Lexicographer and Countdown’s Queen of Dictionary Corner, Susie Dent, asked her Twitter followers which words or phrases they would like to see consigned to oblivion. Of course, I have my own suggestions.
The resulting Top Ten list is pretty good. In fact, my own No. 1—‘going forward’—is the same! It’s such an ugly construction, compared to the perfectly fitting ‘in future’, or even ‘from now on’. It must have been an American who started that one… 🙂
Maybe it would be better to describe these horrors as words and phrases that should be stricken from thoughtless, everyday usage, rather than banished entirely from the dictionary. In that case, I’d like to propose:
- ‘iconic’—listen people, not everything can be iconic. If everything is iconic, nothing is iconic.
- ‘eclectic’—used to be a good word, then some idiot discovered it, started overusing it and it has spread like a virus. Nowadays, if your taste in music, food, art, architecture or whatever extends to just two styles, it’s deemed ‘eclectic’. No.
- ‘unique’—perfectly acceptable if you’re talking about a true one-off, but not if it’s something that’s just a wee bit unusual.
- ‘advisory’—when used as a noun, for example: ‘the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency released an advisory’. Released an advisory what? It’s an adjective, people. An Americanism that has crept into British use—I hear forecasters issuing ‘weather advisories’. 🙄
- ‘impactful’—ugh! Where the fuck did that come from?
- endless ugly, modern examples of verbing—because yes, using impact as a verb in a sense that is not related to bowels or teeth is incorrect. So there.
Amongst the replies to Susie’s original tweet, I have to give special mention to this aside by @DayJaVooght. After spending many years in the EU engaged on hi-tech programmes, mostly in Sweden but also in Germany, I know where he’s coming from…
On language, generally
A lot of the most awful crimes against English could be avoided if people would follow the six ‘rules’ George Orwell set out in his 1946 essay, Politics and the English Language:
- Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
While Orwell’s essay was targeted at political language (which he said ‘is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable’—seem familiar?), it really has much wider relevance and still stands up pretty well today. At least, to a language curmudgeon like me.
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