Stupid Tuesday questions, Merriam-Webster edition

I love it when other people do my work for me.

Writes NewDealer:

Oh this would make a great Tuesday question: Words you would like to banish from the English language…

And lo, it is asked.

For my part, I’m going to double down on one of the phrases I included in the original post on which NewDealer was commenting.

I.  Frigging.  Hate. “Think[ing] outside the box.”

With the white-hot heat of a thousand suns I detest it.

Why do I hate it?  Because it speaks of a desire for novelty and ingenuity using utterly hackneyed imagery.  Because it smugly defeats itself.  Because if you’re asking for something delightfully new and different, come up with a new and different way of asking for it rather than employing a catchphrase worn thin from a million billion management meetings and employee retreats!

So that’s my answer.  I also usually hate words created by adding “ize” to a noun, but since I love the word “catastrophize” I realize I don’t have much of a leg to stand on with that one.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


      • +1 on impact, +1000000000 on impactful.

        also verbiage as used to mean “copy on a page” rather than “string of jibberish meant to sound impactful”. it’s called copy or text. not verbiage. it’s some weird thing they’re teaching to mba’s now and they need to knock it off.

        oh, also “fail”. it’s failure, you dinks.

      • Me too. I wonder if “impact” gets used as a verb because people think it’s more dramatic than affect, or if they want to avoid affect/effect confusion.

        • my current theory is that it’s peer pressure, like teens smoking weed but instead a bunch of people with college educations who should – theoretically – know better than to use nonsense words. so you get used to using deck instead of presentation and verbiage instead of content or copy and impact instead of affect and other words which are english and not jibberish-ish.

          i learned it from watching you, avp. i learned it from watching you.

  1. “man cave”.



    There is nothing appealing about that word combo. Any association is, IMO, unpleasant.

    • I’m a man. I like caves. But I’m in agreement on how much I hate the term “man cave.” My wife and kids like to call my home office my man cave, and each time I feel like reverting to cave man status and bludgeoning them with a club.

      • It’s too bad you didn’t hi-jack Joahanna’s status when you wrote this.

        And I agree. I hate the concept that I, as a man, can’t fully enjoy parts of my home with the rest of my family. I must have a separate area that no one else can enjoy because I am so inherently different from other humans. It’s kind of offensive.

  2. If we’re talking about words that set off the alarm bells – for me it’s “Genuine”.
    There is no more certain sign that something is not genuine than to be so described.

    • Authentic might be in the same sorry shape. Because you can’t get genuine authentic croissant outside of France or something like that.

      • Couldn’t agree more, “authentic” is probably as bad or worse than “genuine”.

      • No, see, with authentic, you gotta have fun with it. you just gotta.

        Have authentic Chinese American Food!
        (Or Italian American Food — da good redsauce stuff).

        Tweaking people’s tails when they get too snobby is fun!!

    • I use that one fairly often in mathematical or computer science contexts, for instance here:

      If that logic seems too slippery (even though it’s quite correct), let’s work the problem from first principles.

      • I would accept it in that context because you can actually demonstrate that it’s a first principle and that it’s commonly agreed upon as such by the relevant community. I was thinking more in the legal arena, where it’s a tendentious phrase whose purpose is primarily to gain moral, rather than intellectual, leverage (although its adherents claim intellectual leverage as a thin cover for their actions).

    • What if you’re referring to a group of administrators from various schools who are the first headmasters of their respective institutions?

  3. Anything with a ‘Z’ at the end intended to look cute.
    Were I a junior high girl, I might think differently, but I’m not, so I’d rather the Z’s stayed stowed.

  4. Very, very random thoughts:

    I have to say I’ve used “outside the box” a lot in business, especially with clients, and were I still doing that sort of thing I’d be happily doing it again. The inherent problem with trying to encourage others to (sorry, Russell!) think ‘outside the box” is that anyone you say that to is pretty deeply inside of it.

    There was a while where I used to try to have the phrasing be as unique as the sentiment – “Less Grisham, more Pynchon!” or whatever – but it invariably meant I had to take time explaining that what I meant was that they should think outside of the box.

