Phillip Thompson

Crime Fiction writer

Now that summer’s over, some of the literary journals have opened up their submission window, so I’ll be sending out a couple of short stories this month. My luck with this process has been precisely … none. The various literary journals seem particularly finicky. I say this even after having served for a short while as the poetry editor of one and witnessing firsthand some of the submissions. Quantity is plentiful, quality, not so much.

A friend of mine (a writer) recently made the comment that he wrote “should of” — the way one of his characters speaks — as the contracted form of “should have,” which, of course, should have been “should’ve.” It always annoys me to read “should of” and our conversation got me to thinking about words — specifically words that just get under my skin when I hear them, because they really aren’t words or they’re used incorrectly.

When I was a newspaper editor I kept a list of banned words handy, just to keep the reporters honest. Leading the list were these words:

deconflict — I really hate this word, that is used profusely in the military, particularly the Marine Corps. We already have a word for removing the conflict. It’s “resolve.” But no, the Marine Corps has to make things worse by then creating a word to describe the act of deconflicting — deconfliction.

physicality — ok, this really is a word, but I can’t stand to hear it during a TV game. When Joe Blowhard describes the linebacker as “a player with a lot of athleticism and physicality,” I dive for the Mute button. The English language has many descriptive words — words much better than this one.

heady — another real word used incorrectly, usually by sportscasters as in, “He’s a real heady player.” It’s invariably used to describe a player’s smarts and/or savvy: “He’s a real heady player.” But the word means “stupefying or intoxicating” or “upsetting” or “tending to exhilarate.”

leverage — it’s NOT a verb, but Corporate America loves to use it in sentences like, “At end of the day, we want leverage our synergies to impact [also not a verb] our markets.”

impact — see above

irregardless — just a bad, bad word. Think about it. RegardLESS, meaning without regard, which is just fine. But IRregardless? That added “ir” is a negative, too, so now the word means without regard to .. without regard? WTF?

utilize — use the word “use” instead.

impactful — I HATE this word. Pure marketese crap. A cousin of “deconfliction.” And just stupid-sounding.

I’m not the only one, either. Back In The Day when I was a lowly assistant news editor at the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo, Miss., I worked with the Undisputed World Champion of the AP Stylebook, Ginna Parsons. I swear I think she had the thing memorized. She was more of a killer on spelling, but I can recall her muttering every time she came across the phrase “a piece of legislation.” I came to agree with her (I didn’t have a choice, really), because there is no such thing, of course, as a “piece” of legislation. In fact, “legislation” is another word misused in that context. The word refers to the act of making laws or a body of laws already enacted, NOT a bill or proposal under consideration. That, of course, would be proposed legislation.

There. I feel much better.

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