Words

This is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put. Winston S. Churchill*

Inelegant language

(aka ugly words and phrases)


The English language is fluid, to be sure. It absorbs new words at a record-breaking pace. While that is inevitable with a living language, there are some new ’words’ and some new uses of existing words that don’t always improve our understanding or communication. It's not about being pedantic to oppose these new uses. It’s about whether the new uses improve the language or not. Some new uses and words are just plain ugly and you wonder whether the author or speaker is simply trying to show off, a case of too much of look-at-me. In historical order, here are some examples I’ve collected over the past decade or so. There are bound to be more; send them to me if you come across them.

  • impact/impacted/impacting as in ’it’s impacted on my life’; ’the situation is impacting on me’ replaces affect/affecting/affected. Using ’affect’ also means using fewer words

  • to transition/transitioned as in ’the situation is being transitioned’, which presumably means something is steadily moving to something else.

  • issue rather than ’problem’. Most of the conditions people refer to as 'issues' are in fact problems. An issue is something of significance, such as poverty, homelessness, pollution, famine. Being late for work is a problem, rather than an issue.

  • to action as in ’they want me to action it’ or ’this needs to be actioned’

  • annualised as in ’the figures have been annualised’, presumably meaning to project the figures for a whole year

  • to progress/progressing/progressed as a verb as in ’the idea is being progressed’ or ’I am progressing that idea through . . .’ or ’we’d like to progress that idea along’

  • diarise

  • particularise

  • to access/accessed as in ’it allows you to access the file’. While this is now so widespread that it would probably be almost impossible to root out, it is unclear what is meant by those who use it. Usually it is used when talking about information, especially documents on the internet. For instance, in the above example (’it allows you to access the file’), however, we don’t know what is intended. Better options include: ’download’, ’view’ or ’read’; these also more accurately describe what you’re doing.

  • conduce as in ’acts to conduce towards’

  • conflicted (verb) as in '’it makes people more conflicted’

  • grown as in 'it’s grown me as a person’ and grow as in ’this program will grow the business’

  • going forward, moving forward: replacement for 'from now on', often added at the end or beginning of a sentence. If added at the beginning, ’from now on’ or ’in future’, ’over the next [few, couple of] years’ — something that adds better meaning — would be better. If used at the end of a sentence, is it necessary to use it at all, especially if the meaning is established that the speaker or writer is referring to the future? And isn't that implied?

  • hypothecate or hypothecatise, a replacement for hypothesise

  • amplificate, a replacement for amplify

  • increaser as in ’it’s the big increaser of costs’

  • crested as in ’the deficit has crested’

  • auspiced/auspicing as in ’the program is auspiced by’ or ’the auspicing of the diploma by the college’

  • incested as in ’the man has incested before’

  • aggressed as in ’the person aggressed against another’

  • disequilibriate as in ’the action will disequilibriate the ecosystem’

  • instrument as in ’so we can instrument it’ (in context means measure)

  • technologisation as in ’we are seeing the technologisation of the . . .’

  • heroise/ing as in ’the group heroises him’

  • authored as in ’he authored the book’. What's wrong with 'wrote'?

  • analogise as in ’We’re on the road but not the way people normally analogise’

  • articulate into as in 'the program will articulate into the certificate course'

  • medal as in ’if I train hard I feel confident I will medal at the Olympics’

  • option as in ’I]d like to option your play’

  • marketisation as in ’it’s a choice between marketisation and big government’

  • hyperbolise

  • parenthetically

  • sequence/d as in ’if we can sequence the steps in the program’ or ’the program has been sequenced’

  • rail/train/bus as in ’I railed/trained/bussed to work’. ’Bussed’ is probably acceptable; the other two just sound wanky! What’s wrong with I caught the train/bus’?

  • rightsize as in ’so now we are rightsized’ (as in size of employment)

  • upsize as in ’we may need to upsize the organisation’

  • exteriorisation as in ’it leads to the exteriorisation of inner knowledge’ (in other words I shared my thoughts)

  • helicoptered/choppered as in ’he was helicoptered/choppered out of the forest’

  • overhelicopterisation as in ’we’re seeing the overhelicopterisation of the news’ (The Donahue program)

  • mentor as in ’the man wanted her to mentor him’

  • arson as in ’it’ll only encourage them to arson the school’

  • programmatic as in ’I want to put forward a programmatic agenda’. Also, almost famously, programmatic specificity, which presumably means 'specific program' (former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd)

  • exceedences as in ’there have already been 12 exceedences so far this year’

  • umbrellaise as in ’you can umbrellaise it’

  • inpanelled as in ’it’ll be at least two weeks before a jury is inpanelled’

  • recess as in ’we need to be careful we don't recess the economy’ (used here to refer to slowing economic growth)

  • exam as in ’we are going to exam the nation’

  • identicality as in ’there’s no substantial identicality between the two’ (Graham Swift)

  • accentuation as in ’what’s needed is an accentuation of the process’

  • scenario as in ’even though you can’t know, you can scenario-plan them’

  • journalise as in ’now that we’ve journalised all the entries’

  • office as in ’the new way to office’, which means buying for the office (Kinko’s marketing information, now FedEx)

  • message as in ’don’t forget you can always message us’

  • tariffication as in ’the tariffication of rice is the general direction they are wanting to go’. (former Australian deputy prime minister Tim Fisher)

  • adrenalising as in ’the fear is adrenalising’ (a sportsperson)

  • hazard as in ’to hazard a continent’ (Amory Lovins)

  • efforting

  • condition as in ’to condition the press’

  • catastrophification (Terence McKenna)

  • smothercated, a combination of smother and suffocate

  • dislexified

  • incentivise to provide encouragement

  • granularity the extent to which a larger entity is subdivided. As it often relates to data, it could be replaced by spelling out what it means, such as ’getting to the finer details’.

