on “Verbal Abuse of the English Language”

  1. There are too many to count, but my current most hated is “optics”, meaning the unseemly appearance of an action, usually politicians (e.g. playing golf with Tiger Woods at “sequester” time – – -another word to ban). I agree on the greenwashing of America, too.

  2. My two personal worsts are “Anyways” I can write an emai and find myself starting four paragraphs that way, because I tend to have loose associations and go in a different direction and pull myself back on track.

    My other weird thing is “the other day ago” Instead of saying “a few days ago” or “the other day” I combined them.

    In Wisconsin, it is the use of prepositions that gets me. When people visit someone they “Go by there” not go TO but go by. e.g it seems to me that “I went to my brother’s ” would be appropriate, but they say “I went BY” my brothers.”

  3. I come from a land where the English language is constantly assailed by its inhabitants:
    “Here, hold that real quick.” *do they want you to hold it for a second and then drop it?
    “The floor needs washed.” *Yup.
    “I’m fixin’ to get supper now…” *Huh?
    “I skunned the punkin.” *I think they are removing the skin from a pumpkin.
    “You’ve personificated my truck!” *Otherwise known as ”vandalized”.
    ‘nuf said, eh?

  4. Wow. I admit I verbally abuse our language sometimes, but I’ll have to claim ignorance on a few of these. I’m glad I write young adult stories, I’d give them a little more slack to play with the language than adults.

    I will probably continue to say golfing, although not often because I’m not a golfer, but I bet invite/invitation will stick in my head.

  5. We all have our favourite hates… thanks for sharing yours! A phrase I find most annoying seems to come mostly from politicians when asked a question they wish to avoid answering; they introduce a totally irrelevant topic by saying “What I would say is…” I find myself throwing things at the radio!

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