x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

The words we love to hate

Our editors, writers and contributors share the words, expressions and phrases that they wish would be banned from daily use.

Illustrations by Mathew Kurian
Illustrations by Mathew Kurian

I dislike any word that has merged two other words together to create meaning. I understand progress means new words enter the lexicon, but here I draw the line because, so much of the time, all meaning is lost by these verbal mashings. It's unnecessary and invariably ends up sounding like phoney jargon. The worst offenders: webinar, photomentary, edutainment, mompreneur and tweeps (and while I am at it, "Morning tweeps" does not a clever Twitter post make).

Anything ending in "ista": see fashionista, frugalista and the like.

The use of Jimmy Choos, Christian Louboutins or Manolo Blahniks to denote exclusivity. This is an exceedingly lazy device that is tossed around by writers in the Gulf all the time. Not very many women can afford these shoes; to suggest that every woman wants or does something "right down to her Jimmy Choos" is elitist and, I think, excludes many very sensible women who wear perfectly lovely shoes that just don't cost a mortgage payment. – Ann Marie McQueen

Pointless words often creep into use because people get bored of using the usual suspects. As a sometime food journalist, for example, I understand why people get bored with constantly repeating the word "restaurant". That's no excuse, however, for replacing it with the odious, pointless "eatery".

Other words turn useless by being put in the wrong context. It's perfectly reasonable, for example, to use the word "retail" as an antonym to wholesale, but elsewhere why do we need anything more than the simple word "shopping"?

There are also some rather lovely, useful words out there that become tiresome by having their meaning drained from scattergun overuse. When I talk about cities, I have often used the words "cosmopolitan" and "vibrant" - but nowadays, which city isn't cosmopolitan? And there's precious little beyond placing it under curfew that will rob any big town of its vibrancy. So why say it?

Finally there are words that are annoying for the simple and entirely personal reason that they are, well, annoying. I, for one, cannot bear to hear or write the word "dude" (ouch!). – Feargus O'Sullivan

I can't stand hearing people use the word "foodie" to describe me or themselves. It makes me feel like I'm in some weird cult and looking for the fire escape. What really bothers me is watching adults regress into 4-year-olds by using baby talk: "nummy, scrummy, yummy!" Do you need a bottle and a nap? Also, I have to restrain myself from strangling people who try to correct me when I say "Niçoise" correctly. "Nee-swah" is just a fancy way of letting me know you're an idiot. Having said that, I've always thought that other common blunders such as "expresso" and "intensive purposes" would make great band names. (And while I'm letting it all hang out, I should add that I still can't say the words "trajectory" and "entrepreneur" without having to start over.) – Nouf Al Qasimi

Literally. "When I heard Jack was going out with Jill yesterday, I literally had a heart attack." No, you didn't, or you'd be in the intensive care unit right now or, more satisfyingly, the morgue.

"Passion" is far too powerful a word to connote mild enthusiasm. Entrepreneurs claim to be passionate about their fertiliser-packaging business. Turnip pickle makers promise you they source their turnips from growers with a passion for turnips. The Oxford English Dictionary defines passion as "strong and barely controllable emotion". Stop calling yourself passionate about Justin Bieber's music unless you harbour a strong and barely controllable urge to kick the fellow.

"In season": the concept denotes only the fickle-mindedness and financial acumen of those in the fashion industry. And perhaps the simple-mindedness of those who rush to buy ghastly striped playsuits because they're trendy today but will probably be discarded in favour of polka-dotted cummerbunds next week. – Lavanya Malhotra

"So full of life" is a terrible phrase that frequently crops up in quotes, particularly in tabloids referring to someone who has died. Of course the person was full of life. The life has gone now that they have died.

"Try and" is just not correct at all. We don't try and do things, we try to do things, in spite of what it sounds like when we speak the words.

"Countless." Unless we are talking about grains of sand, it's usually possible to count, say, the number of shoes in a celebrity's collection.

"Legendary" is similarly overused. I prefer to wait until a famous person is dead before they are described as a legend and it really has to be justified. Justin Bieber is not a legend, but Jimi Hendrix is. – Sarah Ferguson

Considering that there are well over 200,000 adjectives in the English language, using that bland word "nice" is just plain lazy and way too one-dimensional. When I see it, I cringe and look for the backspace button. When I hear it, even if it's in a "you look nice" comment from my husband, I sigh and make a note to buy him a thesaurus.

Now, "moot" is a great word, but one most people use incorrectly. "That's a moot point" is used commonly when one wants to say "It's irrelevant or not worth discussing", when, in fact, it means that a point is still a topic of debate and discussion.

