The Five Worst People in America: Language Edition

Folks love disrespect in list form.  Believe it or not, there’s an anti texting-while-driving portion at that link which prompted one Sweet Reader to write to her local newspaper offering $20 to anyone who caught her texting at the wheel in her Key Biscayne neighborhood.  The letter asked others to make the same pledge.  No word yet on whether that letter has made her any poorer, but hearing about that felt good.

This time around, I’m exploring the written word.  No money needs to change hands.  If I can make the world a safer place for one reader, it will be worth it.


5 – People Who Use “Period” to Emphasize an Opinion.

Your source for Language Arts.

Martin Scorcese is the best director alive, period.  David Sedaris is the funniest memoirist ever – period.  Breaking Bad is the greatest television show of all time; period.

I understand using this in conversation.  Say you tell a group of people “Pulp Fiction is my favorite movie.”  All it takes is one raised eyebrow and you find yourself qualifying.  “Well, my favorite Tarantino movie,” or  “My favorite 90’s movie” or “My favorite movie with a cameo by a giant needle”.

When someone gives you that “Seriously?” face, the power move is to look the skeptic in the eye and declare, “Period.”  There’s nothing more to say on the topic.  You’ve drawn your line in the sand.

“McDonald’s fries are better than Burger King.  Period.”

For the written word, on the other hand, there’s a lovely invention which encapsulates this whole exchange.  It’s called a “period” and it comes at the end of a sentence.  Writing the word “period” after you’ve already ended a sentence doesn’t emphasize your point, it just makes you seem whiny.

“Well… the McDonald’s near my house, anyway.”

It’s everywhere, online reviews, articles, etc. but it bothers me the most on book blurbs.  You’d think the writers coming up with these quotes and the marketers using them would know better.  When you throw “Authorton McWriterface’s Opus is the best book you’ll read this year, period.” at me, not only does it nullify your praise, I will hate you for coming up with the quote in the first place.  I’ll probably hate McWriterface for good measure, and I’ll automatically hate Opus without even reading it.

If there’s an exception to this rule, it’s when “period” follows an ellipsis.

Citizen Kane is the greatest movie ever filmed. . . period.”

“Whitney Houston is the most talented singer of all time. . . period.”

“Dark chocolate peanut M&Ms are the best candy since the invention of sweets. . . period.”

It’s like, wait for it. . . wait for it. . . IN YOUR FACE, JACKWEED.  Still, you’re not fooling anybody.  I know what you really wanted to do with that period, and I don’t like it.

4 – People Who Use Nouns as Verbs


I’m not trying to freeze language in some time capsule, where “impacting” isn’t a real word and “conversate” never will be (I’m sorry, but one day children will conversate instead of conversing; I just hope a meteor destroys all life on the planet before we see civilization degraded to that level).  Language isn’t static, it’s ever-evolving in an effort to improve communication, even when remixing sentence structure and mashing different words together.  Where would the human race be without “I say you he dead,” “bromance,” or “chillax?”

But if you’re “summering” – as in, “We’re summering in the Hamptons” – then just fuck right off.   Should you find yourself “journaling” rather than writing in your journal, then I hope your pen slips and you stab yourself in the arm.  Not hard enough to puncture your skin, just hard enough so you realize your mistake.  If you find yourself “movieing” one date night then I curse you with a Bruckheimerplosion (TM!) of crap.  Of course, your summering, journaling, revisioning ass would probably like it.

The point is, you can’t add “-ing” to whatever word you like and call it good.  And if you’ve succumbed to the trend so readily that you’ve dubbed it “verbing,” please punch yourself in the face.  Hard.  We’re open-minded about common usage here, not dynamiting the dam.

The exception to this – of course – is partying.

3 – People Who Use Verbs as Nouns (IE, #4’s Ugly Cousin)


Obviously the biggest offender here is “fail,” courtesy of the blog.  I know I preached tolerance in the prior entry, and future generations will think nothing of calling out “fail” when their friends drop the ball (or when a zombie bites them, depending on your view of the future), but nothing sets my teeth to grinding like hearing “fail” where I’ve been hearing “failure” my entire life.  Aesthetically, “That was a fail” is like sucking cold clam chowder through a pirouette cookie.

The only reason this doesn’t hold the #1 slot is because other verbs being used as nouns come across just fine.  A book can be a great read, sometimes “a disconnect” more accurately describes a communication problem than “a discrepancy,” and calling a sit down a meeting “a sit” can be pretty badass.


