When in Rome…? (or: How to deal with annoying fake words)

I’ve decided to take a vow.

Never again will these words pass through my lips:

1) Sproingy: Come on. This isn’t a real word! It’s an irritating pseudo-word concocted by knitters, crocheters and the like to describe yarn and related fibery fabrics. I like to believe that, if we try really hard, we can come up with descriptive words without resorting to inventing them.

2) Squooshy: Ditto. Squishy is OK. Squooshy is not.

3) Knitterly: As in “I just love knitterly details…” Blech. Again, not a real word. Though by now OED has probably been bullied into considering it for their next edition.

4) Touch base: Used ALL THE TIME here in D.C. “We need to touch base about that project before the weekend.” “Hi! It’s meeeee. Just calling to touch base since we haven’t seen each other in, like, ages.” Ugh. Puhleeze give it a rest, K-Streeters and non-profiteers.

And, oh, there are so many more.

Maybe I’m just being grumpy. Maybe I’m tired. Or maybe I’ve been a writer and editor (and devotee of several languages, though not fluently) long enough to have developed a set-in-stone opinion about how our vocabulary changes.

I’ll freely admit to being one of the geeky grammar people like the editors of the Chicago Manual of Style, whose latest edition was delayed by a weeks-long argument about em dashes versus en dashes. Hmmm…I’d have enjoyed being in on that debate.

Sometimes I’m OK with it. For example, “Web site” is almost always “website” now, and “e-mail” is becoming “email.” Are these gramatically correct? Nope. But I can live with them.

Other times I am not OK with new words and jargon. I believe they’re a direct result of our culture’s tremendous decrease in reading. It makes sense: Read more books, learn more words. Then you’ll always have a descriptive term up your sleeve and won’t need to make up dumb words like “sproingy.”

OR…When in Rome…

Maybe it would be fun to start making up the most dimwitted fake words in the world and insidiously spreading them amongst the non-reading masses via the good ole “Internets”

Anyone with me?

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4 thoughts on “When in Rome…? (or: How to deal with annoying fake words)

  1. I’m actually a convert on this argument. For a long time, I was dead set against impact as a verb, I’d lambast anyone who said “Hopefully,” and then anything else…

    and then a bio-major friend of my took me to task. How did I think language had evolved, if people hadn’t changed it? Did I really want a dead language, like Latin?

    And the answer was a resounding no.

    I like sproingy. Yeah, there’s probably a list of words that I could moosh (another favorite) together to describe a yarn, but sproingy has it all. The spring, the squish, the bounce, all together, and people in the community know what I mean. That’s what slang does.

    Like ginormous. Sure, gigantic or enormous are more proper — but when I use ginormous, it means that something is also funny, entertaining, I’m blowing it out of proportion. If I can communicate my message more succinctly and more eloquently…well, then, okay.

    Which doesn’t mean that I’m a fan of sloppy language. The word “impactful”, something I’m hearing in business all the time, pisses me off, because “meaningful” or “useful” are perfectly acceptable, accessible words, but they’re less trendy. You sound less in-the-know if you say “that plan will have great benefit to the company” as opposed to “That plan will be impactful.” What, it’ll leave a dent? Do we want that?

    Anyway, sorry that got so longwinded. I will close with my favorite Winston Churchill quotation (not quote, you’ll notice :) ), said when someone took him to task over ending a sentence with a preposition. His response? “There is some pedantry up with which I will not put.”

    Go Winston. :)

  2. “Impactful.” Oh, ouch, do they really say that? (Wincing.) “Touch base” announces “I’m insincere.”

    But you know a word the language needs? Donvier. As in the ice cream maker I wanted for Christmas 20 years ago, that my husband announced he wasn’t going to buy (you just freeze the base and twist a few times, rather than wear your arm out for a half hour.) We had a perfectly good ice cream maker. (Yeah, dude, and whose arm muscles…)

    So I did the obvious: I bought it for him. And donvier has ever since been the word for when you get something for someone else because it’s what YOU want.

    Human nature, if not the language itself, needs that word.

  3. “Touch base” isn’t a fake word, it’s a baseball reference–and as such, it makes complete sense. It may be overused and cliched, but that’s more a style issue, not an incorrectness issue.

    • Agreed! Good editorial eye, Mike! As a baseball fan (go Phillies!!!) I am familiar with the origins of “touch base” — I still HATE the way it’s (over)used nowadays.

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