5 words I don’t want to hear in 2010

The end of the year is a time for lists, and as I am a writer it only seems natural that my list is about words. And because I am cranky, it is equally natural that my list is about words I don’t like.

To be clear, I am not fascistic about the English language; language is an organic thing that grows and changes over time, and I accept that. I have biases of course, but I will be the first to admit that many of them are subjective. They are, however, well-considered, and difficult to refute without being cursed and derided roundly. And because my intention is not only to deride but to educate, I offer suggestions here that will make your discourse at least as effective, if not more, once you have eliminated the offending words from your vocabulary.

The shame about this word being on my list is that there’s nothing wrong with it. But we in the business of creating websites and other things people can mess around with on the internets (I’m not going to say “online experiences” because that one narrowly escaped this list and may yet find its way into an addendum) have been using it for a long time now, and too many of the people we’re saying it to still have no idea what we’re talking about. Maybe a new word would help; I’m willing to try anything at this point. Suggested alternative: sense-makingness.

This word was ruined for me by a hipster creative director who used to come into my office and put his stinky Converse-clad feet up on my desk while we were talking. He is also remembered for unironically uttering the words, while attempting to high-five me, “Come on man, don’t leave me hanging.” Irritating dig-me personalities aside, this word just sounds ugly. And when you use it as a noun, the etymological connotation is of a shill or con man. Is that what you meant to say? I didn’t think so. Suggested alternatives: sell, advertise.

Amuse bouche
I’ve got nothing against dragging non-English words and phrases into your conversation or writing if they actually express something that doesn’t have a precise English equivalent. Ennui, for example, is distinct from mere boredom. The German language has a lot of unique and appropriate compounds like weltschmerz and schadenfreude that you can’t really duplicate in English. But not only does amuse bouche not describe anything that can’t be described equally well in English, it is composed of a couple of words that pretty much any Canadian student learned in grade 4 French class, and so my brain hears “amuse mouth” before it hears “appetizer.” And then my brain becomes angry. Suggested alternatives: appetizer, palate cleanser, taste.

This is a great example of people trying to use a word in order to sound clever and failing miserably. That’s pretty commonplace in the marketing industry, but the misuse of “optics” has infected the world of journalism, and I suspect PR flackery was the carrier. I don’t have any objection to this word when it appears in its natural habitat. But if you’re saying “the optics aren’t good” and you’re not talking about the kit lens that came with your entry-level DSLR camera, consider my objection lodged, and if you’re lucky it’s not lodged where I’d like it to be. Optics already means something guys, and it’s not what you’re using it for. Suggested alternatives: look, looks. As in “It looks good” or “It doesn’t look good.”

I have little to no interest in sport but even if that wasn’t the case I don’t think you could convince me that there aren’t enough world championships already. In fact, if your sport of choice doesn’t have a means of determining who in the world is best at it outside of the Olympics, please consider the possibility that no one really cares. And speaking of not really caring, all the Olympic city selection scandals, bribed judges, boycotts, doping, and sponsorship saturation have pretty much obliterated any recollection of this tradition’s noble and historic origins. Suggested alternatives: None. Do us all a favour and pack it in. Special Olympics get a special dispensation, of course.

Additional suggestions are welcome in the comments.