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Essays

Ire of a Grammarphile

As someone who makes their living working with words, it’s not exactly surprising that I’m a bit of a grammar/word nerd. (The slant rhyme in this post’s title aside, natch.) Let me elaborate somewhat on the points this distinction raises:

  • I don’t particularly care for the term “grammar Nazi,” mainly because I don’t appreciate the connotation—does someone who corrects spelling and word choice really need to be compared to a political party responsible for some of history’s worst atrocities? We’re already reviled enough by the public at large. I also hesitate to use the term to describe myself because people then just look for typos to correct in everything I write, which we all find exhausting. “Grammar police” isn’t as bad, but it’s still not a desirable term.
  • As evidenced by my use of the singular “they” in the first sentence above, I don’t adhere so firmly to the prescriptive grammatical rules of the language that my speech and writing become stodgy and outdated. I’m firmly in the “English-is-an-ever-evolving-language” camp—we need a singular, gender-neutral pronoun, and that’s that. Saying “his or her” is stilted and ungainly, even if it’s grammatically correct. I’m also a big fan of the word “selfie.”
  • That said, I do believe that rules exist for a reason. English shouldn’t just ignore all existing syntax and vocabulary rules just to accommodate the recklessness of language abusers. Case in point: the fact that “literally” now has an additional dictionary-recognized definition that acknowledges the word’s sarcastic, antonymic overuse is disheartening at best, and a travesty on par with human trafficking at worst. (I kid, I kid.)

I present all this information for one major reason: I have strong opinions about the English language and its words. (Me? Opinionated? Shocking, I know.) I have a large number of terms and constructions that I’m quite fond of, but I tend to have stronger opinions about the words and phrases I dislike. Based on some tweets I exchanged with my friends Lauren and Erin yesterday, I’ve decided to step up to the plate and point out some words and phrases that have forcefully drawn my lexical ire.

(I’d like to pretend that this will become a regular little series on my blog, but seeing as this is my first post since August, I’m not making any promises to myself or my five faithful blog readers.)

The spark that lit this post’s burning flame was coming across “ginormous” in a quote yesterday. Are we actually being serious as a society with this word? If there’s one area of description that English has covered with a wealth of words, it is how to explain an object’s large size. (Well, technically, there are probably more words to describe how good something is, but you get my terrific, fantastic, amazing point.) I mean, the list goes into the dozens: humongous, astronomical, massive, colossal, vast, really big, ad infinitum. So why on earth would we take two words that literally (I’m using this word here as it was meant to be used, thank you very much) mean the same thing—gigantic (“extremely large”) and enormous (“very great in size or amount”)—and needlessly mash them together to make yet another “word” that means the same thing? (I hesitate to truly call “ginormous” a word, but Merriam-Webster says it is.) I don’t want to overstate things here, but seeing the word “ginormous” in print or hearing it in conversation makes me want to sit on a knife.

The other thorn in my lingual paw of late has been “utilize.” Another prime example of two words meaning exactly the same thing: Why waste the breath to say two extra syllables when the word “use” is just as handy? “Use” also has the added benefit of keeping you from sounding like a pompous blowhard when you use it. “Utilize” is universally denounced, yet this real-life equivalent of Microsoft Word’s “Find Synonyms” feature still appears in speech and writing all over the place. Say “utilize” out loud—how do you feel about yourself now? The answer is “bad,” or if you prefer, “not terrific, fantastic or awesome.”

What other words and phrases drive you bonkers, fellow grammarphiles? (See, that’s not a real word, but it works, doesn’t it? Take that, ginormous.)

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About Cory Hershberger

Neurotic/eclectic critic obsessed with pop culture who enjoys good food, good company, and, most of all, good books.

Discussion

2 thoughts on “Ire of a Grammarphile

  1. Best. Post. Ever.

    Posted by reid rhodes (@reidrhodes) | January 3, 2014, 5:43 pm
  2. It would probably be easier to list the words and phrases that don’t make me gag these days. I find it’s best to avoid a lot of social media lest I lose all hope and jump in front of a bus. Posts like this are the small islands of hope in an otherwise endless sea of stupidity.

    You’ve already covered “literally” very well and with no amount of exaggeration. My vote for second most irritating word is “basically”, again because almost everyone uses it profusely and very rarely correctly. It’s become synonymous with the sounds people make when they pause to think, or the sound of a skip in a scratched CD.

    Posted by Leon | December 13, 2015, 10:07 am

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"Lock up your libraries if you like, but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind."

-Virginia Woolf, "A Room of One's Own"

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