Every year the Oxford Dictionaries announce their “Word of the Year”. This is their choice of which word was the most significant over the previous twelve months, chosen as it is seen to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year and to have lasting potential as a word of cultural significance. The criteria seem sound. But then we see which word was chosen, and have to wonder whether it really reflects that, and what we were thinking in collectively using them so much. In 2014 the number 1 word was “vape” (an abbreviation of vaporise, and now specifically related to inhaling and exhaling the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette). In 2013 the word was “selfie”. Really??
I have never used the first, and scarcely the second of these two quasi- important words (and hope not to, as both send a shiver running down my spine), so I am decidedly unhip. Other people can love them – I will leave them. And, like everyone else, I have my own opinion of what words shouldn’t be allowed, so here are a few:
Considering that there are well over 200,000 adjectives in the English language, using that bland word “nice” is just plain lazy and way too one-dimensional. When I see it, I cringe and look for the delete button. When I hear it, even if it’s in a “dinner was nice” comment from my husband, I sigh and make a note to buy him a thesaurus. If there’s one thing I remember from my English classes at school, it’s my teacher threatening to fail us if we ever used the words “nice” or “interesting” to describe a piece of literature or poetry. I still cringe when I see people using these hollow words to describe something of better merit. No, your visit to Rome was neither “nice” nor “interesting”, and neither are you. Think up some fresh adjectives, please.
Literally. I think this is a pet peeve for many people- at least according to the amount it has been discussed over past months. “When I heard Jack was going out with Jill yesterday, I literally had a heart attack.” No, you didn’t, or you’d be in the intensive care unit right now or, more satisfyingly, the morgue.
“Passion” is far too powerful a word to connote mild enthusiasm. Entrepreneurs claim to be passionate about their fertiliser-packaging business. Carrot jam makers promise you they source their carrots from growers with a passion for carrots. The Oxford English Dictionary defines passion as “strong and barely controllable emotion”. Stop calling yourself passionate about Justin Bieber’s music unless you are under 10!
One word that should never, ever be used in written form is “totes”. No, not the plural of “tote”, but the abbreviation of “totally” – a perfectly short word to begin with. The only exception to this rule is when the next word is “amazeballs”. Because, you know, it’s totes amazeballs to say “totes amazeballs”.
On a grammatical level there are a few no-no’s too; ones which abound among native speakers and English learners alike. “Try and” is just not correct at all. We don’t try and do things, we try to do things, in spite of what it sounds like when we speak the words. “Less” vs. “fewer” is another that makes my toes curl, as in “Fewer people live in Vienna now than 100 years ago”. Less is for uncountable things (time/ money/ imagination); fewer for countable (pens/ potatoes/ miles to run).
My final bugbear is double negatives. “I don’t want no pudding” just makes you sound like a sulky child acting up. I didn’t want to make you no pudding neither… so now we’re both happy.
The English language is growing and mutating at an incredible rate; that is the innate beauty of it. We borrow words from other languages, we abbreviate, we cobble words together. Sometimes it works; other times the words should be allowed to creep happily into oblivion. We just need to keep up with the changes and use our discretion in editing out the failures.
Augusta has worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and language school manager for the past 20 years. She has a degree in Modern Languages and a Masters’ in Linguistics, and is currently working on improving her German. Having worked in many cities around the world she now lives in Vienna with her family.