Shortly after the first of the year, I wrote a column highlighting some of my pet peeves about how the English language is often used — or rather, abused — in the course of written communication.
I invited readers to contribute their pet peeves, as well, with the caveat that said pets are suitably housebroken and unlikely to make too much of a mess on the pages of The Tribune. In other words, they shouldn’t have anything to do with caged birds.
Following are some of the responses I received, with my own observations thrown in for good measure.
One writer was tired of hearing the phrase “above my pay grade.” I have to agree with this one, especially because it’s often used by people who make quite a lot of money. Maybe they should try a different cliché on for size: Harry S. Truman’s favorite, “The buck stops here.”
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Another writer was just as weary as I am of hearing people say they have “issues.” Whenever I hear that word used in that particular sense, I’m tempted to say, “I used to have issues , but Newsweek went out of business.” (A second writer served up a similar retort.)
One writer didn’t like the phrase “it is what it is.” I hadn’t thought about it, but imagine if the Founding Fathers had substituted this phrase for “we hold these truths to be self-evident.” Now that would have been funny.
Another observation hit home for me, because I admit I’m guilty of overusing it. The word in question is “basically.” It basically serves no purpose except to prolong a sentence and, basically, is the written equivalent of the spoken “um.” Sorry to use the word in the foregoing (not forgoing) sentences, but I wanted to get it out of my system. There. I feel better now.
One writer didn’t like “preplanned.” All I can say to the writer in question is, “THANK YOU!” The writer asked, “Planning means you do something in advance, so if you preplan, does that mean you’re planning a plan?” I plan to nominate her for the anti-redundancy Hall of Fame, should I ever establish such an esteemed institution. The same writer urges using the word “urgent” in place of “time-sensitive.” The band Foreigner would certainly agree, and so do I.
A couple of writers are perturbed at the use of “no problem” in place of “you’re welcome.” This one doesn’t really bother me. In fact, at times I avoid saying, “You’re welcome,” because, in all honesty, it was a onetime favor and the person really isn’t welcome to ask me something else and expect I’ll do it. The confusion regarding “no problem” may stem from the interpretation of “thank you” to mean, “I appreciate your going out of your way for me.” The “no problem” — or “no worries” — response makes sense to me in this context, although a more polite reply might be, “my pleasure.”
One replier was bothered by journalists who append the suffix “-gate” to virtually any scandal in supposed homage to the Watergate break-in. I have to admit that’s a tricky usage, and we shouldn’t resign ourselves to its continued use. (Yes, I enjoy puns and semi-obscure historical allusions. A weakness. Feel free to insert groan here.)
A couple of readers were chagrined at the use of “grow” as a transitive verb in the following sense: “Economists want to grow the economy.” The line between transitive and intransitive has become so badly blurred in the past decade or so that it’s hard to remember where it should be drawn. “Launch,” in my mind, is something you do to something. One doesn’t simply launch. One launches a ship, a show or a project.
Then there are verbs that have been forcibly morphed into nouns for the sake of convenience. The “big reveal” on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” comes to mind. What’s wrong with “revelation”? Has the use of that word been confined to the last book of the Christian New Testament?
It was encouraging to find so many readers care about how language is used, and equally gratifying to my own ego when I learned how many readers agreed with my assessments. Feel free to keep sharing your observations. You may find them included periodically in this space.
Steve Provost is a Tribune copy editor.