Words and Phrases That Tick Us Off! (114)

Words and Phrases That Tick Us Off! Barbara Shepherd and Dave Shepherd are grouchy at the end of a tough work week. They explore words and phrases that tick them off.

Thanks to Warren G., John P., Andreas B., Elin P. David W., Mary T., and Nancy E.-W. for donations through the PayPal button. Thanks also to Paul L., that Hawaiian word curmudgeon, for an email that inspired this show. (2:16)

Overused words of 2008; words that have lost their meaning from overuse; the most used words in English. Check out britannica.com. (6:19)

Music bumper from “Ockham’s Shaving Kit” by George Hrab (18:53)

Redundancies (20:55)

Song: “Misunderstood” by Carolyn Wonderland (24:07)

Rude Word of the Week: “hack” (27:33)

Music bumper from “Tell Me a Bedtime Story” by the Jay Lawrence Trio. (31:16)

Words and phrases that are commonly misused. (They bug us because we get them wrong! (32:06)

Music courtesy of The Podsafe Music Network and the Ioda Promonet

Theme music by Kick the Cat

Closing theme from “Grapes” by Evan Stone

time: 39:16

size: 36 Mb

rating: PG (Passing reference to prostitution in our Rude Word segment.)

Miss UnderstoodCarolyn Wonderland
“Misunderstood” (mp3)
from “Miss Understood”
(Bismeaux Records)

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Thermal StrutJay Lawrence Trio
“Tell Me a Bedtime Story” (mp3)
from “Thermal Strut”
(OA2 Records)

Buy at iTunes Music Store
Buy at eMusic
Buy at Rhapsody
Buy at Napster
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More On This Album

35 thoughts on “Words and Phrases That Tick Us Off! (114)”

  1. It gets on my nerves when people misuse “literally” for emphasis. What’s ironic is that they end up saying exactly the opposite of they mean (figuratively). It is understandable – though it doesn’t make any less jarring and obnoxious – that poorly educated people say something like “I was literally in the clouds!” – I guess that’s how language changes; we listen to an expression in another context and our brain will try to infer meaning from it. Now hearing sports commentators utter this aberration on TV and radio makes me want to shove a dictionary down their throat. Literally.

  2. It may be based on personal experience but it seems to me that the notion of “self-consciousness” served as a pivot, of sorts, in that episode. To be honest, I especially enjoyed the latter portions of the show, partly because I’m a non-native speaker of English.

    As you surely know, it’s quite easy for a non-native speaker of any language to feel self-conscious about some “common mistakes” in that language. Since your discussion of “hence,” I’ve avoided using the term (even though the usage in a dictionary definition mentioned on this episode seems to imply that my own usage wasn’t so improper).
    A very valuable feature of your show is that you don’t usually go the prescriptive route. You occasionally go the curmudgeon route, as in this episode, but it’s still obvious that you think about language in a broader, more descriptive frame.
    Some of the expressions, idioms, phrases, and words you described as “overused” are probably part of my own active vocabulary, in English. And hearing about those, I tend to feel very self-conscious. To the extent that I’d want to stop speaking or writing in English, at least for a little while. Not what you wanted to do, I’m sure, but it’s a risk taken with “language do’s and don’ts.”
    This isn’t specific to English, of course. I still feel, however, that this kind of discussion is more common among English-speakers than among speakers of other languages. In French, we more commonly talk about grammatical mistakes or misspelling than about clichés, overused phrases, or improper terminology. Not that we’re more accepting of those, we just tend to discuss them a bit less, I think. Redundancy is an exception as «pléonasme» (“pleonasm”) is more common than «oxymore» (“oxymoron”) in French as a way to designate a mistake (as well as a trope). Though the word seems to exist in English, English-speakers have told me that it was unnecessary as it’s “just redundancy.”
    The point is, we have different perspectives on different languages. And these make up the conceptual field of “language ideology” (something about which we, linguistic anthropologists, tend to care a lot). Language ideology doesn’t tend to cross language boundaries, so much.

    When you mentioned that this discussion made you self-conscious, I felt relieved. Acknowledged, even. Instead of worrying about my own use of “thinking outside the box” (rather infrequent but I do think about the original version, with the nine dots and three lines), I was thinking about “language as performance” (another thing about which we care, in linguistic anthropology). These “mistakes” aren’t so important in normal conversation. But verbal performance is evaluated by audiences and is the domain of self-correction (and hypercorrection). Correctness is strictly assessed. Copyeditors are asked for help. Stylebooks are consulted. The communicative effect is measured.

