Changing gears #3: Word change

I sometimes find myself repeating the same clichés, expressions, and verbal shortcuts. The exercise for the rest of the week is to take one word or phrase you overuse or would prefer not to use, and not say it all.

(You can go to extremes here — consider, for example, the E-prime movement and their goal to avoid using “is.” Don’t make this too hard or you won’t do it.)

Here are some ideas:

  • “Sucks.” While English desperately needs a one-syllable verb that means that something is awful, “sucks” is a pretty repellant choice, and isn’t very professional. No fair replacing it with “blows” or “bites.” Instead, consider “fails” (popular lately) or a verb phrase such as “is truly awful.”
  • Swear words. Especially while at work, there are good and well-documented reasons not to swear. (Alternately, if you already never swear, then take this week as a chance to start.) I hate the traditional substitutions (such as “sugar” and “fudge”) but there’s an opportunity here to be creative and unique. My nearly-three-year-old son Sammy’s favorite word right now is “swoppy” (which has no fixed meaning to him) and I think it would make a marvelous swear. Battlestar Galactica has popularized “frak.” The 1980s film Johnny Dangerously featured Joe Piscopo’s character’s unique vocabulary, including “farging icehole.” If you’ve ever read a Tintin comic, Captain Haddock may inspire. And Shakespeare always had a curse ready.
  • “You’re kidding.” Many times when people say something, the automatic response is a not-very-reassuring statement of disbelief: “Oh really?” “No way.” “Get out of here.” Instead, try the opposite: “I believe you!” “Thank you for telling me.” “That sounds right.”
  • “Fine.” Someone asks you, “How are you?” Don’t answer with the rote. Be distinctive! “I’m ecstatic.” “Fair to middling.” “Better than tomorrow, but not as good as yesterday.”
  • “Bless you.” Whenever she hears someone sneeze, my sister never says “bless you” in English. Instead, she uses a foreign language: Most people know the German gesundheit, but there’s a wide range traditional responses around the world.

3 Responses to “Changing gears #3: Word change”

  1. Kimberly Says:

    You can’t say “xxx fails” though. You have to say “xxx is a fail”. or you know, an epic fail, depending on the circumstances 🙂

    I like your suggestions though, as I’ve been struggling to use nicer language, as I have friends with children.

  2. Stephen Says:

    But you don’t have to use “fail” in the lolcat phrasing way, right?

    Seems to me that saying “Vista fails” rolls off the tongue naturally and extends the current usage.

    Other alternatives?

    * Vista falls short.
    * Vista is weak.
    * Vista lacks.
    * Vista flops.
    * Vista flunks.

    I’m drawing a blank beyond that. (Here it is: ______)

  3. Scrappy Says:

    I made up a word a while back… CRUB… it’s kind of a cross between crap and um, something else. =)

    I am NOT about to start swearing at work since the guy who works on the other side of my cube does enough for everyone in my dept. (probably yours, too!) I think it’s unprofessional and even though I’m usually pretty easy going about peoples’ manner of speech, I find it very off-putting. Maybe now that I’m a mom I find it more offensive than before, but I still think it’s unnecessary. So there. =)

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