Words That Make People Grumpy

fingernails, blackboard

photo (cropped): redpangolins, creative commons license

Every reader—writers, too—have certain words that sound to them like fingernails on a blackboard. I have a thing against “hopefully,” though that’s a losing battle. I don’t like alright—the phrase is “all right already”—and I’m not a fan of the singular “they.” Most times making the antecedent plural fixes it:

NOT: The patient should fill out their own forms.
BUT: Patients should fill out their own forms.

That is to say, if you find “his/her” and “s/he” and their spawn hopelessly awkward, I agree.

Rebecca Gowers in The Guardian has compiled “An A-Z of horrible words,” and I’m happy to find both alright and hopefully in it. On my own mental list of horribles, I can usually identify which grammar zealot burdened me with carrying their torch. Some examples: “under way” is two words, not one; don’t use “over” when you mean “more than”; “presently” means “soon,” not “at present”; use “whether” not “if” when “whether” is meant. And so many, many more.

Gowers’s article isn’t just another listsicle. She explains her prejudices, how the words came to be, and provides amusing sidelights (that would be a “compound”). The entry for “euphemisms” is especially enlightening.

Under “finally,” I discovered I ran afoul of this one just yesterday, using it to mean “at last,” rather than “for the last time.” Oops. Fingernails and a screeching blackboard for some irritated reader. Fixed.

Take a peek at Gowers’s list and tell me what Really Important pet word peeves of yours she overlooked!

4 thoughts on “Words That Make People Grumpy

  1. Great article. I agree with all of Vicki’s and Gowers’s observations. Some other things that bother me: “comprised of” instead of “composed of” or “comprising”; alot; “lay” instead of “lie” (e.g., “The cat was laying on the rug.”); using a “would have” expression instead of the past perfect tense (e.g. “If I would have known you were coming, I would have baked a cake” instead of “If I had known you were coming, I would have baked a cake.”); inflated words: functionality; operationalize; utilize; I could go on and on. These things jump out at me, and I enjoyed editing them out of bureaucratic writing in state agencies for many years.

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