Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Thirteen Terrible Words

1) SIGNAGE: As in, “does our store have adequate signage?” “Is our signage clear, readable, and engaging?” “How about our signage? Does anyone think we need more signage?” When I worked in retail, this word was the bane of my existence. It was beyond my meager understanding as to why we couldn’t just say, “Are our signs good enough?” or “What about our signs?” or “Do we need more signs?” or something, anything that didn’t totally deface the English language.

2) VIBRANT: But only when it’s used to describe a person. This is just a personal preference on my part: flowers, cars, dresses, roosters, and psychotropic medications can be vibrant, but you yourself cannot be. Neither can your friends, family, lovers, enemies, or favored political candidates. I don’t know why I feel this way, but I do. And maybe this is off-topic, but doesn’t “vibrant” sort of sound like a 50s sci-fi movie name for an evil, radioactive mutant vibrating plant? “Oh no, Professor Lockley! The Vibrant has breeched the safety perimeter! We’re doomed!”

3) DISORIENTATED: Even though my spell-checker doesn’t agree, I must assure you all that “disorientated” isn’t a word. If you use it, you should stop. Immediately.

4) UTILIZE: “Our corporate strategy committee utilized the performance guarantee process to ensure accurate delivery of non-salary rewards”. Why didn’t they just “use” the performance guarantee process?, I can hear you asking. Because they’re corporate dickweeds, that’s why. “Utilize” my ass.

5) MEMBER: When it’s used as a euphemism for “penis”. I don’t like the idea of having a “member”. It makes me feel like I’m a club or a fraternity or something. “Now that you’ve met the chairman, would you like to meet the member?” “The member and I butted heads in conference last evening...” “Do you have a motion you would like to submit, member?” I could go on with these all night, but I think you get the point.

6) ANGST: It’s too overused these days. And it doesn’t have enough vowels in it.

7) MUFFIN: Later in the week, I plan on submitting a list of neutral words–like “erect”, “thrust”, and “submissive”--that have been co-opted by their sexualized meanings. For me–and not for me alone, I hope–“muffin” is one of these words. Laugh at me if you must, but I find it quite difficult to ask some strange woman in a bakery if I can sample her fresh, moist, warm, banana-cranberry muffin. Am I alone in this? Does this mean that I’m a depraved pervert? Maybe. I also had a dog named “Muffin” when I was a small boy. It was an adorable, if ill-behaved, thing. I’m not sure where that fits into all of this.

8) VAGUE: I’m usually fine with this word, except when someone chooses to pronounce it “vag”. When that happens, I’m afraid I’ve been known to get a little snotty about it.

9) DISADVANTAGED: This is one of those well-intentioned words that only ends up making the people it is trying to describe seem less real. For the sake of poor people everywhere, I think we should start calling them “poor people” again.

10) COMMODIOUS: As I understand it, this word means “big” or “with a lot of space”. The trouble comes when I hear the first syllable and think “commode”, or “place where you take a shit”. So, when someone says, for example, “My! These pants sure are commodious!”, I don’t think “These pants are big!”, I think “You could take a shit in these pants!”. This may be just me, though.

11) WHOPPER: Burger King has fucked up this word for everyone. Every English-speaker on the planet should agree to stop “utlizing” it today. Also, while we’re at it, Burger King should start calling their signature sandwich a “disgusting piece of processed meat slathered with foul sauces and squeezed between two limp, low-grade pieces of bread”.

12) PENINSULA: Peninsulas are, quite often, very pretty places. For this reason, it’s too bad that the word we’ve been given to describe them sounds like it would be better suited for a rare breed of lizard. To my ear, the “penin” clashes horribly with the “sula”, rendering the whole term a displeasure to speak, hear or even read. In a perfect world, peninsulas would be called “Unoceanitas”. It sounds a lot better, don’t you think?

13) FOIBLE: This word is just too inexact for my taste. This guy’s foible is that he likes to fart in the tub, that guy’s is that he can’t say the word “muffin” without giggling. Fine and good, but what about the guy who considers his habit of drinking sheep’s blood with his breakfast merely a foible? To put it another way, what’s a foible and what’s an outright sick bastard thing to do? Is there any agreement on this, or must we submit to the whims of personal interpretation and postmodern relativism? Such ambiguity cannot stand. Otherwise our language stands in danger of losing its reputation for simplicity, elegance and relentless clarity.