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C.A. Belmond

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Bad Words: 6 Words You Should Never Write

Posted: 09/14/11 04:18 PM ET

Recently I conducted a perfectly random, unscientific survey among writers and readers to make a list of words-we-are-way-too-weary-of. Now, as someone who loves words and whose very survival depends on them, I hardly mean to condemn any particular word to the firing squad.
Rather, this is an informal assembly of exhausted, abused, overused words that are entitled to a good rest; words that are on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown, words that deserve to be ensconced in comfortable chaise lounges with blankets tucked up to their chins, parked on a terrace overlooking a calm garden on the grounds of an English convalescence home with a soothing name like the Linguistic Sanatorium for Neurasthenic Words.

So here they are, all worn out, abused and in need of a long vacation:

1. Myriad

To begin with, 'myriad' is far too writerly a word. By that I mean that it doesn't just roll off the lips of most people on the street. Real folks hardly ever say, "I've got a myriad of work to do," when 'ton' or 'scads' works just as well. No, it's usually authors, journalists and bloggers who resort to poor 'myriad' simply to show off--yet do we really know what it means?

Technically, 'myriad' signifies ten thousand. Now, really. Do we honestly believe that "There are ten thousand reasons why Sue broke up with Jack," or "This new restaurant has ten thousand appetizers to choose from?" Do we truly intend such hyperbole and exaggeration? Nowadays, 'myriad' is being thoughtlessly forced into the role of a fancy-pants substitute for 'lots of' or 'plenty' at times when 'many' or even 'several' would more accurately reflect what most writers mean when they say 'myriad.'

Furthermore, 'myriad' is, strictly speaking, a noun, not an adjective; yet 9,999 times out of ten thousand people use 'myriad' as a modifier. Which is why there are a myriad reasons to quit being pretentious about this word.

And even if you are prone to wild exaggeration, there is still the auditory element to consider: 'myriad' actually sounds more like a person's name, as in, "Myriad, come down here and eat your dinner before it gets cold" or "Don't you just love Myriad? She's got such a sense of humor" or "I always get my hair cut by Myriad; she's the only one who understands curly hair."

2. Decidedly

There is nothing wrong with this word per se, but for some reason it crops up in an annoying way, usually when an author is trying to do two contradictory things at once: he wants to emphasize his point, yet simultaneously hide behind a mask of mild-manneredness. Example, as from a lifestyles newspaper section guide: "This spa is great for your well-being, but decidedly unhealthy for your wallet." Don't they really mean, "Holy cow, have you seen the price tag on that new spa they put up where Blockbuster Video used to be? You'd have to be crazy to pay that much for canned sitar music, patchouli air freshener and a rubdown."

Besides, the Oxford English dictionary defines "decidedly" as "definitely, in a manner that precludes all doubt; resolutely, unwaveringly." That sounds a lot more muscular than the way most writers use it, because when I Googled the word, this is what came up for common usage: "decidedly sad, decidedly different, decidedly grim, decidedly uncouth." Tell me the words 'very' or 'really' wouldn't work just as well in all those instances; or, if we absolutely must be more emphatic, then I would much prefer 'unbelievably' in order to flag the fact that we are being deliberately hyperbolic, and don't literally mean to say "in a manner that precludes all doubt, from now to infinity, in all technologies known to us now and in the future, with absolutely no backsies."

And spare a thought for the word itself: plain old undressed 'decidedly' has been so overused that we now have to strap on extra words to dress it up and give it more weight. Wiktionary feels compelled to list the usage of 'more decidedly' and even 'most decidedly.' Now why should poor, naked 'decidedly' have to partner up with other words simply to express what is was originally meant to mean all along? How can there be anything more to add to "in a manner that precludes all doubt?" Do we really want to say, "More in a manner to preclude all doubt" or "Most in a manner to preclude all doubt?"

