Words to Never Use, Part 1

Today and next week, we’re celebrating words and expressions that are essentially useless and should be removed from our speech and our writing. This week, we’ll look at those that are high-falutin’ and therefore appear more erudite. Next week we’ll look at those that seem to add a sense of intensity that is both unnecessary and overdone.

First, the “makes me sound smart” expressions:

In order to

This is perhaps that most unnecessary set of words used in written English. (I speak as the reader of hundreds of college essays every year.) Just say to instead and your communication will be clearer and more robust. Try it, even though it might feel more direct and less fancy. In today’s worlds of communication, we don’t need more fancy.

Utilize

This is perhaps the second most unfortunate word choice in college essays. Just say use for the same reasons listed in the above paragraph. If there is a technical field where the two words are used differently, ignore this advice for communication in that field. For the rest of us and for most normal discourse, drop the longer word, substitute the shorter word, and enjoy the reprieve from striving to sound more intelligent.

Language Extremes

Instead of focusing on a particular word or phrase this week, I’m going to share some thoughts on what’s happening in our society that is pushing us to inaccurate extremes of expression.

We’re living in a world of extremes. On one hand, there is a mushy, fearful, and hesitant approach to our communication, best seen in the ubiquitous use of “kinda” and its cousin, “sorta.” It’s as if we are afraid of saying anything definitive or clear, perhaps for fear of actually standing for something. Listen to yourself and others, and you’ll likely be surprised by a couple of things: 1) How often kinda and sorta are used, and 2) how unnecessary they are. In fact, not only are they generally not necessary, but they dilute the meaning of what follows. “When did you kinda get started with such-and-such?” “I kinda got home late.” Huh? Just remove the phrase entirely from your vocabulary, and like a food allergy test, re-introduce it little by little into your speech, but only as necessary.

The other extreme can be blamed on social media and television. In an effort to stand out and be heard (either by what people post or what they say), we exaggerate and intensify, and thereby destroy any semblance of relativity. Everything must be the most and the best, and everything must be presented in the most extreme and sometimes throbbing manner.

Facebook posts tell us to click on the video, because WE WON”T BELIEVE what happens next.

Apparently the world is often not ready for someone’s dress, statement, or action. Not everything is amazing.

Television interviews of folks who are famous for being famous are not helping. Not everything is a crisis; not every other thing is INCREDIBLE.

Stunning used to mean that something stunned someone (or shocked him or her, or made someone unconscious). Awesome, whose attempts at maintaining its meaning have been an abject failure, used to mean inspiring awe, a powerful idea that loses its meaning when meals, small favors, and nights out can be described as awesome. Have we simply lost the concept of awe?

Let’s pull in our speech toward a clear and happy middle. Let’s pull away from exaggeration and intensity, and use hyperbole and passion only when necessary to make our speech clear. Let’s pull away from qualifying every other statement with kinda, and let’s get to our points without hesitance or compromise. Let’s not try to stand out; let’s just work to be clear and precise, because that would be kinda awesome!!!

Palette/palate/pallet

I was, until my recent retirement, a film professor (see http://www.film-prof.com). My students had to do a few papers that analyze some aspect of a film. Some chose to write about color, and I’m often treated to an analysis on pallets, palates, and palettes. Of course, only one of those is correct; the other two, to be fair, are amusing to visualize, and provide the occasional guffaw.

This is a palette:

palette

It’s what painters use to hold their paints. It also refers to the range of colors in an image or film.

This is a palate:

palate

This is also referred to as the roof of your mouth.

And finally, this is a pallet:

pallet

A pallet can also be a straw mattress or a makeshift bed.

My students, of course, usually meant “palette” when they wrote.

The biggest thing to remember is that there are three words that sound exactly the same but mean different things. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I confess that sometimes I have to look up the word to make sure I’m writing down the right one!