[There are people to whom I’m rather pleased to cause offence, but those who are made uncomfortable by even the moderate use of the f-word are not usually among them. If you do fall into that group, feel free to avert your eyes before you get down to the photograph that I’ve thoughtfully placed at the bottom of the page.]
Today my attention was drawn to a podcast project called The Word Bin run by Fair Acre Press – an attractive idea from an independent publishing house that certainly looks worth taking a look at.
The idea behind The Word Bin is to invite people to comment on which words they’d like to consign to the trash and why. I was (and still am) severely tempted to contribute, but am reluctant because:
- I’m more often vexed by whole phrases than single words
- Most of the words that irritate me do so are context-sensitive: that is, they’re irritating because they’re used inappropriately – for instance, as a meaningless filler and/or cliché – not because they have no legitimate use.
Still, I’m not one to ignore the opportunity to vent – or at least glower at – a number of examples of annoying verbiage, so here are a few, not necessarily in ascending (or descending) order of aggravation.
A context-sensitive irritation: it’s a word that has a valid and sometimes useful meaning, but seems mostly to be used as a synonym for ‘metaphorical’, which it clearly isn’t.
Removal of this useful little preposition might pose some tongue-twisting circumlocutory clauses, but would at least rid me of the need to listen to people who ‘should of’ paid more attention at school so that they’d know that “could’ve” is not pronounced “could of”. Though perhaps English schools are not always an English-secure environment. My wife, a former teacher, insists that a former head of department at her school regularly committed the same assault on my native language.
A former colleague with whom I shared editing duties in various contexts for many years recently presented me a mug with an inscription that addresses this and a number of similar bugbears – see below (at the bottom of the article), but only if you’re not offended by the frequent use of a certain four-letter word.
So many people use this little word inappropriately at the start of a sentence (see what I did there?) that I’m tempted to consign it permanently to Nadia Kingsley’s sin-bin, but then I’d have to rewrite this sentence. I will say that when someone on our television uses it as a meaningless filler at the start of a sentence, the rest of the sentence is usually drowned out by the groans.
Context-dependent: a tip in a restaurant or a large charitable donation may legitimately be defined as generous. However, when a government imposes restrictions – however justified – that imperils the livelihoods of citizens – it isn’t spending its own money when it subsidizes those citizens in the hope of keeping them employed. Much of the money being spent is drawn from taxes they paid, directly or indirectly. The first duty of a government is to use its income – and yes, the money it borrows – to protect its citizens, not to provide lucrative contracts for its cronies.
I think we could take it as read at this point that it’s unfortunate that so many people have died of Covid-19-related illnesses. At any rate, it isn’t necessary to repeat it several times during a speech or briefing. I’m not sure we need reminding quite so often that there are people behind the statistics. Of course, I’m in favour of politicians reminding themselves of that fact, but when they do so publicly and so often, I have to wonder if this is just empathy by rote, or shorthand for ‘circumstances for which we take no responsibility’.
See “Unfortunately”. I used to quite like this charming and faintly archaic word until I noticed it used three times in two sentences by a politician not noted for reliability, competence, or devotion to the truth or even democracy. Which makes me wonder if it has become a Bullingdonian way of expressing sorrow without empathy or admission of responsibility.
- Corruption, Cronyism, Fake News
Would it be cynical to suggest that these are already covered by ‘politics’? 😦