And please, enough with the misuse of the word "guru", especially when it's preceded by "social media". The word is originally Sanskrit and only means "teacher" but in the past five years, it's been re-appropriated by everyone who wants to convince the world they're an expert at something despite lacking any experience or tangible skill: in just about any vocation where there isn't a quantifiable measure for ability yet, you will find "gurus". It doesn't mean anything; it just wants to sound fancy. Trust me, I'm a semantic guru. – Hala Khalaf

I am slightly disappointed that a quick Google search brings up "iconic" as one of the most overused words in media; thousands of fellow journalists are up in arms about its use. I thought I was the only one. Now I'm even more mad: if everyone else hates it, why does it crop up all over the place, all the time? There are many synonyms for this overused word: "popular" or "symbolic" or "celebrated" or "renowned". Why rely on clichés?

I have one question to the people who throw "unique" into every other sentence when describing something new. Do you know what it means? Let me tell you. It means that nothing else in the world is like it. It is alone. It is a one-off. In our saturated society, there are very, very few things that are truly unique. I hate to be a stickler, but surely the word should be used in its proper context. "Innovative", "inventive", "individual" or even "different" will do. Next time, please ask yourself, is it really "unique"? No? Didn't think so. – Anna Seaman

If there's one thing I remember from the five terms of art school that I attended before dropping out, it's the communication design teacher threatening to fail us if we ever used the words "nice" or "interesting" to describe a piece of art, design or typography. I still cringe when I see people using these hollow words to describe something of better merit. No sir, Iron Man 3 was neither "nice" nor "interesting", and neither are you. Think up some fresh adjectives, please.

One word that should never, ever be used in written form is "totes". No, not the plural of "tote", but the abbreviation of "totally" - a perfectly short word to begin with. The only exception to this rule is when the next word is "amazeballs". Because, you know, it's totes amazeballs to say "totes amazeballs".

Two words that should definitely be outlawed on the airwaves (listen up, radio stations of desi origin!) are DVD and video. I have yet to hear an RJ say them in quick succession without the telltale mixing up of Vs and Ws that is intrinsic to non-native English speakers from the subcontinent. It's "video" with a "vee", not "wideo" with a "wee". And "dee-wee-dee" just sounds wrong and is so much harder to say than "dee-vee-dee". – Ujala Ali Khan

This may be cheating since it's not so much a phrase as a template for a bunch of different phrases, but it still makes me shudder any time I hear it: "epic fail is epic", "cute kitty is cute", "obvious troll is obvious". (If this means nothing to you, you spend less time on the internet than me - congratulations.) Apparently it started with an episode of The Simpsons from 1999, in which Ralph Wiggum, a slow child, shouts: "Fun toys are fun!" It got picked up by 4chan, the geek message board that spawned a thousand memes, and now it's turned into the written equivalent of saying something boring in a jokey voice and expecting to get a laugh. Like mock-Valley Girl abbreviations ("totes amaze", "ridic"), it was once quirky, kind of funny and signified some kind of cultural cachet. Now, it's just a nerd cliché and it grates.

Also on the list: feisty, canoodling, weird, hipster and climate when used to refer to something other than the weather. – Jessica Holland

Whenever I see it, I wish I hadn't. Not because it's not a euphonious word or because it has a nasty meaning, but because its invariably misused. And the way it's misused tells me that lots of people never bother to look at a dictionary. My peeve is "eponymous". It's not a synonym for titular. An eponym is a particular kind of noun: it applies to things that have taken their name from a person or place, whether real or fictional or imaginary. Orion gave his name to the belt which, for so many of us, is one of the few constellations we know. Fosbury gave his name to the flop, that distinctive form of executing the high jump. Fibonacci to his sequence. But Beatles for Sale isn't the Fab Four's eponymous album - it's just the band's name in a title. Beatle wig or Beatle suit, on the other hand? Eponyms. Almost every time I run into eponymous, I feel like issuing that well-known eponym the Bronx cheer. – Kevin McCardle

Dishonourable mentions

Jargon can become offensive when it migrates from its original community to more common use in mainstream media or by different age groups. Below are words and phrases that should be banned from daily use.


happy days

well jel (to mean very jealous)

celebrity?names that are merged (eg Bennifer or Brangelina)

baby bump and preggers



LOL and all its derivatives

bling and blingtastic


nom nom nom

amazeballs and amazebells

cray-cray (to mean crazy)

dram-dram (drama)

that’s hot


YOLO (‘you only live once’ to justify recklessness)


my bad


do the math!

#fail or epic fail



awesome sauce

cool beans



adding -gate to anything controversial




Honourable mentions

These are some of the words and phrases that we think should be allowed to stay.

Aaaahhh ... OK, OK, OK Used with gusto in the UAE, to signify that understanding has just dawned.

Bloviated If you think this word sounds an awful lot like “bloated”, you’re half right. When someone compensates for a lack of something meaningful to say with torrents of verbiage, he is bloviating.

Moist Just because everyone else seems to hate it.

Kerfuffle It’s just so fun to pronounce.

Flibbertigibbet It makes us want to sing the soundtrack of The Sound of Music.

Curmudgeon Cur+mud+the last part of dungeon. That says it all. Plus, it’s always useful to have one more term for “cranky old man”.??

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