    As for the items which allegedly cause some self-conscious moderation in your own writing (or formal speaking) sessions, most of these are actually quite easy for a non-native speaker to unpack. For instance, “complement” vs. “compliment” has been a pet peeve of mine because they’re so clearly different in my mind. Yet, a senior colleague tried to convince me that they had become homonyms (which puzzled me greatly). “Ensure and insure” are also quite clear because they translate in different ways, in French (for instance, intransitive vs. transitive). «Effectuer» and «affecter» are also so different (connections are so tenuous) that it surprises me that “effect” and “affect” could be confused by native speakers.

    Which all reassures me. Comforts me. Makes me much less self-conscious.
    But am I self-unconscious?

  3. @idiosyncratic idiot: Ah yes, that old favorite bugaboo “literally”! I think that was a featured word in our first show on Pet Peeves back in 2005. (You’d have to go to the site for Shows 1-55, at the header of our blog, to get that one.)

    @Alexandre: I appreciate your very thoughtful analysis of our expression of self-consciousness at the end of this show. You have correctly identified my own point of view, in that I don’t really ever want to say something is “wrong” just because it’s “wrong.” I started to sub-title this edition “Pet Peeves II,” because really, the examples we gave here are simply things that get under own own skins. They’re not wrong, per se, just annoying to us.

    It’s funny how, when you come to a language from “outside” of it, it’s often easier to see distinctions that are so difficult for native speakers (such as “effect” vs. “affect”). I often am amused how well I am able to explain certain similar distinctions in German to native German speakers, things that had never occurred to them about their own language!

  4. Dave and Barbara,

    Thinking outside the box has definite boundaries in certain areas. I work in Computers as a Systems Engineer. In terms of software design, the provided software “toolbox” is the original developers limited viewpoint of the possibilities of their tool.

    Thinking inside the box never stretches that imagination or encourages improvement. Thinking outside the box shows innovation and positive growth. By doing this, you are able to create “the impossible” out of normal, everyday items.

  5. I am so very with you on the redundancy of “ATM machine” and “PIN number”. Drives me quite batty when my mother uses them, especially since she’s almost as much of a language nerd as I. 😉

    My family knows better than to attempt using “irregardless” or the common mispronunciation “nucular” in my presence, lest they be smacked in the arm. Both are so offensive to me that they elicit a physical reaction; I actually squirm.

    This is not to say that I’m a complete grammar nazi, or that I never misuse any words myself. I’m just as fallible as anyone else, and love to play with words. I just wanted you folks to know that you’re not alone in those particular idiosyncrasies.

  6. STUPID MISTAKE ALERT: Two very kind listeners have corrected a very foolish mistake I made on this show. I mis-identified the author of “A Perfect Storm.” It should have been Sebastian Junger, not Annie Proulx as I said on the show.

    The reason I said this is just idiotic: At the time “A Perfect Storm” came out, I think Barbara was reading “The Shipping News” by Proulx. For some bizarre reason I conflated the two in my mind ten years ago.


  7. What bothers me most is when people end a sentence with “so…” For example, if someone were to say, “I didn’t have time to shower before class today, so…” as if what we are supposed to infer speaks for itself, when the result could really be a number of things. The speaker may have skipped class and showered instead, or gone to class smelly. That’s a linguistic tic that “tics” me off.

  8. Okay, a pet peeve of mine: your apologizing for the (evolved) infrequency/intermittency of TWN. You really don’t have to say “published 2-3 weeks…or maybe 3-4 weeks…but we TRY to….” Not necessary. Just come out and say “every several weeks” and we’ll just have to be happy with the latest edition when it downloads onto our MP3s. We love you. Love your work. It can stand on its own.

    “Never explain, never complain.” –Henry Ford
    “Never apologize for your art.” –Magnet on my (artist) wife’s office

    Ditto on “exetera” and “literally”! Argghh! Makes my skin crawl up a chalkboard (to mix metaphors).

    No personal problems distinguishing effect/affect or complement/compliment or lay/lie or infer/imply.

    My own stumbling block: figuring out if a word ends with -ent or -ant. (Sends me scurrying to the dictionary all the time!)

  9. What ticks me off is when people mispronounce these words:

    Realtor (not relator)
    Jewelry (not jewlery)

    and, of course

    Nuclear (not newcular).

    I even know some realtors who call themselves relators. WTF?

