Archive for the ‘Words’ Category

At least, it found its way into the Double Tongued Dictionary. The site says the phrase is “yet to be researched”. Earliest mention I can find is June, 2003. Anyone see anything earlier than that?


Stop With The Stumping

Stumping is clearly a throwback to the days when politicians campaigned in small towns, didn’t have PA systems and there was no such thing as TV coverage. They stood on a stump to be seen and heard.

When’s the last time you saw a politician standing on a stump?

Bill Clinton Stumps For Wife in Baker City. In the pic, he’s standing on concrete steps.

Is Obama ‘stumping’? 550,000 results in Google say yes. Hillary is stumping to the tune of 1,650,000 results while McCain is stumping around with 962,000 results.

No politician is going to be seen standing on a stump for fear of someone from the Green movement asking why the tree was cut down. No more stumping. Or soapboxes for that matter. When’s the last time you saw one of those?

4acesEven in the most casual perusal of any of the big newspapers you will likely find mention of the “race card“.

Apparently the card may be played at any time, by any player, although the outcome of playing that particular card is uncertain. What is certain, is that nearly every player will be accused of playing the card at some point in the game. With no clear rules about how the card is to be played, or even if it should be played, journalists often see that card as the only card in the deck.

Is the mere mention of race considered playing the race card? Do we live in such a small-minded world that even mentioning black or white can be viewed as racist?

Given that nearly everyone thinks of politics as some shady, backroom activity to begin with, should anyone be using playing cards as a theme? Do we want to think of our politicians gambling with our futures as they would with a stack of chips? Bluffing us with a poker face, dealing from a stacked deck, while they rake in the chips after we’ve all gone all in?

What if we refuse to play until they add some better cards to the deck. How about the honesty card? Or the “Feck Opuc” card? For that matter, they can take the “change” card out of the deck too. The only thing the politicians want to change are the faces at the table.

Impacted Versus Affected

I cringe when I read that a group of people may be ‘impacted’ by a hurricane or politics, or for that matter, that anyone may be impacted. I know that a wisdom tooth may become impacted, but my OED says nothing about people being ‘impacted’.

Does anyone know when ‘impacted’ gained favor over ‘affected’? Or why?

Are You A Grammar Snob?

Yesterday I heard a politician say, “We’ve reverted back to Cold War policies.” Revert means to return, or go back to a previous state. No need for the word ‘back‘ in that sentence.

Then there’s “ATM Machines”. ATM is the initialism for “automated teller machine” so when my daughter says “Stop at the ATM machine” I hear, “stop at the automated teller machine machine.”

A few days ago my daughter asked me to “try and help her with her paper”. When I asked whether she wanted me to try to help her, or actually help her, I got a dirty look. She immediately said, “Okay, help me”. Then she called me a grammar snob.

She was joking, sort of. I don’t correct people in public, I don’t write letters to editors if I see a slip in the paper because I know I’m not perfect. I make mistakes, and sometimes, I make them purposely.

I don’t have a problem starting a sentence with the word and. I don’t mind if you dangle a participle. But I want my daughter to know that one is being dangled. And that some people freak out if you start a sentence with the word and. I prefer May I to Can I when permission is being sought but I don’t lecture when my daughter says, “Can I go to the movies?” I know she knows the difference.

When she’s speaking to adults, her grammar changes. When she’s around her friends, she reverts back to teen-speak. Guess she doesn’t want to appear to be a grammar snob. ;)

One of the questions I see quite often is “How do I write for a female audience?” I don’t know the answer to that question, in fact, I’m not sure that question should ever be asked, let alone answered and definitely never answered by a guy. I have two reasons for thinking that men shouldn’t try to write for a female audience.

1. You can target age groups, ethnic groups, political groups, techies, gearheads, animal activists, conservationists, sports fans, etc. In all of the above groups, and almost every other group, you will find both men and women.

Any attempt by a man to write for a female audience is almost certainly doomed if the man writing thinks that something special needs to be done to gain the interest of female readers. If you target their interests, there’s no need to target sex.

2. Men don’t understand women. We like to think we do, but we don’t. That’s why we lose so many arguments. Watch any guy in an argument with a woman. Eventually, he’ll get louder, wanting to express himself, not even noticing that the woman is no longer listening. The woman will wait until she knows she’s being heard before saying anything. The man wants to express himself, the woman wants to be listened to.

Now if you’re starting to think that I’m going to claim that I understand women, you’re wrong. I don’t even begin to understand them and that fact became painfully obvious to me when Hillary won the New Hampshire primary.

When she got weepy on national TV, and found some sympathy from Obama, I thought her political campaign was over. Even the sympathy she got from Obama was a bit back-handed as he said, “the campaign trail is tough”. When he said that, my first thought, and the first thought of the guys I was having dinner with was, “Oh bull, how will she deal with a real crisis”?

So when the pundits announced her victory in New Hampshire I was shocked. Where did the support come from? Women. Her crying bit apparently made her seem a bit more human. Not weak. Not fake. But caring and thoughtful, more real if you will.

My first words were, “Oh, suck it up already”. Which was quickly followed up by a female diner that said, “Well, at least she really cares”. Which made me want to cry…

Small words have the largest impact. Small words can become the hammer to drive your point home, while big words tend to soften the blow.

Culled from a recent paper: “The panel felt the Senator was being disingenuous.”

What? Lacking in frankness or candor? He prevaricated? Equivocated? Misrepresented? Fabricated? Do any of those words come close to the power of, The panel felt the Senator lied? Everyone understands the word lie. None of the other words carry the clear meaning that lie conveys.

Large words tend to creep in when we write because we’re showing off, or we think our writing sounds better, or we look smarter if we use large words. Trade your syllables for clarity.

Instead of utilize, use.