3. Gone missing, went missing

This is actually a phrase, not a word, although I think it's the 'gone' and 'went' which bother me. "Where's John? Oh, he's missing" is fine when someone has vanished or disappeared or is AWOL. But to tack on the verb 'to go' seems tacky to me. It all started with the English people--well, hell, it's their language, so they ought to know, right? I can put up with it from them, because what do you expect from people who insist on driving on the wrong side of the road?

It's when American TV journalists cottoned onto it that 'went missing' set my teeth on edge. Because, like the inmates in the movie "Bedlam," once TV anchors like a phrase they can't stop saying it. And they always seem so over-pleased with themselves whenever they spout it, even when discussing the economy, as in, "Double-digit savings rates for CDs have gone missing ever since the banking crisis of 2008." Now, look. If you lost your car keys, then they are missing, but they did not sprout legs and go missing. Frankly that's an insult to any soldier who's vanished in the Argonne Woods or elsewhere in the heat of battle. Let's please stop this now before it gets completely out of hand.

4. Fresh

Yet another Anglophile word that American TV news has discovered. Frankly, I don't care whether the dictionaries define 'fresh' as 'new.' This is the 21st century and as far as I'm concerned, 'fresh' is for food. Fresh fish. Fresh bagels. Even fresh flowers, as opposed to dried. But not, as the TV news is wont to say all too often, "Fresh casualties." That is disgusting. You might as well say "fresh corpses."

And don't even get me started on 'casualties,' which is entirely too casual a word for the dead.

5. Edgy

Woo. Something dark, scary, risky, hip, bordering on suicidal or criminal. You have come to the razor's edge of the known world, like a fifteenth-century sailor whose ship is about to fall off the edge of the map. You are a tightrope-walker pacing across the Grand Canyon with no net underneath. You are a race car driver skirting the edge of a cliff with the angry sea below. You are, therefore, risking death. Certainly you are doing something far beyond what the safe little bourgeois mainstream would attempt or even know about yet.

So look, everything can't be edgy. Clothes, movies, books, art, people, politicians...enough already. Here's a general rule of thumb: it is unlikely to be 'edgy' if:

a) it's artwork hanging in a large, well-known, well-funded museum (as opposed to a scruffy little anonymous gallery wedged between a dubious bar and a check-cashing joint with uncollected garbage piled up in front of it)

b) it's a film playing in a multiplex movie house that encourages you to bring the kiddies (instead of that rundown old theatre with the leaky roof that used to show porn flicks and is trying to be gentrified, but even now still has that weird guy in the balcony who wears a long coat in summer and makes rude noises during kissing scenes)

c) it's a dress or jacket in a shop on a street that you could confidently walk down at night without fear of being knifed or worse...

d) it's on TV or in a newspaper that has high-paying advertisers who are prone to apoplexy over new ideas and who express their displeasure by withdrawing their big bucks,
then, sorry, the item in question t'ain't really edgy at all.

6. Hot

For awhile, 'hot' was the new 'cool,' which is strange. 'Hot' used to mean, well, uncomfortably warm. As in beware the steaming hot-water tap, or the too-hot-to-handle takeout coffee cup, or is it hot-enough-for-you outside? That makes sense. Then, it was simply used to mean 'sexy' in an 'in heat' kind of way. Yeah, yeah, yeah. There's so much sex in ads and media and internet now that it all has taken on a false, strangely unsexy quality, as if there are no more wild beasts out there anymore but simply people who will do anything to be famous.

So 'hot' has now become a synonym for 'trendy,' overused to hawk each and every celebrity, fashion model or must-have wardrobe. Bloomingdales recently ran an ad with this word in big red letters, "Check out what's HOT," below which were three very modest, inoffensive, dare-I-say bland sheath dresses which you could easily wear to anybody's baptism or fiftieth wedding anniversary party without causing a single soul to blush or get overheated. Frankly, 'hot' is so abused and overused it leaves me cold. So spread the word. 'Hot' is not. Anymore.