    But I digress…

    It’s not a Webster’s word, of course, but I have the sentiment you and NewDealer have about OTB when bloggers use the word “feefees”, as in “This other blogger didn’t like what I said so I guess I hurt his feefees.” To me, it’s a blogging word that says to the world, “I just want you to know that I am every bit as immature, dickish and inappropriately wrapped up in myself as I am accusing this other person of being.”

    Also: I would never want to strike it from the dictionary, but I can tell you from having tended bar that even though people in the movies who refer to ladies as “ladies” come off sounding classy and gentlemanly, guys in bars that use the word “ladies” a lot come off sounding vaguely creepy.

    • I cherish the mental image of you tossing out “Less Grisham, more Pynchon!” at some corporate meeting, only to be greeted by a roomful of blank stares and being forced to explain how “Gravity’s Rainbow” differs from “The Pelican Brief” and how said difference pertains to your point.

      I still hate the phrase, though, my friend. Surely a better alternative can be found. How about “less Kansas, more Oz”?

      • Ooo! I like that!

        Although my experience tells me that it would be followed by a time where I was resisting the urge to bang my head against the conference table as people began to ask, “Could me make this more yellow, maybe, and perhaps out of brick?”

    • My husband’s term is “upending the applecart”
      Very apropos, because if you leave him on a project too long, he’ll come up with too many good ideas… (each one better than the last…)

  5. A brief list, with definitions

    Deck: a series of images, simplistic reductions of complexity.

    At the end of the day: I go home.

    Net-net: a supposed reduction of terms. In reality, a vicious argument at sea between two trawler captains whose nets have become entangled.

    Scope Creep: what managers say to designers when they finally realise the implications and ramifications of what they’ve asked for.

    Action item: a cell in an Excel spreadsheet delegating responsibility from the person who ought to solve the problem to someone who can’t solve the problem

    Scooby Snacks: token remuneration for hard work in lieu of a raise.

    Learnings: Scars on the buttocks of hapless galley oarsmen, reduced to Deck format.

    That’s just a few. I’ve got a million where those came from.

    • Now tempted to print out copies of this list and slip them under certain doors at my office.

      • Want a few more?

        I’ts Not In the Cards: well, of course it’s not in the cards because you’ve got the aces in your pocket. It’s in the Deck, though.

        Incent: aboard the Roman galley was a hortator who would beat a large drum, thus signalling to the slaves below at which pace they should pull the oars. Should a slave lose his rhythm, the optio and his flagellum would incent the rower. See Learnings.

        All-Hands Meeting: across the bleak landscape of Texas, we still see remnants of the Chisholm Trail, vast ruts in the landscape created by scrawny cattle on their way to the Big Conference Room in Kansas City. A hugely disruptive activity, guaranteed to screw up everyone else’s schedule. The resulting loss in productivity is thought to be outweighed by other factors but I have yet to perceive any.

        Quick Win: the direct flight to Eldorado.

        North of: the imaginary distance between Projected and Actual.

        Econometrics: a chaff pod manufactured by the Astrology Department of Accenture Consulting when questions arise about their continued utility on a given project. especially to justify their exorbitant billing rates. Usually buffaloes senior management when deployed in an All-Hands Meeting.

        • Just yesterday I was considering trying to determine if ‘incent’ was less dreadful than ‘incentivize’.

          • I am hard-pressed to say which is worse. I don’t like either word. Any time I can substitute a Saxon word for a Latin word, I do. We get the words incent, incite and incinerate from the same root, to strike a flame.

          • After a semester’s worth of reading gamification stuff?


            (er, not, you, Plinko. “You,” the people writing my readings who used that word all the time.)

            Thanks for labeling this one, Blaise.

          • Heh, I manage to teach gamification all the time without ever using the word. In fact without even recognizing the word in Maribou’s comment. And now that I’ve seen the word, I think I’ll continue on my merry way continuing to never use it.

            I will use strategize, though, and without apology.

          • The reason I jumped on these (and thought about ‘incent’ vs. ‘incentivize’) is that my employer is crawling with consultants and supply chain MBAs, so I’m hearing these terms thrown about every day. I copied all of these and considered whether or not I’d get fired for slipping Blaise’s words under certain doors. They’re that apropos.

            Well, all except ‘Scooby Snacks’ – that was a new one on me.

            What I worry about is that when you’re in my position, you kinda have to use these words to get by and sound like you belong. So you find yourself using them and later wondering to yourself ‘am I becoming one of those guys?

