Thursday, 6 October 2011

The word-nerd's hit list

As I've said before, I'm a sucker for words.

Put in the right order, that can move mountains, melt the stoniest of hearts and even change the world. But that doesn't mean they can't be abused - and sad to tell, they often are.

My pet hates are the latest buzz words used by all and sundry, without caring if they're understood - even by the word criminal using them.

Some are old chestnuts, some of new offenders that taunt me through the airwaves (yes, even Auntie Beeb!). But every time I hear or read them they have my Inner Word-Nerd gnashing her teeth, spewing malodourous smoke out her ears and scrabbling around to find an Editor's extra sharp scalpel to cut them out of existence.

So here, for your delight and delectation, I present you (not in order of preference) with the Top Ten in my hit list:

Segway (verb):
These days a frequent visitor to places that really should know better (like Radio 4 recording studios), this isn't a word at all. It's a brand-name. And while the Marketing bods at the company that makes those peculiar-looking, eco-friendly contraptions for those too lazy to walk are probably thrilled about its use as a verb (to make a transition, change tack or direction), it's WRONG!. The correct word (which no-one but students of musicology knows, uses or understands) is segue, and it's not pronounced Segway.

Ring-fence (verb):
Another noun that's morphed into a verb, much abused and over-used recent times, largely by economist types on the news in these financially-frightened times. I understand what it means, but every time I think of it, a mental picture of a black and white Border Collie herding a pack of angst-ridden sheep into a pen leaps to mind.

-self (as suffix to personal pronouns):
Why does everyone on the box insist of adding this seemingly harmless ending bastardise the perfectly good you, me (OK, my), she, her, it, etc? You know the sort of thing: "There are several options open for yourself" or "They suggested they give myself a Ronseal spray tan". 90% of the time, it adds nothing. 100% of the time, when misused, it makes you sound like an idiot. Making words longer does not make you sound more educated, sunshine.

invaluable (adjective):
This is NOT the same as "valuable", any more than "infamous" is the same as "famous". It either means something is without or beyond value. Just sticking 'in' in front of an adjective either changes its meaning - or declares the user as a self-made moron.

Enough already! We get it! You mean 'all the time', 'constantly', 'day and night', 'round the clock'. For a start, you can bet your bottom dollar that the person using this would not be too thrilled to live up to his or her 'open all hours' blag if you call him at 5am on a Sunday morning. And secondly - Hello! The 80s are over, deary. Gordon Ghecko went to jail and is now a sad old man quaking behind his trust fund. All that Yuppie jargon is now just seriously uncool.

Outside the box:
The cliche is so overused that it's not only back in the box, it superglued to the bottom and has a five-inch nail driven through it to the ground beneath.

genuinely (usually at the start of a sentence spoken in an earnest Neil the Hippy whine):
This is just superfluous. It is not an alternative to "really". And if you use it for half your sentences, should we be suspicious of the other half as likely lies? If you're genuinely genuine, you genuinely don't need to say so!

sans- (poncey alternative to "without'):
OK, so you did French at school (who didn't?), but really is this necessary? It sounds like a straight steal from "Pseuds' Corner" in Private Eye a couple of decades ago, but these days it's everywhere. You can't move for people - usually women, it saddens me to say - who talk about being "sans make-up", "sans sunscreen", "sans shades" or what-not. Really, saying you're "sans knickers" doesn't make you sound classy and vaguely Gallic, though it might just announce that you're "sans a clue".

Let's say (presumably used just to boost word count):
Another pointless addition. I tell you what, instead of saying "Let's say" every other sentence, let's NOT say and just get on with it and say what you're saying. OK?

I'm not racist/sexist/bigoted, but...:
You know that whenever someone starts a sentence this way, they're going to follow it up with something so outrageously offensive that you have to strap your hand to the doorknob to stop it forming a first and thumping them in the mouth. If you're a bigot, please don't try and persuade me you're not immediately before proving you are. Honestly, I WILL work it out for myself.

There are more. I could go on and on (really, I could). But then you'd have to shoot me.

So, over to you.
What linguistic gems and abuse of English make YOUR teeth itch and braincells rage?