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Words that make us cringe, Part I

As promised, here’s a look at just some of the things that make us, former newspaper and wire service editors, cringe, wail and gnash our teeth.

Because it’s a pretty long list and likely to grow, we’re going to break it up a little bit so as to not overwhelm anybody.

We’re not out to point fingers at anyone. The fact is, these are very common problems we see committed every day by trained reporters and editors — and a lot of other intelligent, well-educated people. It’s easy to believe a lot of these mistakes might get by someone who doesn’t spend most of his waking hours poring over prose, actively looking for nits to pick.

That said, poor grammar, style errors and typography reflect poorly on you and hurt your credibility. Whether they are found in memos, position papers, news stories or websites, they make the reader question your intelligence and, in the end, your legitimacy.

“So, without further eloquence,” (a line from “The Quiet Man,” one of filmdom’s greatest pictures), here, in no particular order, are some of the things that make us go “ewwwww…”

Bad vs. badly: Sure, it may sound more proper to say “I feel badly,” but it’s only correct if your fingers are numb.  “I feel badly” means your ability to feel things is impaired. You’re really intending to describe yourself (your feelings) rather than the physical sense of feel, so you need an adjective (bad) instead of an adverb (badly). You wouldn’t say “I feel happily” or “I feel nervously,”  would you?  If you’ve forgotten your wedding anniversary, it’s perfectly acceptable to tell your spouse that you feel bad.  (In fact, you probably should!)

Utilize: Sure, it’s a real word, but should you ever use it? The answer is a resounding no. Utilize is what my father would have called a $7 word. It means use. Say “use.” There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the word “use.”  It’s a perfectly good word. The word “utilize” is the grammatical equivalent of a wine snob at a kegger — a little full of itself and unsure why it’s even there. Whenever we see “utilize” in someone’s writing, we immediately conclude the writer is trying to impress someone and is, uh, using any means he/she can come up with to do so.

Irregardless: This one has crept into American dialect, but it means nothing. “Regardless” means notwithstanding or despite something: “I’m going on vacation regardless of the weather.” People use the word “irregardless” to mean the same thing, but in fact, adding the “ir” implies a lack of something, as in irresponsible or irrelevant. Irregardless would mean a lack of regardless — and that just doesn’t mean anything. So do us a favor — drop the “ir.”

Would’ve, could’ve and should’ve: These words should be spelled out as “would have,” “could have” and “should have,” but far too often, you see them spelled out as “would of,” “could of” and “should of,” which makes no sense. The words are contractions: would, could and should with the  word “have.” The apostrophe fills in for the missing “ha.” If you write “would of,” etc., you give the reader the impression that you’re uneducated or just plain lackadaisical.

Preventive: We bring this one up from personal experience. Once, when Jim was a reporter, he asked to interview a doctor who was involved with preventive medicine. The doctor agreed, but only if Jim would promise to use the word “preventive” and not the non-existent word “preventative.” Sin committed — repentance sought. While the extra syllable has crept into common language use, the correct word really is preventive.

Who vs. that: When referring to a human being, the phrase you should always use is “who,”  as in “He’s the man who just won the marathon.” Inanimate objects, however, should always referred to as “that,” such as “Here’s the building that houses the armory.” Very seldom does anyone make the mistake of referring to objects as “who.”  Have you ever heard anyone say, for example, something about “the drums who were played by Ringo Starr?”  But the converse mistake is so common now that it’s considered by many — not US — to be perfectly acceptable.   It may be common, but it is still incorrect to say something like “She’s the woman that is in charge of the cafeteria.” 

Do you have any words or phrases that strike your ear like fingernails on a chalkboard? Send them to us at [email protected] and we’ll drop them into the next blog!