Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Confessions of a Word Snob

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Confessions of a Word Snob

Article excerpt

If you write for a living, it's impossible not to adore certain words, and revile others.

The Word Police have mobilized again.

The Washington Post's week-in-review section recently released its "Things We Do Not Say" list of over 70 words and expressions they want writers to avoid. The list provides a rare window into the little-noticed world of the editorial zeitgeist of that iconic newspaper. Yes, almost every phrase in that previous sentence appears on the Post's no-fly list.

The New York Times, too, has its bugbears -- great word, by the way. An editor there has objected to the overuse of the cliches "tasked with" and "channeling," e.g., Taylor Swift "channeling her inner Carole King," and so on.

In a similar, sweeping editorial diktat, the former editor of The Boston Globe forbade us writers to use the word "gyroball." This was the Japanese mystery pitch imported to the United States in 2007 by fireballer Daisuke Matsuzaka. ("It is thrown with a spiral-like spin, so that there is no Magnus force on the ball as it arrives toward home plate," Wikipedia helpfully explains.)

To be fair, there was some doubt about the actual existence of this semi-mythological pitch. Not in my mind! In a fit of contumely - - I love that word! -- I wrote a gyroball column that never saw the light of day. For the record, I no longer work at The Globe.

If you write for a living, it's impossible not to adore certain words, and revile others. No sentient being can bear the flaccid, figurative use of the phrase "reach out," so beloved by public relations professionals. "Thank you for reaching out," they say in response to a routine phone inquiry. "When I reach out, it will be to sock you in the puss," was my customary reply. For the record, I am not contemplating a future in the glamorous world of PR.

Also on my Cannot Abide List: "Hardscrabble." I loathe this dumb cliche, which I associate with my early years at Newsweek. Anyone who hadn't grown up in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles was deemed to have suffered a "hardscrabble upbringing." Entire American states, such as West Virginia and South Carolina, were hardscrabble, mainly because no Newsweek staffer would ever dream of setting foot there. …

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