A pimped up A-Z of horrible words



  1. “like”

“Like” has gone from being used as a preposition in similes to being used as a hedge in speech – as a meaningless filler – signifying the speaker’s uncertainty about an expression. Jean Aitcheson parodies the view that this is an instance of language being a “crumbling castle” – should we not equally scorn the use of the use of “Well” – which started off as an adjective – and is now an accepted word in many sentences as a filler – showing it’s just prejudice against young people’s language – or recently changing language.



  1. “irregardless”

This adverb of degree is frequently disputed – is it confusing? – a double negative in a word – “a barbarous ungrammatical conjunction of two negatives” – Samuel Johnson – 1st Dictionary (1755) – it’s grammatically unclear – Jean Aitcheson’s Crumbling Castle Parody would seem to be supported here – as though our language is getting worse – i.e. more confusing – what’s the difference between “irregardless” and “regardless”? “uninterested” and “disinterested”, “categorical” and “uncategorical”, “flammable” and “inflammable” – why do we throw up such confusing words and why do they stick around in our use? Surely the language is getting worse? It certainly looks like it, but what is happening here, through error or otherwise, people are looking to make their expression more effective. When someone says “I didn’t do nothing.” Do we understand them to mean they did something? Other languages use double negatives to express strength of opinion without problem (despite the apparent logical inconsistency), similarly with “disinterested” and “uncategorical” – in the context we always understand their use. There is no confusion.

helen dardik - pattern

helen dardik – pattern

  1. “XQs me!”

Becoming more prominent in “text speech” – abbreviations according to John Humphries – that famous linguistic prescriptivist – “pillaging our punctuation, savaging our sentences, and raping our vocabulary” – other e.g. “Cya L8er” “Gr8” – J Aitchison’s Damp Spoon Parody: is this an instance of people becoming lazy? From a descriptivist standpoint – more a result of people wanting to form “in-groups” and establish a unique linguistic identity – to distinguish them from everyone else – language is not just for communicating, but also for establishing your identity. With the Polari language – with “bevvy” meaning drink, “naff” meaning bad and “vada” meaning look, this language was invented to be a secret code when homosexuality was illegal – some of the words have since dropped into common usage, some of them have not. So there can be languages where communicating isn’t the main purpose, and clarity and expressiveness the goal. In teen-speak – words such as “peng” meaning good are used not to make the language more expressive, but to discriminate the users from the previous generation. Words such as “west” meaning bizarre, “roadman” meaning gangster, and “peak” meaning bad – are not created to make language more expressive, but to mark the user’s identity in distinction from older people.


  1. “guesstimate”


The blending of “guess” and “estimate” – this pattern can also be seen in words such as “smog”, a blend of “smoke” and “fog”, and is widely used. Descriptivists such as Aitchison could argue that this blending makes meanings more precise: giving us more words to express things. However, our language could also be seen to be getting worse, if we consider all the words that are continually dropping out of use, for example “cockalorum”, meaning a little man with a high opinion of himself, a word we no longer use, maybe having been substituted by the far more unwieldy “Napoleon Complex” – however, this hardly can be considered an improvement by any objective measure, for what linguists mostly agree on is that language just changes, neither improving nor deteriorating, which it makes little or no sense to contend. Aitchison’s parody of the Damp Spoon – viewing change as an act of laziness, as people are too lazy to put their meaning into more words, could apply to blending, as well as words dropping out of language, but there are as many neologisms – so this view doesn’t hold water. Conversely, it could also be seen as a matter of efficiency.


  1. “Alright”


A lexical change has taken place over the past 100 years or so: in 1939 it was deemed incorrect to spell “alright” as one word; similar to the change in which “all one” became “alone”. As with “although”, “already” and “always” – words of this type are coalescing – which might be an example of an opinion that Jean Aitchison parodies as The Infectious Disease Syndrome because this could be seen as an example of a mistake or piece of laziness catching on and infecting the larger linguistic population. What the linguist Guy Deutscher would explain under the process of “linguistic anaology” – where there is a tendency for language to change so that it is more ordered and less chaotic – so instead of there being words such as “alright” and “all one” (as opposed to “alone”) – all such words have blended into one word: a pattern of all words joined together, as opposed to some joined and some not.


  1. “Zap”


…a neologism from the field of journalism, intended to add vim to headlines, for example “Our Boys Zap Syria” – however, the word’s meaning is ambiguous and has been used in a number of different contexts – George Orwell would take issue with this word as all it serves to do is obfuscate as opposed to clarify, by replacing “have been bombing” with “zaps” the magnitude of the destruction is reduced and the more harsh reality is sanitized. Another example is using “collateral damage” instead of “death of civilians”. If we consider why we need a word such as “zap”, or semantic change in words such as “literally” so that it becomes merely an adverb of degree (as opposed to an adverb of manner) – what we see is what the linguist Guy Deutscher calls “linguistic expressiveness” – the tendency of users of a language to make it more expressive by inventing new words and meanings – without this process, he would argue, language would die.


  1. “Upmost”


Mishearing can lead to lexical change e.g. the adjective “utmost” has lexically shifted in recent years because of mispronunciation – which has ultimately led to misspelling – some other examples are the modal verb phrase “could have” being spelt as “could of”; however there are some examples that are… the noun phrase “chest of drawers” has been spelt as “chester drawers”: The Linguist Guy Deutscher would argue that this could be seen as an improvement in efficiency. However – do people spell “sandwich” as it is pronounced, or “handbag”? or “knife”? pronunciation is becoming more efficient certainly – it easier to say “Hambag” rather than “Hand-bag” – however, spelling is less likely to change since standardisation – as begun by Samuel Johnson in 1755. Aitchison would parody linguistic prescriptivists approach to words such as this – claiming it to be an example of the Infectious Disease Syndrome – where a populace has contracted a kind of linguistic disease.


  1. “finally”


Many prescriptivists would argue that “finally” should “for the last time” and not “at last”. This epitomizes Jean Aitchison’s “Infectious Disease Parody” that a word accidently acquires more than one meaning, often due to misunderstanding, and then this meaning becoming the norm. This can be seen with the word “disinterested” – which has shifted meaning owing to it being largely misunderstood – languigae users did not know its specific meaning of “unbiased”. Additionally, the linguist Guy Deutscher would suggest that words shift meaning all the time to allow us to express ourselves better, which can be seen with the adverb “literally” being increasingly used to mean “not literally” – an instance of an adverb of manner being used as an adverb of degree – a tendency which language has always had – e.g. “jolly” as in “That’s a jolly good dose of VD you got there.” The argument that this all leads to confusion can be shown to be hollow in the case of a language that has words (auto-antonym) such as “cleave”, “sanction”, “oversight” “dust”, “screen” – all words which have two meanings that are opposites of each other: people are never confused by their use, therefore why would they be confused by the two uses of “literally”?



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