Friday, January 30, 2009

Say What You Mean

by Barbara D'Amato

The Telegraph recently published a list compiled by Oxford scholars [who were apparently taking well-deserved time off from more scholarly pursuits] of their top ten most irritating words and phrases. They were:

At the end of the day
Fairly unique
I personally
At this moment in time
With all due respect
Absolutely
It’s a nightmare
Shouldn’t of
24/7
It’s not rocket science

Now, I don’t mind 24/7. It’s quicker than writing “all the time” and it’s no more cumbersome to say “we’re open 24/7,” than “we’re always open.” But I agree with them on the others.

However, one word has been increasingly irritating me, and the Oxford group seems not have noticed it.

It’s “unit.”

I have a coffeemaker—one of those with a tank you fill with water and a hopper you fill with coffee beans. It has a read-out that warns you when it needs to be cleaned and that’s okay. But the read-out will also say “unit heating” or “unit rinsing.” There would be no loss in meaning and a gain in brevity for it to say “rinsing” or “cleaning.” Why say “unit rinsing”? I certainly understand that IT is being rinsed, not my glassware or the spinach.

Similarly, I met a fellow apartment-dweller in our lobby a few days ago who asked, “What unit are you in?” The whole building is apartments. Why not ask what apartment? My son’s office was in an all-offices building, but it was still called a unit. “Apartment” and “office” are not high-visceral words, but at least they have a specific meaning.

Then there’s “each and every.” Sometimes each may sound better and sometimes every, but both always sounds worse. I can’t imagine a time you’d need both. It’s word-bloat.

Then there’s “to my way of thinking.” Who else’s?

What are your unloved words and phrases? Tell me. I’m collecting these units.

34 comments:

Libby Hellmann said...

"just"
"even"
"smoking gun"
"pale imitation" (what other type is there)
"to that end"

Peter Rozovsky said...

“Going forward” may be worse than any of those because it is almost always conveys self-importance. It generally also indicates a desire to avoid the truth.

It is almost always semantically superfluous, which is not necessarily the case with all the terms on the list. It may be the most pernicious and annoying verbal tic of the last 35 years.
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
“Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Kevin Guilfoile said...

"Nondescript" makes me crazy. Stop typing for twenty seconds and you'll think of an adjective to describe whatever it is.

"Nondescript sedan" makes me want to bang my head against the shiny end of an ax.

Diane said...

"The thing is..."
"actually"
"no offense" or "nothing personal, but..." - like "With all due respect," they're code for "I'm about to say something rude but you're not allowed to get mad!"

This is specific to book and movie reviews but it seems that *everything* is a "tour de force" these days.

I just now had to go back and delete an "actually". Sheesh.

Maryann Mercer said...

"you know"- following almost every word in a sentence.
"if you ask me"-when I haven't asked
"dire emergency"-is there any other kind?
"I hate to bother you, but..."
"grow the company"

My current favorite---"Do you work here?" when I'm wearing my name badge and carrying a load of books as I walk around B&N.

Mark Combes said...

Uh oh. I use all of these....

As Peter says, these are verbal tics. I can excuse them in conversation - not so much in writing.

When writing, you have the time to think of something with a "modicum" (my contribution) of originality - so "going forward", and "to that end" we should "just" skip to the "smoking gun", describe that "nondescript sedan" and "actually" say something. "No offense", and "I hate to bother you, but" anything else is a "pale imitation." "The thing is," I think we should all avoid this "dire emergency" and try to "grow the company."

Someone could make a fortune turning this into a game. There, another million dollar idea I've just shared with the world......

Sara Paretsky said...

Ooh, good post, Barb. I hate, "bottom line,""going postal," and characters who make mental notes. I'm also sick of eye contact and locking eyes, and I am "way tired" of "back in the day."

Naomi said...

Hi there! Big fan here.

My candidate: "I'm playing devil's advocate." Sometimes this expression may be helpful. Most of the time, though, it seems to mean, "If you argue with me, I'm going to say, 'I was just playing devil's advocate.'" Or even better, "Oh come on; I was just playing devil's advocate." (I hate "Oh come on." It is possible to hold the opinion I'm expressing, and in fact I do hold it. So there.)