Trade terminate for end. Don’t eliminate larger words, get rid of them. Don’t substantiate the facts, prove them. People aren’t impecunious, they’re poor. The writer wasn’t assiduous, he took great care. The lady at the DMV wasn’t obstinate, she was stubborn.

No one wants to read the words of a lexiphanicist…

Most Unread Books Meme

stack-of-booksI found this list over at The Bitter Scroll, so naturally I wanted to see how many of those most unread books I’ve read. (I’ve read 53 of them, so exactly half) The list is provided by LibraryThing. Books I’ve read are in bold. Not sure how accurate the LibraryThing list is as there’s a lot of recognizable titles and my intuition says that there should be a lot more obscure titles in that list but here goes:

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Anna Karenina

Crime and Punishment


One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wuthering Heights

The Silmarillion

Life of Pi

The Name of the Rose –C’mon it’s Umberto Eco.

Don Quixote

Moby Dick


Madame Bovary

The Odyssey

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Eyre

A Tale of Two Cities

The Brothers Karamazov

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

War and Peace

Vanity Fair

The Time Traveler’s Wife

The Iliad


The Blind Assassin

The Kite Runner

Mrs. Dalloway

Great Expectations

American Gods

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Atlas Shrugged?

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Memoirs of a Geisha




The Canterbury Tales

The Historian

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Love in the Time of Cholera

Brave New World

The Fountainhead

Foucault’s Pendulum – Umberto Eco again.



The Count of Monte Cristo


A Clockwork Orange

Anansi Boys

The Once and Future King

The Grapes of Wrath

The Poisonwood Bible


Angels & Demons

The Inferno

The Satanic Verses

Sense and Sensibility

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Mansfield Park

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

To the Lighthouse

Tess of the D’Urbervilles

Oliver Twist

Gulliver’s Travels

Les Misérables

The Corrections

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time


The Prince

The Sound and the Fury

Angela’s Ashes

The God of Small Things

A People’s History of the United States : 1492 – Present



A Confederacy of Dunces

A Short History of Nearly Everything


The Unbearable Lightness of Being



The Scarlet Letter

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

The Mists of Avalon

Oryx and Crake

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Cloud Atlas

The Confusion



Northanger Abbey

The Catcher in the Rye

On the Road

The Hunchback of Notre Dame


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

The Aeneid

Watership Down

Gravity’s Rainbow

The Hobbit – Most unread? Hard to believe.

In Cold Blood

White Teeth

Treasure Island

David Copperfield

The Three Musketeers


As 2007 comes to end, let us also bury some more overused words and phrases.

Added: Since I’m on vacation, posting will be light, but I will take time to add to this list until January 1st. Help me compile a a good list of your favorite words and phrases you never want to see or hear again.

A Hard Stop – A project or a meeting either stops or continues. No corporate suit ever brings a meeting to a ‘soft stop’ because it’s impossible.

Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket – That’s a lot of words to say ‘diversify’ or ‘spread the risk’. Do you know anyone that gathers eggs using a basket? Have you ever said, ‘don’t put all your eggs in one carton”? Are we supposed to stash eggs in various locations throughout the house?

Mission Critical – If it’s not critical to the project, why are people discussing it? Writing memos? Having meetings?

Open The Kimono – Please don’t. A bunch of guys standing around in suits clamoring for someone to ‘open their kimono” is just creepy.

Wipe The Slate Clean – Just start over. When’s the last time you wrote on a slate? Was it the last time you ‘chalked one up’?

The Whole Nine Yards – Just doesn’t work in our current sports fanatic world. Nine yards is short of the first down so it must be time to ‘drop back and punt’. Does anyone connect that to buying cloth? Or concrete? Or coal? I can’t even find a decent origin for that phrase.

Let’s Not Beat a Dead Horse – Don’t beat a live horse either! The horse might still be alive if all those damn people weren’t beating it.

Strike While The Iron Is Hot – Um yeah. Pretty sure there’s more to blacksmithing than just striking hot metal. Quenching, tempering, folding, but bugger all that eh?

Pick The Low Hanging Fruit – Yes, it might be the easiest fruit to snatch, but is it ripe? You just might end up with sour apples…

Incentivize – I’m pretty fed up with people adding ‘ize’ to perfectly good words so I might just create another list…

Viral – As Ryan Holiday so rightly pointed out, viral, when used to talk about the spread of a product, idea or video, needs to go. It’s not even used correctly. A video doesn’t spread all by itself, replicating and attaching itself to websites and hosts. It’s much more like biological warfare, where over-enthusiastic web militants ensure the spread of that 30 second clip they feel everyone on the planet must be infected with.

And since I have an hour or two, let me add a few more entries.

Pwn or Pwned – If you ever hear those spoken, smack the person responsible in the lips. If he’s surrounded by his friends, they will probably say, Snap! Smack them in the lips too. When they blubber, tell them to stop being R-tards or you will unplug their little plastic guitar and force them to go outside and toss a football until they can learn to throw a tight spiral. This will take months as their oversized thumbs make it difficult for them to lift their little girly arms.

Unfortunate Initialisms

Almost everyone is familiar with, and it’s obviously deliberate. From their site:

Whether you’re looking for a long and skinny pen, a thick pen, a fountain pen that squirts ink, or even a black pen, we have just the one for you.

But what about those unfortunate initials? I just received a letter from the Farm Service Agency, One of the paragraphs was entitled;

Continuous CRP. A brief excerpt follows;

The Continuous CRP program is a voluntary enrollment program. To be eligible for enrollment in the Continuous CRP, participants and acreage must meet certain requirements. (Conservation Reserve Program)

There absolutely no way I can read that with thinking about the Continuous Crap program, and how appropriate that it’s a government program. Thankfully, enrollment is voluntary.