2 – People Whose Ignorance Invents Language

what you think it means
“You keep using that word… please stop.”

I suppose verbing and nouning could fall under this heading, but I’m talking about a very specific person here.  This isn’t someone being cute with words, this is someone trying hard to be linguistically correct and failing utterly.  This is a sous-chef who’s sure she’s heard the Chef correctly and blazes ahead because this is going to be the best side of piss-and-carrots anyone’s ever had.

16th century , int. deck of a large sailing vessel.  

CAPTAIN JACK and FIRST MATE NATE discuss a new recruit.

CAPTAIN JACK: Nate, how goes Walter’s performance so far?  It seems to me he’s foundering.


CAPTAIN JACK: Aye.  When he’s not puking over the railing, he’s getting in other people’s way.  The man is a mess.

FIRST MATE NATE: He might not be cut out for this, Captain.

CAPTAIN JACK: Work with him.  Keep me abreast.

Nate has no idea what “foundering” means but he thinks he does.  He’s seen fish out of water often enough to know the Captain must have said “floundering,” so he goes about the rest of the journey promising to save Walter from floundering.  Nate’s got a big mouth, and he’s not the only idiot in the world, so soon enough “floundering” becomes a thing to describe people struggling.  Nate also has a fair idea of what the Captain means by “abreast.”  Guess what?  He’s wrong about that one, too.

What, you don’t agree with my amateur linguistics?  It’s happening right now with death-defying.  – right now:

deft screenshot

Google deft defying if you don’t believe me.  The justification for this atrocity goes that if you’re agile enough to escape a deadly situation, then you’ve deftly avoided death.  Or you’re so graceful, it flies in the face of logic.  Either way, you’re “deft-defying” rather than “death-defying.”  This proves my point.  These people aren’t idiots in the sense that they’re ignorant, they’re idiots in the sense that they refuse to learn.  They want to turn a bit of understanding into full knowledge.  Someone corrected First Mate Nate at some point, and he testily responded with, “Fish flop around when they’re out of water, don’t be stupid.”  Then the person who knew what foundering (or death-defying or champing at the bit) meant walked away doubting himself.  “Nate makes sense.  I can’t believe I thought it was foundering.  Or maybe they’re both words and they mean different things?”

Sorry, no.  People chomp.  Horses champ.  Don’t ask me why.  They aren’t interchangable and they don’t mean two different things, you just misunderstood and now you’re wandering around chomping at the bit.  And in refusing to admit you’re wrong, and justifying your abuse of the English language, you’ve become a prize idiot.

C’mon, Jefe- don’t bullshit; just ask El Guapo what a plethora is.

This rule has no exception.  Period.


1 – Hyperbolists Who Have Hijacked Language

Most! Best! Ever! 

“That new smoothie place on Alcazar?  You have to go, it’s so awesome.”

I’ve never had a blend of fruit and protein supplement which has overwhelmed me with fear and / or reverence at it’s power, but I’ve only been to Smoothie King and Jamba Juice.  Maybe I just need to get out more.

We don’t misuse the word “awe”, yet we’ve overused awesome on quotidian things so much that most of the time when we say something is awesome, we mean the opposite.

 Bob: I think we just ran out of gas.

Frank: Awesome.

Eliza: Can you help me move this weekend?

Lulu: Awesome.

Tony: I think we snorted heroin instead of cocaine.

Heather: Awesome.

I guess that last one could go either way.  Anyway, the problem goes much further than awesome abuse.  Everything on the internet is screaming for your attention, all the time.  Topics can’t be mildly upsetting, they’ve got to be ultimately horrifying.  Something isn’t really good, or even great, it’s orgasmically mind-blowing.  I put this at #1 because it annoys me the most but I’m guilty of it, too.  Until I started writing on the internet, I didn’t have editing passes devoted to removing hyperbole.  This list started out as Five People I Hate and in a grab for more eyeballs, it became the Five Worst People in America.  It’s made me look in the mirror, and the reflection isn’t pretty.

What makes all this hyperbole so upsetting is that done right (meaning the person using it is aware that they’re being ridiculous) it’s funny.  Not hysterical, not pee-your-pants hilarious, just funny.

Words matter.  And when everything is the best in the history of ever, then nothing matters.


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