The Muddle of Words

I have to warn you. You are about to read a blog about nothing. You see, I have a book coming out in just over two months, so I really should start writing blogs more frequently. This post is about what’s on my mind this morning. You’ll see that I’m not very deep.

But I do have a whole zoo of pet peeves. One of the biggies is overused words that should be retired. One of my favorite writing coaches, William Zinsser, talks about clutter being the disease of American writing in his book, On Writing Well. I’d like to add that it’s also the disease of public speaking. Cluttered vocabulary often starts as corporate jargon, but for some strange reason, many pastors and Christian speakers have adopted it. They must think it makes them sound current; I think it makes them sound lazy.

Trendy words

“Beware of all the slippery new fad words,” writes Zinsser in 1976.  Many of the words he lists are no longer used since trends change from decade to decade. Buzz words are the biggest animal in my zoo of pet peeves; they are my elephants. (Disclaimer: I’m not saying that my writing is perfect; far from it. But I promise: I will never use the following words.) Some current ones are:

Gift as a verb. Just give it to them. Gift is a noun.

Task as a verb. You can ask, challenge, even demand, but please, do not task. Why would you turn a perfectly good word into a verb nobody can pronounce? He tasked me; she tasks me. Can you say it? I can’t.

Leverage. The only lever I’ve used is a see-saw, and that was long ago.

Unpack. Just say explain. I only unpack when I return from a trip.

Narrative. What’s wrong with story? What most people call narrative is not. I can say that since I got a master’s degree in it.

Engaged. Steve is the only person I’ve been engaged to.

24/7. Nobody does anything 24/7. I recently heard someone say, “I work 24/7.” This person quickly added, “Except for sleeping.” If they are lucky, they sleep 8 hours, meaning they work 16/7. But I bet they take breaks for meals. So, it goes down to 13/7. And what about showering? And other bathroom breaks? This person also said, “I work 24/7 all year.” That means 24/7/52. Or just 24/365. And what about Christmas holiday? Or Thanksgiving? These are the things I lie awake at night thinking about.

Pedantic words (too long and too puffed up)

Usually, when tempted to use a long word, there is a short word that is better, more to the point, and definitely less pompous-sounding. I generally don’t use long words because I’m just not that smart and I don’t feel like looking it up in the dictionary.

Implement for do.

Endeavor for try.

Assistance for help.

Reference (as a verb!) for refer to.

Dialogue, communicate, interface for talk. Think of Joan Rivers’ famous line, “Can we talk?” That wouldn’t have worked if she said, “Can we dialogue?” Besides, I don’t interface with anyone but my husband.

Tired old clichés

There is an endless supply of clichés, but here are just a few that I heard already this morning:

Each step of the way. Just say each step or the whole way.

Each and every. Pick one.

Frightened to death. Scared works.

This journey we call life. Just say life.

In the nick of time. In time.

Told you! I’m not deep at all. I’m as shallow as a drained swimming pool.

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