DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Dec 7 2010

In a Word

by Veronica W

She was about 14 or 15 years old and very,very good at it. With her head cocked to the side, she listened to my suggestion that certain behavior was inappropriate. When I stopped, she stared into my eyes for about 5 seconds, glanced down at my shoes and up again and then put all the scorn and disdain she felt for me and my speech into one word.  “Whatever.”

I have learned since then that I am not alone in my complete disgust of that word, when used in such a dismissive way.  It is not only exceedingly rude but it very effectively shuts down all communication and indicates to the person to whom it was said that they do not matter. It ranks right up there with “talk to the hand.”  (Forgive me if you use either one of these regularly)

There are many words and phrases used every day that are either weapons, inanities or just plain silly. Paul Yeager, in his book Literally, The Best Language Book Ever: Annoying Words and Abused Phrases You Should Never Use Again, takes a “linguistic scalpel” to what he sees as some of the common communication woes. With scathing humor and wit, he does for language what Miss Manners has done for etiquette. Lynn Truss combines the two in Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door.  Joining them are Junk English and What’s the Good Word. If you want to see where the English language is heading, check out The Prodigal Tongue: dispatches from the future of English.

The abuse of the English language, I must confess, is a pet peeve of mine and like so many people with pet peeves, I am frequently guilty of doing what I hate. Please feel free to call me on it if I’m caught saying “whatever!”  I’m not fond of  made up words either, because I like to be able to look for definitions in Webster’s. Where can you find a definition of “asparagusion?” (By the way, the grammar issue is in the same vein. I’m ill-equipped to take that on but for a fun take on the subject, look at Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies.) In the meantime, I’d like to hear from fellow linguistic “purists” concerning what you find really annoying.  It’s lonely being ridiculously picky all by myself.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Joseph M December 7, 2010 at 12:43 PM

one of my pet peeves is the misuse of the term “literally”. I’ve often seen it inserted in front of a cliche to provide emphasis, instead of more appropriate words such as “figuratively” or “metaphorically” which would be more accurate.

Dea Anne M. December 7, 2010 at 2:44 PM

Great post, Veronica! I’ll never forget reading an interview with a musician in which she (the musician) proudly confided that during childhood she had been a “vociferous reader.” I would have ground my teeth in irritation except that I was laughing at the vision of long suffering parents shrugging shoulders at the clamorous, but all too familiar, outcry from their daughter’s bedroom.

Jimmy L December 7, 2010 at 3:00 PM

Not sure if this applies, but I find it amusing when people say “for all intensive purposes” (instead of “intents and purposes”) or when they write “i would of done that” (instead of “would’ve”).

Lynne C December 7, 2010 at 3:34 PM

Oh, boy, don’t get me going… Most of my pet peeves are the misuse of words:
Pet peeve # 1 – confusing the use of “less” and “fewer” – Use “fewer” to describe countable things. Use “less” to describe uncountable quantities, collective amounts, and degree. These terms are not interchangeable.
Pet peeve #2 – mixing up the use of “I” and “me” – “I” is a pronoun that must be the subject of a verb. “Me” is a pronoun that must be the object of the verb. Some folks seem to think it’s NEVER correct to use “me”, so they misuse “I” instead.
And then there’s” irregardless”, not a word at all. My 6th grade teacher said it made her skin crawl when she heard it, and she passed along this response to all her students!

Lauren Lemons December 8, 2010 at 1:02 AM

Thank you for the nice blog! I have always appreciated proper speech, and I must admit that I too am bothered when I hear phrases like the ones mentioned above. I am so glad to know that I am not the only one slightly annoyed! Despite all of this, I realize that we all (including myself) make mistakes in speech. I try to take this into consideration before I get too irked!

David December 8, 2010 at 12:44 PM

I hate hearing people say they “could care less.”

Margaret December 9, 2010 at 11:53 AM

Another common misuse is “can” and “may”.

“Can” is used when meaning you are able to do something. “May” should be used when asking or saying you have permission.

Ken December 11, 2010 at 1:29 PM

I probably fall into this trap myself, but, like, I’m getting tired of the overuse of the word “like” to intensify or introduce a sentence. It sounds like a regression to eighties valley girl speak.

Also, I find it a little sad that the word “awesome” got highjacked in the eighties, and is now so overused, especially when someone simply means, “That’s great” or “Terrific”. It’s not such an awesome word anymore. Alas, I fall into that trap occasionally too.

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