    Also … concerning “affect” and “effect”, I have a little trick. Most of the time, “affect” is a verb and “effect” is a noun. So, since a verb is for an action (starting with “a”) it’s usually correct to use “affect” when one thing is having an effect (sorry) on another thing.

    I won’t post the details here, but Merriam-Webster online did have a noun definition for “affect” and a verb definition for “effect” but those seemed not to be the most common usage.

  10. Dave — regarding “fallen lassen” in German: “etwas runterfallen lassen” is indeed not at all common but everybody would say, “das Glas ist mir runtergefallen” as opposed to “ist gefallen”. I think we use it as a distinction between things and people. Things “fallen runter” (fall down), people just “fallen” (fall).

  11. Big fan and avid listener of your show!

    I just wanted to clarify that a German “Töpfer” may well have been a pot maker in the olden days, but nowadays simply describes a person using clay to manufacture ceramic goods in general, much like the English “potter”.

  12. In recent years ‘meet with’ has crept into use in British English from American English, for example ‘The Prime Minister will meet with the President’. The ‘with’ is redundant but I’m guessing it has its origins in the German ‘treffen mit’. How long before film plots become ‘boy meets with girl…’?

  13. I’m sorry if I’m slightly off topic here or if you have addressed this in a previous show. I’m fairly new to your podcast and have not had the opprotunity to listen to many of your back shows yet. Anyway, I have a problem with words and phrases that are deliberately misleading descriptions or incomplete labels intended to mislead. Very often, these are found in political discourse. A few examples in current use include:
    Carbon credit (formerly known as sales tax)
    Employee Free Choice Act (seeks government power to control the process of choosing rather than furthering freedom in any way)
    Recent acronym “economic stimulus” bills can be selected while blindfolded for inclusion of billions of dollars in spending on equipment and projects (that were not funded before Congress began writing themselves blank checks) not designed to stimulate the economy. OK, I got a bit political there, but the example is illustrative.

    I’m sure there are a million others

  14. Andy, there’s actually a big difference between “meet” and “meet with,” at least, in American English. The former means “to encounter” or “to make one’s acquaintance” (see 1-2 below). The latter means “to have a meeting with” (see 3).

    1. I met them at a conference in Zurich.
    2. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love. Boy manages to screw it up.
    3. Shirley is meeting with the whole engineering team this afternoon to clarify the specs.

  15. Word Nerds, I need your help! I am an AP English teacher, studying my all time favorite book, Pride and Prejudice, this week. As I was discussing the first few chapters, I mentioned that a section of Mr. Bennet’s dialogue was “tongue-in-cheek”. My students had never heard that phrase before. I defined it as a form of sarcasm, but I wondered if you knew the origin of this phrase?

  16. Alan, I agree there is a difference in US English between ‘meet’ and ‘meet with’. Historically this distinction has not been made in British English. Now it is more common here and I think that US distinction is not necessarily being made. My wife teaches French and some of her pupils translate directly ‘je vais reconcontre avec mes amis..’ when they are going to rendez-vous with (there it is again) their friends.

  17. @Andy To me, «rencontrer» tends to have the “encounter” connotation, instead of just “meeting up.” In normal conversation, I’d probably say something like «Je vais voir mes amis à tel endroit» or «Je vais passer du temps avec mes amis».

  18. Yes, Alexandre, you’re right. She’s teaching 11-18 year olds so this is their first attempt at French. Of course they do a word-for-word translation because they have yet to learn the concepts of words and phrases in the other language. Maybe the way language is related to and reflects or influences the way the world is viewed by speakers of that tongue is a future Word Nerds topic.

  19. “Maybe the way language is related to and reflects or influences the way the world is viewed by speakers of that tongue is a future Word Nerds topic.”
    Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Say no more, say no more!

  20. About “Fallen” in German: In Austrian German, it’s fairly common to say “[Etwas] is mir herunter gefallen.” It can also refer to a person who falls from a ladder or something, rather than just tripping and falling to the ground. It’s often redundant in the way it’s used, but sometimes it can clarify things a bit.

    About “thinking outside the box” and “pushing the envelope”: At least the latter is derived from an engineering term, where “envelope” means some kind of limit or boundary. It’s very common to talk about power envelopes, which means the maximum amount of power that can be provided (perhaps under different operating conditions, so the envelope is a complex shape, not just a single number). So when you’re pushing the envelope, you’re extending what is possible. Not sure about the box, but that may also have some kind of basis in engineering or design (think 60’s ;).

