Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Right Word

You can say what you will about Rush Limbaugh, but he has one quote that I love. "Words mean things." His point is a good one. We cannot ingenuously force a word to convey a meaning it does not bear.

Too often people are lazy with their word usage; perhaps it's a simple product of poor vocabulary. This is shameful because the English language is replete with sufficient words to effuse perspicuity. Thus, I present here a short list of words that I feel are too often incorrectly used. Consider this one more battle in my crusade for linguistic propriety.

Shoot - You can shoot targets. You can shoot the moon. You can shoot your mouth off. But you don't shoot a gun. When I hear that phrase, I picture a person holding a one rifle and firing at another rifle. Did you get that? Firing. You fire a weapon. You'll hear police and military personnel speak of discharging a weapon. "Shoot a gun" makes the speaker sound like my two year old son as he chases me through the house with the semi-automatic Nerf rifle I bought him the other day.

Light as a verb. When I looked this one up online to see if I was at all off-base, I found that the definitions of "light" did not reference the word as a verb until the twenty-seventh entry in the list. "Light" is best used as a noun or a verb. Don't say, "Light the light." Ugh, that's just terrible. You illuminate a light, you don't light it. Granted, this is less irritating to hear when one is addressing the issue of a flame. "Light the candle." "Light the fire." But are you really lighting these things or are you igniting them? Words mean things. When you intend to convey a meaning, use the word that bears that meaning.

Disconnect - This one makes me want to resort to violence. "I believe there is a disconnect between my department and yours." Disconnect is a VERB. Stop using verbs as nouns. This was a pattern than began a few years back in the business world. All of a sudden, people started using verbs as nouns in business conversation. Would you believe someone actually once said to me, "I will modem you the file" in reference to uploading a document to me? Say it again. Say it again. I dare you. I double dog dare you...

Electric(al) - Electric what? This is a word I hear contractors misuse all the time. "We need to replace the plumbing, the heating, and the electric(al)." "Electric" is an adjective. It has to modify something. You cannot simply float it out there all alone. The sentence, "I need to upgrade my electrical system" works. If you don't like using two words, then somebody needs to invent a new word. How about "electrolics"?

Significant(ly) - "There was significant damage to my car." Oh really? And, pray tell just what does said damage signify? Or is it possible you mean to say, substantial damage to your car? These are two different words with two different meanings, yet somehow people use them interchangeably. If something is "significant", it means it has some further, as yet unrevealed meaning. The fact that I'm driving a minivan is significant of my status of a father of three.

Literally - "I literally fell out of my laughing." Liar. I was right there when he told the joke and you did no such thing. Why do people say "literally" when they literally mean the very opposite of that? You figuratively fell out of your chair. "Literally" means it actually happened; "figuratively" means your speaking symbolically to express your meaning.

These are just a few that come to mind as I mulled over this topic. Some of these, you may argue with me. You might even find dictionary entries that say I'm wrong. However, I'm willing to bet you that if you do, it's an example of the dictionary bowing to common usage rather than the other way around.

Which words do you find are misused? I'd love to hear your list.



DebbieLynne said...

The phrase, "at the end of the day" bugs me. At the end of which day? Tuesday? Friday? Oh, you mean a matter's logical conclusion? Why didn't you say so? Guess you were just shooting off your mouth...

Anonymous said...

I see Shoot as meaning to fire a weapon. It does sound ridiculous when you put it that way, but I'll take shoot over Busted any day.
I hear Busted everywhere now, as in Broke or broken. If that's ok, then I will say Busticated!

Gleno said...


Great comments!

Another one I can't stand, similar to Debbie Lynne's is "moving forward." I hear that all the time at work. "We'll need to start using company letterhead, moving foward."

Is there another way to move in business? Are we going to go back in time somehow? People use these stupid cliche's constantly without any thought to them. Grr.

John K said...

With the help of my wife, DebbieLynne, I found your blog this morning and was delighted with your "The Right Word" post. If that's typical of what you have to say here I'll be back on a consistent basis. (Hopefully I didn't inappropriately use many of the words in this comment.) :o)

Anonymous said...

You have some steady readers UM, I expect you wont let us down, moving forward.

I am so glad I don't work in 'corporate America'. The invented language they use to make thing sound important, or to inflate egos is just foolish. It's like lawyer speak.

Gleno said...


It's great to have you on board! I've lacked readers and that's led to a rather lack-luster posting schedule these days. I'd suggest you peruse some of my older work in here. I think you might find a good bit of it worth a chuckle.

A lot of what I write is me being pissed off about politics, the economy, and things of that nature. But I'm trying to change that. One can't be angry all the time. Sometimes a guy has to take time to be annoyed too.


Michelle said...

Ohhh you have no idea the list of things that annoy me...where should I start...

- I am going to see a physical therapist. There is no such thing - it is a PHYSIO therapist
- Almost as much as "literally" annoys you, when people "basically" do everything, it drives me nuts. Are you suggesting that everything is THAT easy?!
- Not so much a word as a full saying, and this is just complete ignorance of the English language: "That will learn him/her." Need I say more...
- On the lines of the last one, I have heard on more than one occasion: "I borrowed her/him that book"

Wow, just looking at the last one...I can't even go on. Writing badly has given me a complex for a moment - I must go and read the dictionary =P