I’ve gotten into trouble over my use of words many times. Sometimes they’re swear words, or the seven words you can’t say on TV, and sometimes they’re double entendres, on at least one occasion it was an inadvertent double entendre. But there are other words that really ought to be banned from civilized discourse, not because they are offensive, but because they are meaningless, or make no sense.
Transition. Lets get this clear, the word is a noun. It is not a verb. The verb is transit. That’s what do objects do when they pass before each other. Every use of transition as a verb can be replaced by either move or change.
Impact. Some illiterate gummint employee decided that it would be more vigorous to use impact because he couldn’t tell when to use affect or effect. Affect is a verb that means to make a change. Every once in a while it’s used as a noun to mean emotion or feeling. Effect is a noun that refers to a change that is brought about. Sometimes it’s used as a verb that means to bring about.
Loose. Sometimes something is loose, and it may be loose when you lose something but loose and lose neither sound alike, nor mean the same thing.
Utilize. You’ve got a 7 letter Latinate word. Why would you use that word rather than the 3 letter Anglo-Saxon word. Every time the Latinate word is used the A-S word works just as well.
Amazing. Every story includes a line that goes something like this: “Sarah, you’re an amazing woman. You’re smart, funny, you know how to change a flat tire, and you can run a marathon on one leg,…” With all of these amazing people about, why aren’t we all wandering around in slack-jawed wonder? Deconstruct. This is used as an all-purpose word that means criticise or analyze. What deconstruction is, however, is a school of criticism that originated in France, and which traces its lineage back to Hegel, Husserl, and other guys who wrote incomprehensible books. To deconstruct something means, generally and very imperfectly put as it may be, to expose the internal contradictions of a work.
Closure. Every time some poor, dumb slob is executed the family of his victim is interviewed, and someone says “We want closure.” Sorry, that’s not going to happen. The slob on the gurney or in the chair gets closure. He’s dead*. The family goes on living and missing their relative. Closure is a literary term that relates to the problem of ending a work. How do I end my sonnet? How do I end the novel? I took a course in which we read Dream of the Red Chamber, a classic Chinese novel, and we joked that if asked on a test what happened to a character the correct answer was either he died or he got married. That’s fine for a novel, but in real life it just keeps going on and on and on.
Graduate. You don’t graduate high school or college. You graduate from high school or college. To graduate something is to measure it, or to mark a container with scales such as ounces or centiliters, or something like that. I think the first time that I paid attention to this distinction was when I read The Lonely Silver Rain. Travis McGee’s daughter says that she graduated high school, and he corrects her. As I recall there’s a small discussion of the distinction.
Loose. People are loosing stuff all the time. That’s right they spend their lives untying stuff, cutting chains, and liberating everything from bulls to prisoners. Nope. What they’re doing is losing stuff. You lose your keys because they’re loose in the lock, or because there’s a hole in your pants.
Fair. Everybody has to pay their fair share. So why does 47% of the country not pay any taxes? Somehow it’s fair for me to pay for Joe’s kids to go to high school while mine have been out for 20 years or so. Now if Joe and I both go to McDonalds, I pay for my Big Mac and Fries and Joe pays for his McNuggets and cola. If I had to pay for Joe every time we showed up at McDonalds I’d scream bloody murder. Just because I have more money than Joe is no reason for me to pay for his dietary habits as well as my own. Is it fair to take the money that I made, and by means of armed men take it from me and pass it on to people I may neither know nor like?
Justice. Every time a mob starts screaming for justice for someone you can be pretty sure that they aren’t really all that interested in justice. The person may be guilty or not guilty, dead or alive, victim or perp, but the yammering, yowling, letter to the editor writing mob has no interest in justice. It’s being used so someone else can gain power.
Vote against their own interest. How is this even possible? I came across this in a letter to the editor the other day, and I immediately stopped reading. This is one of the phrases that tells me the person is a bloody idiot, and there’s no point in reading any further. What this means is that someone votes in a way that I, the omniscient person with the guide to everything built into me, perceives as being against their self-interest. But why should that poor benighted person accept my view of their self-interest? You usually see this when some liberal, a Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter With Kansas, or some other jerk is complaining about the rejection of some idea. Now it may be that a person does not see Social Security or some other program designed to take money out of his pocket and put it into someone else’s pocket as benefitting him. Had Social Security been structured properly, as an investment platform rather than as the Ponzi scheme/monetary transfer scam that it is, I would be receiving a payment greater than the $1,080 a month the great and good and benevolent government allots me. I might also object to having money taken out of my pocket and used for purposes that I have no use for.
￼ * If you believe in an afterlife, then the story goes on for the slob, but we don’t have access to it, so that part’s open for debate.