    About words that are redundant and drive me nuts: all-new. All-new episodes! The all-new Acura such-and-such. What redundant nonsense!

    But the one that takes the cake is FREE GIFT! It’s printed on every single piece of junk mail I get, and it bugs to no end. It’s a gift! AND it’s FREE! Wow, how unexpected!

  21. Regarding the “free gift” redundancy, I think that probably deserves a re-examination. After all, people CAN legitimately say things like, “I need to buy a gift for my nephew.” (*gasp* But gifts are FREE! [right?])

    And one phrase that ticks me off is “grammar nazi.” Especially when it’s directed at ME. Hrmph. I prefer the term, “word activist” (less genocidal; equally badass).

  22. @Rin: That’s a strawman 😉 Of course things aren’t free that you buy to give them to somebody. But at that point, they are not yet gifts (this could get philosophical really fast). When something is given to you as a gift, it has to be free. Otherwise, it’s not a gift.

  23. I think the marketing people know the power of the word FREE and feel compelled to use it in their current campaign. No one on this forum would object to “Free Toaster.” I think the word “gift” all by itself looks too small and alone. Maybe a compromise would be something like “Special Gift to all who come in for a test drive.” (The marketing folks will use “special” to obscure the fact that it’s a pen or notepad or some really cheap little trinket.)

  24. you used the term TTFN. Yes it is short for Ta Ta For Now.

    But remember, that was the favorite term used by
    Tigger from Winnie the Pooh.

    (BTW, Im told that TTFN is sooooo Gay, LOL)

  25. Robin, I completely agree with you. I hate, hate, HATE when people use “ATM machine” or “PIN number”. The sign on a local bank said “ATM machine” and it used to irritate me when I drove past it. They were bought by another bank and now the sign just says “ATM.”

    One phrase I was sick of hearing in the past months was “team of rivals.” It seems to be another phrase like “prefect storm” that became popular after a book of the same title came out.

  26. I know this is almost two months after the fact, but I was appalled to discover this afternoon that I posted this blog entry with significant typos not only in the blog post, but also in the title of the post.

    It should have been, of course “Words and Phrases That Tick Us Off.” There are many words and phrases that ticked us off, which was evident if you heard the podcast.

    Ah, multitasking! (Which I’m doing even in the moment I’m typing this comment. I’m editing edition #117, on writing.) Too much going on at once. That’s what you get when you’re a one-man production staff.

  27. Busy Dave,

    Have you thought of taking on an intern? Someone who’ll work for free and take care of lots of little details. You get the work done, and they get experience and a great recommendation! It can work, especially in this tenuous economy!

    My 2¢,

  28. I believe that our news media is largely responsible for many of the words becoming so overused that they irritate us! Once the media gets ahold of a story, it seems that they won’t let it go until the next “big” story comes along. Currently, I’ve grown tired of hearing of the “swine flu”, although I do understand the seriousness of the situation.

  29. John, we need to switch the conversation from “swine flu” to “H1N1 virus” right away. Whole countries are shutting down importation of pork products–totally unrelated to the virus.

    What’s in a name, you ask? How about the livelihood of an industry?

    Gotta be careful about how we speak, label.

  30. @Alan Good point. But isn’t it too late to change the name?

    @John Very interesting point! The Nerds have done a show in which they talked about some clichés in the media but you emphasize the transmission aspect of it. There’s this notion that we notice patterns in word use based on some cognitive dimensions (basically, words become more obvious when we pay attention to them, for instance when we just start understanding them). But there’s also a “memetic” aspect in that some words quickly become commonplace in some contexts. Mainstream media is a ready-made context as media outlets constantly borrow from one another and the model is still one of broadcasting. Outside of mainstream media, the way some words gain currency is more “organic” in that they will become accepted and reused, through time, based on how appropriate they seem in the context. Typically, something like a virus would get several different names and people would understand that we talk about the same thing, based on context. There’s usually some confusion, but people are quite good at clearing it, all the time. Mainstream media works with words the way committees do design. They make conscious decisions as a group and impose them on the world.

  31. 2John and Alexandre (and any others I may have missed), the noun “media” is plural and thus requires that accompanying verbs be in the plural form. IOW, “mainstream media *are* […]” is correct, “mainstream media *is* […]” is incorrect. The singular is “medium,” as in the phrase “the medium is the message,” coined by the late Marshall McLuhan.

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