Saturday, February 16, 2013

Word woes

As a writer, I've become more aware of the meaning of words, and the power of choosing the right word in the right place.

Words are beautiful things, so it grieves me to see words abused, and I want to draw the world's attention to the plight of the humble word in the hands of persistent abusers.

Here are some examples of my pet peeves.


These are at opposite ends of the communication line - send and receive. They are totally different words, yet many people treat 'infer' as a posher-sounding substitute for 'imply'.

"Oh, no," they think to themselves, "'imply' is a nasty, blunt and common word. I'll use 'infer' instead and show how educated I am."

I'm sorry, but no! It just shows how ignorant you really are.


Similar to the above. How many times do prominent figures at the heart of a breaking scandal utter those immortal words, "I absolutely refute these allegations."

No, you don't. You have not offered a shred of evidence, so you've proved nothing - which is what 'refute' means. All you've done is deny it.

But people don't want to say that, because in the popular media denial somehow implies guilt.

Should have/should of

There's no either/or here. This is an example of lazy patterns of speech finding their way into writing.


This one baffles me, and yet I repeatedly see well-educated people use 'loose' when they mean 'lose'.

Leading edge/bleeding edge

When I first heard of 'bleeding edge' it was a fresh and witty play on words. Technology so innovative that it was raw and dangerous. The trouble is, so many people liked it that it got used far more than it should, and it's lost its power.

It saddens me when perfectly good phrases become worn through inappropriate over-use.

State of the art/state of the ark

Another clever play on words that has become abused, once again through ignorance or laziness. It baffles me to hear people say 'State of the ark' when they clearly don't mean something ancient and decrepit.

So, writers everywhere, rise up in defense of those poor, abused, and helpless words. What examples of abuse peeve you?


  1. We had a girl at work who said "them ones" instead of "those" and another who would write "are" instead of "our". Your and You're is another example I see misused quite often. As I get older I find I am trying to overlook these little errors in favour of the larger message. I fear I may be guilty of a few..ummmm....

  2. The lose/loose thing drives me crazy, too. That is probably my biggest pet peeve. I just want to smack people upside the head and yell "loose is not a verb!"

  3. I saw the should've/should of problem in a published novel--and not in dialogue. It was shocking. The book was One Second After by William Forstchen and was a NYT bestseller. Ugh.

  4. "Me and..." sets my teeth on edge. Where were they when the teacher told them to mentally drop the other subject, and then say "John and I went to the store..." if "Me went to the store" would cause the class to break into hysterics.

  5. Delores, I see are/our too. Those misplaced apostrophes are more understandable, even experienced writers can get those wrong in a moment of inattention, because they defy the usual rules.

    Jenny, careful what you say. 'Loose' is a verb too, just not the one they meant.

    Shell, ugh! My point exactly, who is looking after the written language if writers don't?

    Joanne, that's a good rule to remember. It can also help you remember when it is proper to use 'me'. It bugs me when people say 'John and I' when we are the object rather than the subject of the sentence.

  6. This post really chimes with me!
    My pet hates are the confusion between your/you're and double-negatives like "could you repeat that again".
    I think there is plenty of mileage in this idea...
    Click here for Bazza’s Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

  7. Thank you for stating what I've been thinking for so long. The lose/loose thing makes me nuts and using "of" instead of "have", along with so many other things just astounds me, especially coming from educated people.

  8. Bazza, I guess if you already repeated it once, then it might make sense to repeat it again :)

    Debbie, I seem to have struck a chord with a number of people here.

  9. Confusing then and than drives me bonkers! lol. Oy! Ian, look what you've started! :-)

    I've heard so many people say, "Power for the course."

    But, I admit to enjoying coming across mixed metaphors, lol.

  10. Teresa, I haven't encountered those, or not enough to make me grind my teeth :) I do like a good mixed metaphor, though, especially when it kinda makes sense.

  11. Hey Ian, missed your post today, but thank you for stopping and reading mine! :-)

    Do you ever use Merriam Webster Online? I love their video series--one of them usually starts to play automatically when you look up a word. But you can find the whole list here:

    Better than anything on TV--except maybe at the end of this month when The Game of Thrones starts again. ;-)


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