Words I’d like to ban in 2004


It seems to be fashionable to do a "top words" list this time of year. We have Google 2003 Zeitgeist, Top Yahoo! Searches 2003, Merriam-Webster's Words of the Year for 2003, YourDictionary.com's Top Ten Words of 2003, Lake Superior State University's Banished Words List for 2004; still waiting for the American Dialect Society's choice for Word of the Year for 2003.

I like LSSU's approach, so here's my list of words I'd like to ban.

Best-of-Breed

Thank goodness this has faded, but there are still some citations out there. Please don't use it to describe my work. It makes me sound like a dog in a show. (No offense to dogs in shows!)

Leading

Everybody is "the leading this" or "the leading that". Here's my rule: If you say you're the leading XYZ or (even dodgier) "among the leading XYZs", then have to list at least three companies that are not leaders in the XYZ market. Because if nobody is following you, then you're not really "leading", now, are you.

And the word I most would like to banish from the English language:

Ask (as a noun)

This has taken over Microsoft-speak in the past year or so and it drives me batty. "What are our key asks here?", you might hear in a meeting. Language tip: The thing you are asking for is called a "request". Plus, of course, the thing that is an "ask" is usually more of a "demand" or "requirement". But those are such unfriendly words, aren't they? Why not use a warm, fuzzy word like "ask" to take the edge off?

Answer: Because it's not a word.

I have yet to find any dictionary which sanctions this usage. Indeed, the only definition for "ask" as a noun is A water newt [Scot. & North of Eng.], and that was from 1913!

Answer 2: Because it's passive-aggressive.

These "asks" are really "demands". So don't guilt-trip me with "Oh, you didn't meet our ask. We had to cut half our features. But that's okay. We'll just suffer quietly, you go do your thing, don't mind us."

Comments (39)
  1. Garrett Serack says:

    I’ve never been exposed to the "ask" as a noun, but I’ll certainly agree with you right there!

    I can’t imagine a more irritating use of language than that.

    I’m thinking that I’d actually be tempted to give a lesson in english if someone attempted to use that in a conversation with me :)

  2. R says:

    I think you should also ban any use of Nouns as Verbs. It’s getting cheesy now.

  3. John Stovin says:

    As an British English speaker, one of my pet peeves is the use of "leverage" as a verb. Its a noun – the force you apply with a lever. There is a perfectly good verb "to lever" which covers the managementspeak usage perfectly well.

  4. don kackman says:

    I couldn’t agree more.

    The one that get’s me is: incent, which is apparently some wacko derivation of incentive.

    We’re doing such and such in order to "incent" out staff to do such and such.

    I’ve even heard incentavize.

    People with MBA should not be allowed to coin words or phrases!

  5. Ed Kaim says:

    I agree about "ask". "Ask" is ofen promoted as a term to use in negotiations because it shows more respect than terms like "demands", such as "what are your demands?" A better term to use is "interest", because that’s what people should really be negotiating towards. asking someone "what are your interests?" has less of a zero-sum connotation and helps move towards a mutually beneficial agreement.

    "Leverage" has become a verb based on its usage as a financial term describing using borrowed money to generate money. The idea is that you have existing assets (that don’t belong to you) that help you support a new venture. Unfortunately, most people (myself included) use it to describe any scenario where you use an asset, regardless of ownership, to promote something else.

  6. Bill Baldwin says:

    I agree with the sentiment, but keep in mind that most modern dictionaries are descriptive rather than prescriptive – i.e, they are attempting to describe the language as it is used rather than tell people what is correct usage.

    So, 1) looking to (most) dictionaries for correct usage isn’t really sound, and 2) if people keep using "ask" as a noun, it will end up in those dictionaries sooner or later…

  7. geraldH says:

    "Drill down" is quite a horrible term as well. What happened to "in-depth"? And if it has to be a verb, how about using "focus"?

    Instead of people concentrating and focusing, there’s a lot of drilling down going on.

  8. Mike Dunn says:

    I hate how the word "estimate" is used in development. When your boss asks for an estimate on how long it’ll take to do feature X, he doesn’t want an estimate, he wants a commitment to a specific amount of time.

  9. irf says:

    Right on! I wanted to barf the first time I heard someone use "best of breed", and it’s just gotten worse from there.

    What is it about MBA’s/management consultants that makes them feel like they have to invent words for age-old concepts anyway? I suspect they think it makes them sound more "on the ball," though to me it just makes them sound like drones incapable of an original thought.

    By the way, I’m actually surprised that this stuff has infiltrated even Microsoft; I’d have expected Msft to be pretty resistant to this sort of stuff.

  10. z says:

    "think out of the box" drives me crazy!

  11. Scott says:

    I think my key ask when I read this was, "Is this a best-of-leading blog?" The answer, of course, was "yes". Raymond continues to leverage countless years of experience, with .Text providing the infostructure, to provide a more robust, and scaleable blog.

    Yes, I’ve actually heard infostructure before.

    We used to play at a game a failed startup. We had a client and a VP that used buzzwords exclusively. So we occasionally made up some just to see if we could get them to use them in a meeting or in a document. If they did, the winner got his/her first drink paid for when we went out. "factualize" was a nice one. "We need to factualize our design goals." We caught them using "redenormalize" once too. I don’t remember how one guy used "readylate" but I remember the president of the company using it in a stockholders meeting.

  12. MilesArcher says:

    R,

    You can verb any noun. The only problem I have when someone tries to replace a perfectly good word with a new one. I think there was a discussion on this blog about replacing good German words with bad English ones. This is a similar case where good English words are replaced by bad English ones.

    Where’s Winston Smith when we need him?

