Words that should be banned from widespread usage (part 1 in an ongoing series)

After grading the better part of my students’ next-to-last round of essays, I think I can now safely say that if I never have to read the phrase "relate to," used as a synonym for "empathize with," "understand," or "identify with," again, I will die happy.

And while I’m at it, I never again want to see the words "extreme" or "ultimate" used in any sports-related or sports-metaphor-related context whatsoever. No more "extreme [fill in name of sport]" or "ultimate this-or-that experience." No more. Basta così!

Not, I hasten to add, that any of these usages are confined to student writing. They’re everywhere, and there’s nothing intrinsically wrong about saying that you can "relate to" something — but when you see it in half a dozen papers in a row, you begin to get tired, and you can’t even explain why you want to object to its overuse, and anyway you’ve got bigger things to comment on and you have to finish the stack by the end of the weekend, so you don’t have time to stop and think about what you’re complaining about, just that you’re cranky about spending the weekend grading.

But "extreme" and "ultimate" are just annoying. So is "very unique." And I’m tired. That is all.

11 Responses to “Words that should be banned from widespread usage (part 1 in an ongoing series)”

  1. cindy says:

    Thank you, Amanda. I hate “relate to”!!!!!!
    As well as misuses of the word “aspect” (ex. “in another aspect, Smith believes…”) and the dreaded “in today’s society.”
    But I try to remember that they are just trying to find their way through a language we already use so easily. And since last night S. caught me using “I” when I should have used “me,” I can’t say too much 😉

  2. Rana says:

    Heh — I can relate (empathize?) My pet peeves were the overuse of “impact” (which I believe resulted from students not knowing whether to use “affect” or “effect”) — I always wanted to hurl something at the wall with a loud bang and say “_That_ was an impact” — and redundancies like “often times” or “very often,” not to mention fillers like “in conclusion,” “of course,” obviously,” etc.
    Of course, I use them all too often in my own speech! 🙂
    (As well as too many “likes” and “you knows” — which thankfully I didn’t encounter too much in students’ writing and which I remember to elide out of my own.)

  3. Amanda says:

    Fortunately, my students (for the most part) get the distinction between spoken English, with all its redundancies and fillers and “likes” and “you knows,” and written English. I sometimes think that the circumlocutions and well-worn phrases in beginning writing come from students’ attempts *not* to write like they talk. But the trouble with overused expressions is that their overuse can easily look like authority: everyone says it, so it must be worth saying. And they do creep into one’s own speech, don’t they?
    (Cindy, I sometimes warn my students that any paper that starts off with “In today’s society…” or the even more dreaded “Throughout history…” runs the risk of putting the reader to sleep with the first sentence. This term, it’s been working!)

  4. Rana says:

    Aaah! The dreaded eternal verities intro!
    I like your approach to it; I always told my students that if they made that claim they’d have to provide evidence for it, but saying it is boring (my god, it IS!) is a great tactic!

  5. chuck says:

    Luckily my students get the distinction between formal and informal English, too. In fact, In one case a student teased me for referring to something as “hard core.”
    I’ve had similar success with my lecture on “Since the beginning of time…” style introductions by emphasizing just how boring they actually are.

  6. Mimi says:

    I’ve gotten a lot of “since the beginning of time,” and “throughout history,” and it never ceases to amaze me. I once had a student write a social history of the wedding ring as if it were an ad for Kay jewelers: “The diamond ring has always symbolized a special bond of love between a man and a woman…”
    I hate the word “extreme” as well. Why is there such a thing as “extreme pizza”? “Extreme” yogurt containers (ooh, because they’re shaped like tubes)?!

  7. Amanda says:

    I don’t get the “sport food on the go in tubular containers” phenomenon at all. Who are these people who want to eat while mountain-biking or playing volleyball or whatever? They were never told “Don’t swim right after you eat, or you’ll get a stomach cramp and drown”?
    My theory is that the advertisers who overuse “extreme” are marketing to the same people who buy SUVs — the ones who want to think they have a sporty lifestyle, but seldom do anything more active than drive to the mall…

  8. yami says:

    You’ve gotta love “extreme golf” and “extreme shuffleboard”, though. I much prefer cliches that can be used as a lazy man’s indicator of hipster-like cultural satire to cliches that are merely dull and functional in every context.

  9. carla says:

    I HATE modifiers of “unique”!!
    And “impact” is NOT a verb, no matter how many people use it that way.
    Which occurs more often: the wrong e/affect, or the wrong its(it’s)? (I saw a variation on the latter the other day–its’–that I thought was amusing.)

  10. Kendra says:

    My biggest pet peeve this semester came from the students’ “Personal Experience” essays. I swear, nearly every single one of them used the phrase “It all started when…”

  11. Amanda says:

    The it’s / its / its’ errors come up more often than affect/effect, at least among the students I’ve taught. “Affect” and “effect” are hard to explain, because I always feel like I have to tell students “‘affect’ is a verb, except when it’s used as a noun to mean ’emotion’; ‘effect’ is a noun, except when it’s used as a verb.” No wonder people get them mixed up.
    I haven’t seen the “It all started when…” beginning. Then again, I haven’t assigned personal narrative in a while, which is probably why.