Sunday, January 03, 2010


If you're like me, language is important to you. Its use, and also its abuse. In fact, it's sometimes hard to tell whether the pleasure from reading one of the great writers, like John Updike, is more than the displeasure caused by reading the pedestrian, the bland, and the badly phrased. Since it's a new year I thought I'd start out with some words that I'd really rather not hear again in 2010.

Your cooperation is appreciated:

1. Humbled. How many times have you heard someone getting some award, honor, or appointment announce that they were humbled by the experience? Did you have the same reaction I had? "Bullshit! You're not humbled. You think this proves how great you are, just like you've been telling everybody you know all along." My suggestion: when you're going for the false modesty, at least have the decency to do it in your own words, instead of the trite "humbled".

2. Niche. No, let me clarify something here. There's nothing wrong with the word, I'm just sick of hearing people pronounce it like they just learned it from a native speaker of French and were using it in English for the first time. It's not "neesh" it's niche, pronounced "nitch". Get it right or don't say it at all.

3. G.O.P. Maybe if I keep saying this often enough people will start listening. Why would you call the Republican Party the Grand Old Party? Fowler's Modern English Usage (1926) warned, "Now the sobriquet habit is not a thing to be acquired, but a thing to be avoided; & the selection that follows is compiled for the purpose not of assisting but of discouraging it." Fowler included the sobriquet among what he termed the "battered ornaments" of the language. What's more, why would the opponents of the Republicans want to call it "Grand"? And as far as "Old" goes, the party is not as old as the Democratic Party. I have friends who like "G.O.P.", using it to stand for Guardians of Privilege, but I still say ditch it.

4. More. Here in the English language we have a perfectly good way of forming the comparative of adjectives: generally the rule is to add "-er" to the adjective to form the comparative. Just this year, though, I started noticing people forming the comparative of adjectives with a perfectly good comparative form by adding "more" before the adjective. Like "more fair" instead of "fairer", or "more healthy" instead of "healthier". It's not ungrammatcial, but I don't quite get why you want to sound like Forrest Gump just learning to speak English as your second language, so cut it out.

5. Decade. At least not until December. You see, for a couple of weeks now you can't open a newspaper or a web page without seeing stories about the Top Ten this or that of the decade, what we should call the new decade, what to expect in the new decade, etc.. The problem is, we're still in the first decade of the Twenty-First Century, and we will be for almost another year. Why do we have to go over this again? Didn't we just get done trying to make people understand that 2000 was the last year of the 20th Century, and 2001 was the first year of the 21st? Well then? How hard is this to figure out? Start at 2001, count to ten, and that brings you to what? 2011. Unless we assume that the decade we just finished is one of those unusual, nine-year decades, we're not done with it yet.

I'm sure there are more, but five is a nice, manageable number. If we can just get people to avoid this five words that would be a real start, or, to put it another way, a nice way to wrap up the decade.

Thank you.


Anonymous JD Ryan said...

Well, Jack, it's good to see your crankiness ins unabating in the new year. Keep it up, and get off my lawn, you gawdamn kids!

January 03, 2010 8:13 PM  
Anonymous Charity (shesright) said...

I love hearing other people's language pet peeves.

I say 'neesh.' It is a correct pronunciation, according to, but I can see where it would be annoying.

As far as "decade," good luck with that one. It's like me trying to get people to stop spelling yea 'yay' - an exercise in futility.

January 04, 2010 5:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

January 05, 2010 12:01 PM  
Blogger Ren said...

Jack, you're my hero. And dammit, I'm not humbled to say it.

January 05, 2010 11:29 PM  

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