  13. Jim Arnold says:

    "Verbing weirds English" – Calvin (to Hobbs).

  14. Centaur says:

    Every noun can be verbed, and every verb can be nouned :)

    http://www.catb.org/~esr/jargon/html/overgeneralization.html

    What irritates me in respect to language is how everyone calls a directory a folder and a file a document, and half the people say they “run” things when in fact they “open” them (with the default associated application (should I say “program”?)).

  15. keithmo says:

    I really hate the way everything is "designed". For example: "This software is designed to detect security incursions." or "This dietary supplement is designed to burn fat while introducing only a few genetic anomalies".

    My question: Are these products DESIGNED to do these things, or do they actually DO these things?

  16. Eric Lippert says:

    Hey Raymond, what do you think of "process" as a verb? Fifty years ago, there was no such verb. Today we process everything from bits to cheese and think nothing of it. The ability to, uh, redenormalize word categories is one of the strengths that has kept English a vibrant and evolving language.

    But while we’re at it, people who can’t use the phrase "beg the question" correctly drive me nuts. People, "beg the question" means to advance a spurious argument which does not actually explain anything. It does not mean to demand that a question must be asked. eg, "Christie Brinkley photographs so well because… she’s photogenic!" begs the question.

  17. Jim Causey says:

    I hate "win" as a noun, which appears to be another heavily used bit of doublespeak at Microsoft conferences and with salespeople through the industry, as in:

    "Separating UI interface from implementation is one of Avalon’s big wins."

    "Takeaway" is also a pseudo-noun that bothers me, as in, "These are the takeaways you should get from this presentation."

  18. tom says:

    Going forward let’s ban "going forward."

  19. Russ C. says:

    I’d like to ban the phrase ‘Get someones Buy-in’

  20. mike says:

    Y’all might want to have a peek at a blog I maintain where I note new usages and novel constructions:

    http://www.livejournal.com/users/wordzguy/

    Unlike most folks, though, I don’t have a lot of pet peeves. It’s all English to me, and may the best word win. :-)

  21. SteveM says:

    Getting a bit petty, but "takeaway" is a perfectly acceptable noun in British English. We use it with reference to food (mostly Chinese and Indian) where you would use "take-out" in the US.

  22. Peter Torr says:

    So, when I first came to Microsoft I couldn’t understand why (or how!) people started EVERY SINGLE e-mail / spoken comment with "So… "

    I vowed it would be a trap I would never fall into, but that worked out about as well as, like, not saying "like" all the time.

    They’re just "filler" words, but wow was it an eye-opener (or ear-opener) when I first got here.

    I dislike the use of "MSFT" instead of "Microsoft" — even "M$" is better than "MSFT" — and one thing I *have* resisted is calling people by their e-mail alias instead of their real name. That’s just too impersonal for me.

  23. R says:

    Solely on the subject of phrases I don’t like .. ‘Let’s touch base’. Ugh?

  24. Tim Robinson says:

    MSFT is OK — it’s the Reuters symbol for Microsoft stock.

    I always thought MS looked naff: not bad, just lazy. M$ is only used by 14-year-olds who just installed Linux on their Win98 box.

  25. asdf says:

    If I ever see a "Call to Action" in a powerpoint presentation again I’m going to snap.

  26. Moi says:

    I’d like to see the words offshoring and outsourcing banned. Use greed and stupidity instead.

  27. Thom says:

    Let add my scorn to INCENT’s heap. It just incenses me. I always thought "motivate" worked better anyway; "incent" probably happened because somebody was too lazy to figure out a verb that corresponds to the noun "incentive".

    Besides, "motivate" and "incite" and "stimulate" all have the advantage of being actual words. "Incent" is an erroneous back-formation, based on the assumption that the "-ive" at the end of "incentive" is a verb-to-noun conversion suffix — when actually, it is just part of the Latin root, "incentivum".

    I love the "Verbing weirds language" comic strip:

    Calvin: I like to verb words.

    Hobbes: What?

    Calvin: I take nouns and adjectives and use them as verbs. Remember when ‘access’ was a thing? Now it’s something we do. It got verbed. Verbing weirds language.

    Hobbes: Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding.

  28. Matt says:

    My pet peeve is "partner" being used as a verb.

    Can we ban that one, too?

  29. Mr. Pedant says:

    Not to get too introverted, but how about the noun "blog?" I hate that word.

    Or even worse, blog as a verb. "Oh, I just did a little bit of blogging yesterday. Blogged here and there."

  30. Mike Dunn says:

    No disrespect meant to the guys who deal with performance, but I have a great dislike for the adjective "performant". (ugh)

  31. Mihai Nita says:

    My native languages is not English, but I am pretty sure "OCRing" is a bad invention. But since it is used in a manual writen by a technical writer, not a marketing "drone", I may be wronig. Or not?

  32. SBC says:

    ‘Best-of-Breed’ has got to go in software. Who decides what are the other breeds – the American Kennel Club?

  33. OMG if I hear "outside the box" one more time…To the moon with you Alice!

  34. Tom Friend says:

    How about "Plan Of Record"? As if there is a seperate hidden agenda which we really intend to pursue…

    and what is "on-demand" so much better than the old way of doing whatever? I suppose it was "on-request"…

  35. Victor says:

    "On the fly" is also a damn awful phrase.

  36. Patricia says:

    My vote goes to ROBUST — incessantly parroted, mindless and sinister. Exhibit A: the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, which sounds like the fantasy of a hormone-savaged 13-year-old. Laughable, or might be. But heaven help us, the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator is real.

  37. cache says:

    "sorry" is played.

Comments are closed.