Fingernails on a Blackboard

I’ve always enjoyed learning about words—their meanings and origins—and like anyone who spends a fair portion of their time working with them, I have compiled a list of a few words and phrases that strike me as being either frequently misused and/or over-used. Perhaps you will relate to some of these…

Vintage writer feeling fatigued begins to nod off#1) Give back: This seems most appropriate in a general sense, as in, “I feel indebted to those in the military and want to ‘give back’ in some way.” But I find this phrase being used all the time in place of “contribute” and “donate.” Don’t ask someone to “give back” if you haven’t given them something first; when what you really want is a contribution or donation.

#2) Climate Change: The evolved form of “Global Warming,” used pretty much exclusively as an emotionally charged term to manipulate others. If one has a science-based point that refutes so called “consensus” (which is how true science works), such a person is then labeled a “denier.” Here’s a news flash: the climate has always, and will always, change.

#3) Reach out: This overused phrase is what some marketing people apparently believe to be a more palatable or amicable way to say “contact.” The follow-up to reach out, used to replace just that—follow up—is the over-used phrase, “circle back.”

#4) Sustainable: An overused word cleverly used mostly as a way to market things; particularly agricultural products. In the 1970s, I think we used “ecological” instead. Honestly, does anyone really believe that professional farmers only plan on planting and harvesting one crop without thinking about what’s next? The word “organic” is a close cousin of sustainable that I wouldn’t mind not hearing so often, along with “all natural,” and its nemesis, “artificial.”

#5) Folks: This word is regularly overused by the smartest man alive (not to be confused with the most interesting man alive who drinks Dos Equis). I suppose he thinks it makes him more relatable to us “common folks,” because referring to us as “people,” “individuals,” or “citizens,” might go too far and allow us to believe we just might be close to his level.

#6) Free: I saved a big one for last. Now I’m not one to suggest banning words, but in this case, I would make an exception for politicians and the government. Did you know that in the U.S. we have programs where you can get free stuff? They actually call it “free.” Phones, medical care and food are but a few, and some are running for office offering to add college education. Unless one is a complete idiot, surely we all know that none of these things are free (unless donated). Let’s demand honesty and call it what is: Paid for by someone else.

So there you have it—some words and phrases that give me that “fingernails on a blackboard” shudder. I’d love to learn if you have a similar list, but  in the mean time,  feel free to reach out and let me know of any sustainable, yet free ways that other folks might give back to our world, working to halt climate change.