Words & Phrases That Need to Die

In which I do a snatch of etymological spring cleaning

Welcome back to the quarantine club, all. As the current, possibly false, warm spell increasingly causes us to actually take note of the outside world, we may find–at least I have–that a bit of spring cleaning is in order. Which I think goes especially for the collective English vocabulary.

(As Ron Weasley said, “She needs to sort out her priorities.”)

So, from me and several of my most opinionated friends, here is a list of words and phrases we wouldn’t miss if the coronavirus took them:

Impactful. Not a word. Well, word processors might recognize it now given its awful spread, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a word. Say something “makes an impact,” or “impacts” something else. Or, if you must use an adjective, use a real one!

Proactive. As my own father wrote to my fourth-grade teacher in a note attached to my homework, “‘active’ fits the bill.” You don’t ‘proact,’ do you? You act and react. When you want to stress the necessity of taking initiative, frame it in terms of being active versus reactive or passive. The pro– is obsolete.

Synergy. One of those corporate words, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. There is no shortage of other terms you could use to imply togetherness and collective energy. In fact, I just gave you two.

Iconic. A former professor mentioned how overused she finds this one to be. I admit my own guilt in that regard (using the word, not being it). Sure, we have plenty of people and places and events of note, and it’s all very well to render unto them what is due them–but if everything is iconic, then nothing is. (Except Freddie Mercury. He is perhaps the icon.)

Utilize. Strunk and White tear this one down in The Elements of Style, and when I read it as a verbose teenager I realized I agreed. Why all this syllabic clutter when “use” works just fine?

Meteoric rise. We get what you’re trying to say. But meteors don’t rise; they fall. I’m sure there’s some other space object we could substitute…I don’t know, a rocket, maybe…

The phobias. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of legitimate fears; this isn’t about those. One of the smartest people I know pointed out to me that the attachment of the Greek phobia to groups of people or ideologies (homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia) is misplaced. “It isn’t irrational fear,” he said, “it’s irrational hatred.” I’m a little stumped as to what to recommend in its place, other than…just not being those things, so we don’t need words for them.

Based off of. Drives me up the wall. Something is not based off something, it is based on it. Founded upon it. Built on top of it. An architect probably dies every time someone says this, or a construction worker is injured. I once had a professor who would take points off presentations if students used this phrase. My role model to this day.

Going viral. Need I explain what a sore spot this one will be by the time all of this is over?

So there’s your latest diversion–what words and phrases do you want to cleanse?

Published by Cecilia Gigliotti

Cecilia Gigliotti is a New Englander living in Berlin, Germany, with a beloved ukulele named Uke Skywalker. She writes and reads for a living; the rest of her time goes toward singing, dancing, drawing cartoons, trying to finish her Netflix queue, and devoting far too much thought to the foibles of her artist-heroes. Follow her on Twitter (@CeciliaGelato), Instagram (@c_m_giglio), and YouTube (Lia Lio),

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