Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Overuse it and . . . lose it

There are some words which are used incorrectly just because there's a poor understanding of how they're supposed to be used. "Irony" is an example. "Literally" and "figuratively" are examples. I'm sure you can come up with many examples of your own.

Then there are words that are used not-quite-correctly – but exactly as the user intends. In many cases, they fall into frequent, almost-constant, usage. Overused, for sure. "Fantastic" has been used this way for so many years now that no one would consider using it in its real literal meaning. "Fantastic," by the dictionary, means: Quaint or strange in form, conception, or appearance; Unrestrainedly fanciful; Bizarre, as in form or appearance; Based on or existing only in fantasy; unreal.

I have one friend who dismisses the possibility of ever respecting a person who uses the word "fantastic" as a simple superlative. "What a fantastic day." "That's fantastic pasta."

It's almost become a clich̩ to complain about the overuse of "awesome." This has moved from young people Рwhere the trend really started Рand is now ubiquitous. I confess, I don't always hate hearing something described as "awesome," even when it's not. And I sometimes like it when I hear the noun form used by an otherwise articulate teen: "I was blown away by the awesomeness of this book."

And then there's "icon" and "iconic." In the past little while, I've seen a young woman (in her 30s) described as a feminist icon, an Olympic swimmer as a swimming icon and really, any number of people as musical icons. I've seen a French cheese described as iconic.

Come on, you people. Enough with the icons.

My last irksome entry for today is one I haven't seen anyone else complain about but it's becoming increasingly commonly used. It is "passion." I have heard people say they have a passion for food ... a passion for gardening ... a passion for bird-watching. Isn't that a little over-the-top? I will accept it if you have a passion for Bach. Or Shakespeare. Or for your spouse. But it's getting tiresome to see "passion" so devalued which, I'm afraid, happens when you use it to describe how you feel about your cat.

Fantastic, iconic, awesome, passion – they're grand words but I fear they're gone for good and it's too late to save them. What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. Going forward, it's all good. One that gets on my nerves is the use of "need" when what it meant is "must". "You need to go to the end of the line." Peter Newman made a very creative mistake in a "Maclean's" column before Conrad Black went to jail. He showed a picture of Conrad and Barbara in Lord and Lady garb and said something about them "flounting" their wealth. The mix of flaunt and flounce was, I thought, amusingly apt. It was certainly better than suggesting that some people flaunt the law when what is meant is that they flout it. To conclude, what is so hard about bring and take? You bring here. You take there. Did you know that the British education ministry has decided to do away with the differentiation between "its" and "it's"? Just too tough, they said.