          • James, we were being encouraged to think critically about the current state of gamification-as-marketable-service, so we had to read a bunch of stuff written by people who like those words. And, now that I think about it, it was in my management textbook that semester too. (Fun times, since our gamification prof was teaching us ed-psych material that TOTALLY contradicted what the management textbook wanted us to believe.)

        • I semi-reluctantly come to the defense of “scope creep” and “incentivize.”

          Yes, “scope creep” is over-used, and not always used appropriately. But it describes a real-world phenomenon that is all too real to those who do any kind of project management (and, particularly, IT / software projects). The term is ugly, yes, but it is so useful as a concept that I would hate to get rid of it.

          “Incentivize” is another one that suffers from ubiquity, but it doesn’t quite mean the same thing as “reward” or “bribe.” People do respond to incentives, even stupid ones. If you’re going to advocate banishing this term, please come up with a reasonably precise equivalent.

    • Action item: a cell in an Excel spreadsheet delegating responsibility from the person who ought to solve the problem to someone who can’t solve the problem

      That’s a inside-the-park home run, right there.

    • What the hell does net-net even mean? At first I interpreted it as meaning win-win, but logically it’s not the same at all.

      Business folks wrapped up inside your business world bubble, can you help out a poor hardworking academic here.

      • Net-net is a quick and dirty method of computing value. Net current assets is the first net. Net liabilities is the second. Since Assets = Liabilities + Capital, we can thus derive Capital from assets and liabilities. But it’s never so simple as that.

        When the Point-Headed Bosses of corporate America heard the financial guys (who actually did know what they were talking about) using this term, they began to misapply it as term implying a simple summary of any sort. Sorta like a précis or abstract, if you were to put it in academic terms — except academics are obliged to make the case after they’ve written the summary.

        • Thanks. I feel better knowing there’s at least some logic to the term, even if not in how it’s commonly used.

          • In one of the Pink Panther movies, Clouseau returns to his apartment, to find it has been turned into a whorehouse.

            Cato: Please, boss! I thought you were dead!
            Clouseau: So as a tribute to my memory, you open this… this Chinese nookie factory?
            Cato: I had to do something to keep busy. Besides, a first-rate joint like this can make 300,000, 400,000 a year!
            Clouseau: Is that net?
            Cato: No, gross. But even so, a smart operator can clear himself a couple hundred grand. And that ain’t exactly chicken feed.

      • It’s used to mean “boil everything down to a simple conclusion”, as in “Yes, it’s a complex reorganization of all the major business units, but net-net do we make more money or less money?”

  6. “Net-net” just came out of nowhere, didn’t it? I hate that one.

    “Scope Creep” can be useful though – you just need to deploy it yourself. It’s a term they understand (=”that’s gonna cost me more $ and/or time”).

  7. “hater”. A pox on the house of the person who crammed that into the lexicon.

    From my time in the corporate world, the term “action items” for “stuff you gotta do” always gave me the creeps.

    • Yeah, hater almost never, in my experience, does much of anything except say that the person doing the speaking doesn’t like the person(s) he or she is talking about.

  8. 1. Most English as spoken by marketing majors.

    2. Bro-dude

    3. “Personal Responsibility” when it is aligned to Republican party talking points.

    4. “First Principles”

    5. Preggers.

    6. Baby Bump.

    7. I also hate English as used by magazines like US Weekly

  9. Right- and left-brained, general ally used to explain why the speaker’s opinion is more valuable than reasoning.

    “Statist”, for reasons that should be obvious.

    “Forcing function”,used to mean “If we do this they’ll be forced to do that”. It’s terminally hijacked from mathematics, where it means something completely different.

    “Time to market”. which means “Do something quick and dirty you’ll regret almost immediately.”

    • I’ll tolerate “forcing function” from people who design control systems where certain conditions dictate a single response regardless of any other inputs. Eg, the classic example is the door on the microwave oven: if the door latch is not properly engaged, the magnetron must be forced to an inactive state. Otherwise, I’m with you.

    • I use Forcing Function all the time. I pull data from an inbound queue, create and object and push it into a ruleset. The ruleset complains, I force it into an exceptions queue. I don’t bother dealing with the exception, that’s what people are for.

