30 September 2016
Persnickety Publishing Pet-Peeves
For better or for worse, warranted or unwarranted, when I encounter certain terms, phrases, and misappropriations in an article, the irrational, impatient side of me wants to discard the piece altogether. Granted, I try to use my better judgment and gauge what I read on its analytic integrity and substance rather than on its style, so I try to push on despite my fastidious aggravation. Lord knows I make plenty of errors in my own writing. Nevertheless, here are a few examples of what irks me the most:
Ubiquitous and Overused Words
As long as people continually use the term surreal for every action and event, the term will be rendered meaningless.
No. Just No. Only narcissists need this word in their vocabulary.
A pivot used to be something I did when I was a dancer and gymnast as a child. It is not something that everyone everywhere is doing now. Here are some alternatives for what you really mean:
Also, why on earth do writers and reporters feel the need to use the exact same language as every other writer and reporter? Is it showing that you possess the insider lexicon or is it just the juvenile high school need to feel like one belongs? Whatever the case, it is annoying – and it lends itself to satire when the Daily Show or Last Week Tonight put together a video reel of every broadcast reporter and their mother repeating the same exact term or phrase. Really, do you want to be one of those guys?
Mistaken and Wrong Usage
Try and …
As in, “Next week, I will try and write a more substantive article than this one.” “Try and…” might be okay when spoken. We all speak in colloquialisms that we would not put on paper, but the written word is different. Neither formal nor informal writing allows for the grammatical use of “try and …” as a substitute for “try to...”
Contrary to popular opinion, nonplussed does not mean “unfazed” or “unaffected.” Yes, nonplussed really does sound like it should mean something like nonchalant – but it doesn’t. Our esteemed and “brilliant” president even used the word incorrectly when describing his daughter's reaction to his presidency. Regardless of what Obama may think, nonplussed actually means perplexed, bewildered, or fazed.
This one is near and dear to me, as the focus and interest of my scholarship lies in this realm. Somehow, probably because of the new-agey, faddish wellness movement in which people of extravagant wealth pay excessive amounts for “cleanses” as they strive to clear their bodies of “toxins,” toxin has come to mean a synthetic chemical or man-made pollutant.
Famous, successful writers, scientists, physicians, and even Ivy-League educated folk (I know, can you imagine?) use this term incorrectly. In doing so, it likens one to those who believe that rocks and crystals and expensive potions can instantaneously cure one of all ills.
Technically, a toxin is poisonous substance derived from an organism. Last month, I had a spider bite that produced a large, red, scaly, itchy rash on my back. It has only now finally receded. The venom from that spider was a toxin. The harmful synthetic substances, about which many people are rightfully concerned, are known as toxics or toxicants or pollutants or contaminants – not toxins.
The Intercept recently published a piece about Teflon, labeling it a “toxin.” When I received a link to the article from a listserv to which I belong, the moderator soft-corrected the article title and instead called it “The Teflon Toxic …” A man (or woman) after my own heart!
Reports, articles, analyses, and essays by radical, unconventional, iconoclastic, and moral voices are marginalized enough by the purveyors of conventional wisdom, It might do us all some good to pay careful attention to grammatical errors, misapplications, and overused terms that the corporate, capitalistic, elite class could use to dismiss writings that run counter to their precious status quo. We don’t need to provide them any more ammunition to discount important voices.
Kristine Mattis holds a Ph.D. in Environment and Resources. She examines science, health, and environmental communication within the context of social and environmental justice. Before returning to graduate school, Kristine worked as a medical researcher, as a science reporter for the congressional record in the U.S. House of Representatives, and as a teacher.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org and @kristinemattis.
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