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Seven Words I Could Do Without

Back when I was teaching high school, I had a student who balked at one of the weekly vocab lessons.  She sat back in her chair, self-assured and angry at the world, and said, "Why do we have to learn all these words?  Don't we have enough?"

And for a few moments, I couldn't respond.  I was just too flabbergasted.  The concept of somebody who has a poor vocabulary?  I get that.  Somebody who doesn't like to learn?  Well, that's depressing - but it happens.  Oh, well.  But somebody who doesn't know how to speak their own language and doesn't want to learn?  It just baffles me.

It's not like language is something you only use once or twice a year.  It's not like deciding you don't want to learn how to fix a car or repair a sink or something.  We're talking about words.  As in, the things that you use all the time and which are running through your head right now.  How could anyone ever be so dense that they'd think, "I know enough of my native language.  I'm good."?

(Incidentally, the word that set her off was "stipend."  Not "crestfallen" or "acrimony" or "rapacious."  No, she decided that the one word that week that would never apply to her life and that she would never have a need to use or know was "stipend.")

Here's a visual representation for other people who decided not to learn.

The English language is far from perfect, and there are plenty of concepts for which we are in no need of another term - consider the dozen or so synonyms for "penis" that you can probably rattle off in the next twenty seconds without even trying.  But there's no such thing as "enough words."  Language is just so much more fun when you have choices and connotations and subtle or relative differences.

All that being said - there are a few that I'd just as well do without.  Either they're functionally useless, or they just plain annoy me because nobody uses them well.  So, here's a quick list:

Guru a piece of crap term.  I hate this word so much.  I'm sure it had innocent origins, probably being applied to people who excelled in non-technical fields.  You wouldn't call somebody a philosophical "expert," for example.  And if that's the only way "guru" was used, then I'd probably be fine with it.  But then... then somebody had to go and start using "guru" to mean "somebody who knows things."  And all of a sudden, you're calling the guy who works at the IT help desk a "Tech Guru."  And somebody who knows how to set up Macros in Excel becomes a "Spreadsheet Guru."  Bullshit.

Inflammable both stupid and repetitive.  It should be an antonym for "flammable," but instead it means roughly the same thing.  Sure, sure, "flammable" means that something could be lit on fire where as "inflammable" means that it it can "inflame," which is - I guess - slightly different than just being setting-on-fire-able, but when you start picking at nits that tiny, you've really gone off the deep end.  You know what word the English language needs more than "inflammable?"  A word that means "cannot be set on fire" and which is not "fireproof."  A word that's like "inflammable," but not that one exactly, since some asshole already ruined it for us.  How about "unflammable?"


...used to be okay, back when it was grammatically different from "preventive."  But now that they're the exact same word, "preventative" is just there so you can have an extra syllable.  So, if your problem is that you have a word that means what you want to express, but you're not taking enough time to say it, then I guess "preventative" is for you.  I guess I could give this a pass for songwriters and poets if they need it, but how often does that come up? 

I'd like to eat a great big olive,
To be used as a preventative.

Organic another meaningless word, at least when used for anything other than a scientific or anatomical purpose.  It's another word that used to have a simple, clear, and useful meaning: "natural" or "biological."  And you could use it in a figurative sense: "The events of the novel proceeded organically."  But now the word has been co-opted by terrible people who are looking for horrible ways to waste money and resources, and it's being applied to any goddamn thing people want.  Even things that cannot possibly be organic.  What the hell is "organic laundry detergent?"  That's not a thing.  Quit ruining the world.

Nonplussed a weird one.  I won't officially call it a bad word, but it needs to make up its mind.  Is it "surprised" or is it "not surprised?"  I'm sure the British would love to razz us for taking a word and reversing it completely, but let's be honest - that "non-" in the front really messes things up.  I'll vote for the "not surprised" definition, but I can't use this word until the world agrees on a single point of reference.  It'll drive me crazy if I write a book and call somebody "nonplussed" and then somebody else reads it and misinterprets the scene.  I can't commit to incongruity.


...annoys me when it is used in the context of "tip" or "trick."  As in, "Here's an amazing breakfast hack!  Pour some milk on your cereal!  It's amazing!"  Or maybe, "I've got a great tech hack for you!  Purchase a smartphone and then use it according to the manufacturer's instructions!  It's amazing!"  This use of the word is derived from computer hacking, which was an actual thing that involved manipulation of technology once upon a time.  "Hack" in that context was a thing that actually involved effort.  Now the word is being used for trivial shit that anybody can do.  It's kind of like using the word rescue instead of purchase.  "I just rescued three peaches this afternoon!"  No, no you didn't.  All you did was buy shit.  If you really are that desperate to dress up your life with excitement, then buy a goddamn cape and quit ruining my language.

And finally:


...despite my repeated use of it on this blog, is a bad word.  Not because it sounds grating or because it doesn't have a place, but because it doesn't have a proper definition.  You can't invent a term that is meant to apply to a specific cultural subset and then keep moving the boundaries.  Lorde and Muse cannot both be Hipster music.  If you really just need an angry word to condescend to people you don't like, then what's wrong with "asshole?"