Prim schoolteachers used to scold some of us foul-mouthed youngsters long ago, wagging a finger and threatening the slipper (this really was a long time ago) for using what was referred to as bad language. How times change. A word that begins with F and which could cause shocked silence has become so ubiquitous as to have practically lost any real meaning.
But there’s bad language and there’s bad language. I don’t have a problem with that old English word that begins with F, as long as, like any piece of language, the usage fits the circumstances. What I do have a real problem with is the other kind of bad language, the misused and misbegotten words and phrases that make me grind my teeth when I see them used. So here’s a short list.
This is one of the latest words to slip into common English usage. Management-speak types love multiple. Its essential meaning is ‘more than one’ so ‘multiple’ doesn’t convey a meaning that ‘many’ or ‘several’ doesn’t, other than that the speaker or writer should know better.
Between you and I
This phrase that files perversely in the face of the most basic grammar is just so wrong that it makes me want to spit vitriol every time I hear it. There is hardly a penalty too severe for letting this gross bastardisation of English pass your lips.
Another piece of management-speak jargon that has filtered into to everyday English. It’s an entirely meaningless phrase, a filler allowing the speaker a moment’s thought to decide which mind-numbing platitude to follow it with.
Impact (as a verb)
A living language has to evolve and one that doesn’t change is doomed to become moribund and eventually forgotten. All the same, there are evolutions that are fingernails on a blackboard, and one of these is the verbing of nouns. See, I invented one of my own there; to verb;the practice of press-ganging an innocuous noun to serve unwillingly as a verb, preferably when a suitably serviceable verb is within easy reach.
‘Impact’ as a verb is probably here to stay, but this could be the thin end of the wedge, as I’ve already seen ‘impactfulness’ used by someone who didn’t crack an ironic smile.
Where did this weird tautology come from? Why the superfluous ‘with’? It sounds almost like something out of Beowulf rather than 21st century English.
It’s a common enough word, but what does ‘whilst’ say that ‘while’ doesn’t? Sorry, I can’t abide whilst, with that pretentious, upwardly mobile st tacked onto the end. Who knows, a professor of old English may well be able to inform us that ‘whilst’ could be the older and more correct form, but it still jars. The same applies to ‘amongst.’
Sorry, I can’t be having with ‘nice.’ It smacks of fussiness and drawing rooms with doilies. It may well be a perfectly acceptable English term, but I have a virulent personal dislike of it. It doesn’t say anything other than that something or someone is pleasant, innocuous, even dully so. The older meaning of nice, implying finesse and subtlety, has long been lost. Sorry, nice, we’re never going to be friends.
All of the above fall in to the ‘barbarous’ category of George Orwell’s six rules for writing clear English, with rule six being the catch-all ‘Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.’
For the rest of Orwell’s excellent rules, as valid today as when he wrote them sixty years ago, look here.
If you ever see me use any of the above terms in a non-ironic manner, please feel free to wag an accusing finger, but make doubly sure I’m being ironic before threatening the slipper.