      When I start a long-running process, I first disable all the buttons on the screen which might start another one. I present a Wait-a-While dialog and re-enable the buttons when the process is done. Forcing Function.

    • On a related note, I was always irritated (and at least once, amused) by the non-technical editors over in legal reviewing one of my technical documents for external publication and striking most occurrences of a particular technical term that had been adopted from a word or phrase in common usage (simple examples from abstract algebra: groups, rings, and fields) and substituting common-language synonyms “because it reads better.” The paper that I remember turning out funny was the one where they had obviously worked hard on one section to find things to use other than the oft-occurring phrases “completely ordered” and “partially ordered”.

      I suppose it was only funny if you were a mathematician.

      • Michael C on another maybe its only funny for those in the same line of work…I am a Art/Textile Conservator and we use unbuffered tissue paper for archival storage of objects, when typing reports Word always asks if I want to replace unbuffered with unbuttered although I will say in my professional opinion using buttered tissue paper is a bad idea

        • That reminds me of The Importance of Being Earnest:

          “How can you sit there, calmly eating muffins when we are in this horrible trouble, I can’t make out. You seem to me to be perfectly heartless.”

          “Well, I can’t eat muffins in an agitated manner. The butter would probably get on my cuffs. One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them.”

      • I can picture them deciding that “almost everywhere” was too imprecise.

    • I actually prefer “statist”. It’s more accurate than Republican or Democrat and descibes correctly, the person’s view of gov’t.

      I could do without “libtard”.

  10. Thanks for using my suggestion!

    I have a bunch if you want them 😉

    Like why do people enjoy expressing sarcasm and disappointment at articles in the New York Times Sunday Style section? It is the Styles section, not exactly the place I go for hard-hitting news and analysis.

  11. Congressman and Congresswoman- This is constantly used to refer to members of the House of Representatives. Congress consists of both the House and the Senate. Members of the House should be referred to as Representatives.

    • That is long standing and correct use though and has been since the start of the nation.

      Members of the Senate are referred to as Senators. Members of the House are Representatives or Congressmen or Congresswomen. Sometimes they might even be in congress with each other.

    • Members refer to one another as “friends” when clearly they are not.

    • Oh, I looooooooooooooooooooooooooooathe that one. It drives me totally bazonkers, and (if the speaker were to take the time to think of what is actually meant to be conveyed) says the exact opposite of what it’s meant to.

      • Sometimes it’s fun to call them on it.

        “How much less could you care?”

        “OK, so we’ve established that you do care, just like I do, so….”

        It’s not actually a good argumentative technique, just a good way to fish with someone who’s being a dick, when real discussion has clearly broken down.

  12. “Affect” and “effect.” Both are nouns. Both are verbs. The resulting confusion obfuscates written expression in a way that makes my teeth grind.

    • “Football”, as a word that constantly has to be used explicitly and in full, e.g. “If you don’t take care of the football, you’re not going to win many football games in the National Football League.”

      • What about when it’s used as a descriptor for a specific thing in relation to the whole gestalt (“That’s just good football”)?

      • Australians call our football “gridiron.” I can’t think of any reason that gridiron isn’t a better name in every way.

        How is it that nobody has brought up “literally” yet?

        • Because even thinking about that one literally makes me vomit.

  13. Transration:
    This is typically a sign that I’m going to hate the translation.

  14. I love language, especially English with all its mangled bits.

    I think most of the phrases that inject knee-jerk negative reactions in me are tied more closely with the connotation implied, not the words themselves. The connotation comes from people, not from the words.

    “Action Items” is a good example. Items which require action. Nothing wrong with the phrase. Good strong simple verb.

    “Predominant use by morons”… just isn’t the fault of the phrase. We should be grateful to those poor words, identifying those people for us, much more quickly than a warning label affixed to their foreheads.

    • Action Items would be fine, if people would actually use Discussion Items, as a term.

  15. retrofit Would purge all uses of.

    incentivise Same as above.

    haircut purge anything not related to hair cuttery.

    ordinary as a descriptor for most of you.

  16. “Very” especially when used with unique, I mean “very unique”? really?

    also “anyways”

      • Using “super” instead of “very” is one of those things I started doing in a winkingly ironic way, and then couldn’t stop. It’s become something of a verbal/written tic of mine now.

