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.

Note: If you haven’t dropped kinda and sorta from your vocabulary, reread https://dedicatedtogrammar.com/tag/sorta/ and apply it immediately!

 

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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 people 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.

Every person is BEAUTIFUL, and every baby is GORGEOUS. And all our children are AMAZING! (I believe that beauty can be found in everyone, and that every baby is special. But I don’t think that those who call everyone beautiful are making this particular point.)

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 amazing!!!

Words to Never Say, Part Two

This week we’re aiming our guns at the word like. (You knew this was coming.) If you care about precision in language, or just sounding more professional, read on.

If you use like as in enjoying something, or having affection toward someone, or using a direct comparison (“like a bat out of hell”), then keep it up. That’s the proper usage of the word.

But this last decade or so has seen the word explode as a kind of all-purpose verb/adjective:

“He was, like, (facial expression), and I like, (arms and hands indicating removal from the scene).” In Olde English, this might have meant, “He was upset and I quickly walked in the opposite direction.”

Or…

“That item is, like, over there in that aisle.” So is it actually over there in that aisle, or does it only seem as if it might be over there?

I know of more than one talented young person whose every 10th word is like. They need to stop, perform a like-ectomy on their vocabulary, and carry on making more sense. Research indicates that this will help in job interviews. Seriously.

Try using “it was as if…” if that will help, and if it applies. But you may find, as with kinda and sorta, that taking the expression out of your mouth completely will simply have the effect of strengthening your speech. Be brave. You can do it!