Sometimes people even use "devil's advocate" as the equivalent of "No offense, but;" in other words, "I'm about to say something incredibly offensive."

I have similar, but not as strong, feelings about "agree to disagree."

Dana King said...

I was well into a comment using all of the above, then I saw Mark beat me to it and his was better.

One of the phrases noted I actually like. "With all due respect" has potential for great and undetectable snark, if you have little respect for the person you're addressing, as "all due respect" could mean "none."

Corey said...

Most business cant is irritating:

"From a marketing perspective, the value proposition of the redeveloped piece-part is crystal clear to the end-user, but from an operational perspective, the differential between the old framework to the new one represents an out-of-the-box paradigm shift that requires a radical re-engineering of our quality processes vis-a-vis our workforce."

Didn't get that? Let me nutshell it for you:

"Our customers will like the change, but our employees will need some training to produce it."

Sara said...

"go ahead and" as in "I'm going to go ahead and..." (apologies to Office Space)
"price point" (I think it means...price)

Barbara D'Amato said...

Thank you Libby, Peter, Kevin, Diane, Maryann, Mark, Sara, Naomi, Dana, Corey, and Sara. I will add these great units to my collection.

And Corey--is that real or did you make it up? It's wonderful either way.

Corey said...

Top of my head. Quite a talent, eh?

Actually, replace "old" with "legacy" and "new" with "refactored" for better effect. Or is that better affect?

Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, I once began prefaced a remark to boss with whom I disagreed thus: "With all due deference ... "

To his credit, he laughed and said: "You mean with no deference at all."

In re business cant, I suspect its resurgence dates from the Reagan era and the cult of the CEO, as personified by Lee Iacocca.

And let me add one more disingenuous cant phrase to the list: "Part of the continuing conversation." This phrase, which zoomed in popularity during the Clinton adminstration, translated into English means: "We don't know what we're doing,"
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Jude Hardin said...

"My bad."

Kat said...

"It is what it is"

Barbara D'Amato said...

From Tony D'Amato:

A CAUTIONARY TALE OF NULL AND VOID



Back in law-school days when professors were harsh and students wore coat and ties to class, a classmate was answering the professor’s question: “Nothing follows from the contract, sir, because it was null and void ab initio."

“Which one was it,” Professor Kingsley said.

“The adhesion contract.”

“Of course it was the adhesion contract, the very same one that the entire class, including yourself, presumably, has been working on for the past half hour.”

“Yes, sir.”

“So, to repeat, which one was it?”

“I’m afraid I am unprepared.”

“No,” said the Professor, slightly but unmistakably raising his voice, “You are not unprepared. Which one was it?

The student is silent, looking baffled. Everyone else in the class is suffering in empathy.

“All right,” says the professor, “I am asking you whether the contract was null, or was the contract void?”

The student says, “I think it was both, sir.”

Professor: “You what? Did I hear you use the word think??

Student: “I guess it was both null and void.”

Professor: “Ah. Now that we’ve ascertained what you are doing, would you kindly explain how a contract can be both null and void without them canceling each other out so that the contract is in fact valid?”

Student: “I think – I guess the contract is simply dead. Terminated. Finished. Kaput.” (The last word elicits some suppressed laughter in the courtroom. The professor, never missing an opportunity, jumps right in.



Professor: “If a person is dead, does a lawyer need to get additional evidence in order to discover whether the person is kaput?”

Student: “I wouldn’t guess so, sir.”

“That’s very good. Now, would you say that the contract is null? Or is it void?”

Student: “I would say it’s either one. It’s null or void.”

Professor: “And who would decide which one it was?”

Student: “The judge?”

Professor: “So now we’re in court, and the judge asks you if it’s your position that whether the contract is null or void is a question you are leaving to the court ‘s discretion to decide. Right so far?

Student: “I think so.”

Professor, now playing the role of the judge, in a lower voice: “Are you leaving other issues like null or void to my discretion as well?”

Student: “Yes, your honor. I mean no, your honor.”

Judge: “Which is it, counselor? Is it yes or is it no? Or maybe the answer to that question makes absolutely no difference to you.”

Student: “No, it does, your honor. I mean yes, it does, your honor. [An aside to the class:] Maybe I should quit while I’m ahead.”

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