    • Nothing brings out the prescriptivist in me more than “unique.” It makes my teeth hurt from all the grinding when it’s used to mean “unusual” instead of “one-of-a-kind,” and thus proper use does not bear a modifier like “very.”

    • also “anyways”

      Yeah, everyone really should use “anyhoo.”

  17. “Jebus,” when its used as a shorthand way to insult a broad group of people while arguing against what might be a well-nuanced position. For example, someone once explained to me that the reason people don’t support measures to end global warming is simply because “they believe Jebus is coming soon and they don’t need to care about the environment.”

    “Sausage fest.” Yes, I’m oversensitive, and this term pales in comparison to some words used to describe women. Still, I don’t like it.

    (Sorry, this comment is a drive by. I have to go to work.)

  18. Here are some:

    Skillsetting – I’m not a huge fan of “skillset” as a noun, but whatever, you have a set of skills, fine. But when it becomes a verb…

    Bromance – seriously? Men can’t be friends?

    Net new – this seems to be new thing, used generally when people mean “new”.

    Clickable link (in a website context) – people use this when they really just mean a link/hyperlink.

      • I’ve always heard it use to denigrate any new friendship – completely romance-free – between two grown men. If they actually seem to be enjoying a newf0und friendship, it gets denigrated.

      • skillsetting: practice. My husband practices the piano. He’s a natural talent, but he wouldn’t be worth listening to without having skills set with practice. Practice as verb; an action.

        Not to be confused with your business, a practice, a noun, a thing.

        One of those writing skills necessary for clear communication — use the smallest clear word that already exists. Except when it’s time for new coinage; as in luntz. Otherwise, you might luntz your meaning and seem unbelievable and unreliable.

          • Luntzing too much does that. Just ask the Republicans after they skillsetted to zombie by lockstepping during the GWB skillset. I think the only thing that broke the luntzie-spell was “Madam Speaker.” Nancy saved them from a skillset with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But it was the other Nancy who set ‘just say no.” Love match.

  19. “Rightsize”

    Generally whatever comes out of the HR dept or the Marketing dept.

  20. I prefer to advance a hermeneutic of cognition beyond those horizons of meaning in which you are historically-culturally-linguistically-constructively situated. Think alterity, dude.

    • If I am interpreting your comment correctly, I believe that right there is as spectacular an alternative to “think outside of the box” as I will ever see.

      I doubt it would help Tod all that much, though.

  21. Heard on the NPR on the trip home, one of our KongressKritters:


    Sadly, it had nothing to do with marriage equality.

  22. “Relationship,” especially in the context of the execrable phrase “in a relationship.”

    • ‘Preggers’ above, ‘relationship’ here.

      What you got against families?

      • I like “marriage” just fine. “Relationship” makes me think of Oprah. And “preggers” is just stupid.

          • <rimshot/>

            The appropriate more specific phrase, where possible. Married people are married. A straight man or lesbian has a girlfriend. A straight woman or gay man has a boyfriend. I don’t hate “romantically involved” when there’s a legitimate need for a general-purpose term. “Relationship” doesn’t bother me when describing other types of relationships.

            I can’t claim any rational basis for this. Nevertheless, it makes me cringe.

            Further evidence that I hate families: Any of the D_ abbreviations that women use on the Internet to refer to their family members.

  23. After a conversation with Zazzy today, I think “foodie” must go. Because, really, this is how any conversation should go when someone self-describes as such.

    “I’m a foodie.”
    “What’s that mean?”
    “Well, like, I really enjoy food.”
    “So do I.”
    “No. I mean I *really* enjoy food.”
    “Doesn’t everyone? I mean, who doesn’t like eating?”
    “Yea, but, I enjoy and appreciate it differently that most people… more than most people.”
    “I dunno, man. I love food. I’d eat a whole pizza right now if I could.”
    “Yea, but you wouldn’t appreciate certain aspects of that pizza the way I would.”
    “I usually tip the delivery guy well. That’s a pretty strong sign of appreciation. I’m still not really sure what makes you a “foodie” and me not.”
    “Fine. I’m a fucking food snob. I think I’m better than other people because I don’t eat things that don’t include the words ‘artisan’, ‘local’, or ’emulsion’. Happy now?”
    “Yes. Douche.”

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