  • genesised as in "Genesised by a wave of new research into . . ." I'm not even sure what is going on here. Is it meant to be "beginning/starting with"? 

  • nostalgise to long for the good old days

  • valourisation to value someone's valour, presumably

Phrases and euphemisms
The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name. Confucius

 

  • involuntary deboarding: thrown off the plane

  • optimised non-linear trajectory: something goes up and down, but in a positive manner, as in to meet a demand for electricity

  • incorrect visual recognition: I didn’t see properly

  • multiple recruitment: branch stacking

  • post-operative negative recovery outcome: patient died in the hospital operating theatre

  • pursuing excellence outside the organisation: was sacked 

  • departed loved one’s module: coffin

  • that resource should have a parallel circumstance: which really means should be treated the same (Tim Fisher)

  • “the economic firestorms that have touched down in parts of Asia and knocking on beyond” (Tim Fisher)

  • “mushroom cloud in a tea cup” (Tim Fisher, yet again)

  • pre-prepare and forward planning Is there any other kind of preparation or planning?

  • negative territorye.g., ’the stock market is in negative territory’, when it should be ’the stock market is down’

  • quantitive easing: printing money

  • revenue enhancement: tax/fare increase

  • tired and emotional: drunk

A missive from Mark Colvin
the late ABC presenter and journalist to colleagues

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

As of the start of work on Monday, the phrases “it comes as” or “it comes after” are banned on PM, particularly but not exclusively in intros.

 

This simply formalises the practice of the last decade or so, when I have ruthlessly excised them on sight. Now it's your turn.

 

In similar vein, countries and businesses are not to be described as “troubled”.

 

And “impact”, as ever, is not a verb.

 

To be clear — the reason for this is not cussedness. It is because all these words and phrases are substitutes for thought.

 

For “impact”, for example, you could use “hit”, “affect”, “damage”, “hurt”, “strike”, “reduce the profits of”, or even “have an impact on”.

 

Just don’t say “the car impacted the lamp-post”, for God’s sake.

 

Yours fraternally,

Mark Colvin

Politics and the English language

Political language — and, with variations, this is true of all political parties from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change all this in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits.

 from Politics and the English Language, George Orwell 1946

View a pdf of the essay.

 

Orwell's Six Rules of Writing

 

1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print.

This sounds easy but in practice quite challenging. Orwell mentions phrases such as toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, an axe to grind, Achilles’ heel, swan song, and hotbed. They come to mind quickly and feel comforting and melodic. Orwell argues for this exact reason they must be avoided. Common phrases have become so comfortable they create no emotional response. Take the time to invent fresh, powerful images, he suggests.

 

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

Long words don’t make you sound intelligent unless used skilfully. In the wrong situation, they’ll have the opposite effect, making you sound pretentious and arrogant. They’re also less likely to be understood and more awkward to read.

 

When William Faulkner criticised Ernest Hemingway for his limited word choice the latter replied:

”Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”

 

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree (Ezra Pound). Accordingly, any words that don’t contribute meaning to a passage dilute its power. Less is always better. Always.

 

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

This one is frequently broken, probably because many people don’t know the difference between active and passive verbs. Here is an example that makes it easy to understand:

The man was bitten by the dog. (passive)

The dog bit the man. (active).

The active is better because it’s shorter and more forceful.

 

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

This is tricky because much of the writing published on the internet is highly technical. If possible, always try to remain accessible to the average reader. If your audience is highly specialised, use your discernment. You don’t want to spend time on lengthy explanation; your job is to help people understand what you’re writing about. You want your ideas to get around, don't you?

 

6. Break any of these rules sooner than saying anything outright barbarous.

Use common sense. These rules are easy to memorise but difficult to apply. The key is effort. Good writing matters, probably more than we think.

Source

 

The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a crib house whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary. 
James Nicoll

* In the past, many books offering grammatical advice have told readers they must never end a sentence with a preposition. Years ago when former British prime minister Winston Churchill solicited comments by circulating a draft of an important speech, he received one criticism that included a correction to his text. One of his sentences was rearranged to comply with the preposition rule. An irate Churchill apparently responded with one of the following ripostes:

  • This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put.

  • This is the kind of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.

  • This is the type of impertinence up with which I shall not put.

Or did he say that? Read on

Other writings

At Least 100 Principles of Love

On loving ourselves, each other and the world

Consensus

How to run meetings using consensus decision-making and how to run meetings well using facilitation and etiquette.

Outlaw Catalogue of Cagey Optimism

A compendium of healthy, exalted, positive states of being — the perfect antidote for a world obsessed with pathology or ’what’s wrong with us’.

 

For more of the world of pronoia, visit the Beauty and Truth Lab.

 

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