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Richard Nordquist

More Horrible Words

By August 17, 2012

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"Words that are horrible to one writer may not be horrible to another," says editor John Grimond in The Economist Style Guide (Profile Books, 2010), "but if you are a writer for whom no words are horrible, you would do well to take up some other activity."

You know the kinds of words he means. Not "bad" or obscene words, but vogue words, blurred words, and buzzwords--expressions that too often are used thoughtlessly and inappropriately.

Fifteen years ago, in his quirky guide to modern usage, British novelist Kingsley Amis offered this list of "popular horrors":

feedback. Has a precise use in mechanics and electronics but is pissily and pretentiously used by psychologists and others to mean nothing more than "comment" or "response."

in-depth. No committee these days would dream of "funding" a survey or analysis that was not said to be an in-depth survey etc. A mere deep one draws few dollars.

in terms of. A great anytime thought-saver. . . . [N]obody who uses it in ordinary conversation without some sort of jeer or sneer is to be trusted.

ongoing (situation). As above. Anything wrong with present or current?

or whatever. Try to avoid this in speech. Never write it.

-type. This, as in guerrilla-type war, is a lazy time-saver, but is not actually criminal unless situation follows it, as in Vietnam-type situation.
(Kingsley Amis, The King's English: A Guide to Modern Usage. HarperCollins, 1997)

As Grimond says, "No words or phrases should be banned outright from appearing in print," but we ought to recognize that certain flyblown expressions "may have an emetic effect" on some of our readers.

To pass along your collection of horrible words, click on "comments" below.

More Horrible Words:


August 17, 2012 at 7:20 am
(1) Dave says:

My pet peeve is referring to students as “clients,” “customers,” or “stakeholders.”

August 17, 2012 at 7:26 am
(2) Phyllis says:

The “library” is disappearing–and being replaced by horrible “Learning Resource Centers.”

I’m weary of peripheral “centers” and unhelpful “services.”

August 17, 2012 at 8:20 am
(3) KP says:

It seems anything or anybody more than 3 weeks old with a press agent is now ‘iconic’. The word isn’t horrible but the promiscuous use of it certainly is!

August 18, 2012 at 3:19 am
(4) Miss Lonelyhearts says:

I’m deeply troubled by the idea of people ‘reinventing’ themselves, as if they were light bulbs or telephones or Roombas.

August 20, 2012 at 11:41 am
(5) George DelMonte says:

Add “in the moment,” “horrific” and “at the end of the day” to the list.
Another usage that bugs me is the media’s tendency to add the middle name of anyone who comiits an act of terrorism or murder. Was John Booth less guilty of assasinating Lincoln than John Wilkes Booth?

August 20, 2012 at 11:57 am
(6) kerry says:

Viral seems to have replaced popular. To me it sounds sick.

Proactive should not replace preventative.

August 20, 2012 at 2:09 pm
(7) MG says:

I’m not happy with teachers being referred to as “facilitators.”

August 20, 2012 at 4:29 pm
(8) Dee Wood says:

I have hated this usage since its beginning: “I am LIKING this”, and all forms of this “present progressive”, if that’s what it’s called.
It won’t die and just keeps popping up everywhere in speech.
How can it be KILLED?
Also, the usage of the word “done” substituted for finished “done”
I’m aware that colloquials are often absorbed into our language but I am loathe to accept some of them.

August 20, 2012 at 4:30 pm
(9) Marcy Gamber says:

Let’s not forget the ever popular ‘at the present time’ or ‘at this point in time.’

And whenever I hear ‘nuptuals’ in place of ‘nuptials,’ I want to scream.

But what really chaps me is the improper use of begging the question. I’ve given up on the so-called pundits/news journalists ever using the term correctly.

@George DelMonte — I agree with you about the use of middle names. I believe it’s supposed to lend seriousness to the crime.

August 20, 2012 at 4:31 pm
(10) Marcy Gamber says:

@Dee: I’m likin’ what you wrote!

August 21, 2012 at 12:32 am
(11) K. Kraus says:

Is triteness really so troubling? Don’t “we all need someone we can speak nonsense to by the yard”? –Ludwig Wittgenstein

August 21, 2012 at 2:07 am
(12) Martin Hogan says:

What makes my teeth itch and hair hurt is using “like,” as in similar or even identical when the writer means an example or “such as.”

August 21, 2012 at 11:27 am
(13) BG says:

I get irritated when I hear, (or even read), “like” or “you know” for almost every second word. Perhaps that is exaggerating a little but you understand what I mean.

August 22, 2012 at 4:23 am
(14) Mayuram V.Sankaran says:

“More horrible words” are what you can expect realistically when the English language is ‘outsourced’ to the non-English people who also speak and write in the English language, but in their quaint way!

August 27, 2012 at 2:52 pm
(15) Eloise says:

“Just sayin’”

Shucks, Jethro, tell me WHAT you’re “just sayin’.”

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