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Archive for August, 2011

Issue 9

The modern age has plenty to praise. Space flight. TGVs. Mobile phones. Mobile discos. Kinder Eggs. Cheestrings. Wallander. But it also has rather a lot to answer for, including some of the most ridiculous misuse of language known to man. Today, Adrian Slatcher – poet, Manchester mover and shaker, and curator of The Art Of Fiction blog – picks a fight with the whole community. We mean it. Hold on to your hats.

Worst Word – by Adrian Slatcher

Community.

Have you ever met one? Have you ever been part of one? Unless you’re an Amish, then the answer is no, and they’ve probably got some special Amish word for it, like throng. (That’s a good word, by the way.)

Community used to a be a simple thing, usually attached to a centre, and open on Wednesday afternoons for tea dances and tombolas. Not any more. Community is what we all are – but only when someone wants something from us. People aren’t consulted any more, communities are. Care is in the community, meaning it’s not actually care at all; and if you’re part of a “community of interest”, you can guarantee that someone’s looking to tax you or make money out of you.

Artists don’t say “community”, activists don’t say “community”. Bureaucrats do, and I’m as guilty as any: talking about communiti(es) (plural) as if they’ve somehow been breeding like rabbits. The football season used to begin with the Charity Shield, which was brief and accurate; now it’s the Community Shield, sounding like it’s a particularly unpleasant brand of soap.

Save the word – make a satirical movie about alien invasions called Community, start a dub-grunge band called Community.

Whatever you do, don’t be part of one.

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Issue 8

Here at We Hate Words, we love a good cuss. Editor Clare is probably the most potty-mouthed person you are likely to meet. Her favourite swear is  “cock”. So anyone who tells us it’s not big and it’s not clever to utter profanities gets royally told to get to fuck. Anyone, that is, apart from this week’s word-hater Sal Page, who can’t stand no more shit, y’all. She does quite often like words, however, as her blog Cobbled Together demonstrates.

Worst Word – by Sal Page

Shit. I never thought I’d use this particular word as an opener for anything I wrote and I’m acutely aware of how proud my mother will be reading this. I don’t really object to using this word for, say, “There’s bird shit down the window” or, even, “I’m going for a shit”. So often the word shit is used instead of “stuff” or “rubbish”. Call me an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy but I’m sure we used to manage fine with stuff and rubbish. Is stuff and rubbish not good enough any more?

Not long ago I overheard a boy say to his friend, “Let’s go to that shop that sells DVDs and shit.” What an unusual combination. Bet they sell a lot more DVDs than shit. And who wants to choose DVDs in shop with shit in it? Not me. I don’t even think Amazon sell shit. Do they?

Then there’s “I don’t give shit”, which means you probably need to see a doctor or at least make discreet inquiries in Boots. “Full of shit” is also worrying but easily remedied. “Get my shit together” I assume means “get organised” or is possibly something to do with packing for a holiday. Organise everything else and the shit will take care of myself but don’t take shit on holiday. No doubt there’ll be some there when you arrive.

I’m amazed at how often “I was shitting myself” is used as a substitute for being a bit scared or nervous. I’ve heard a famous-for-being-a-celebrity young woman use this expression, all done up and being interviewed on television. “Can you hear yourself?” I shouted at the screen. If she’d actually been shitting herself I have a feeling she wouldn’t have mentioned it. Who was it? No idea.

Someone in my Twitter timeline recently referred to one of those Prince Charles’ products as “shit biscuits”. (Sorry if you know who you are…) I really don’t want that recipe and not even Jamie Oliver or Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall themselves could persuade me.

Does this mean I’ve finally slipped into full-blown Grumpy Old Woman or… am I just talking crap?

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Issue 7

It’s Wednesday. Literally. Literally, it’s Wednesday. Which means it’s time for some more word hatred, this time from writer and lecturer Calum Kerr, who posts a piece of flash fiction every single day of the goddamn year right here.

Worst Word – by Calum Kerr

I don’t know what I’m doing here. I literally love words.

By which, of course, I mean that I send them little notes, flowers, chocolates and sex toys in the post. I ring them up in the middle of the afternoon, not because I have anything to say, simply to hear their voice. I print them out on paper and take them to bed and lie down with them and…

OK. No. I don’t. I don’t literally love words. I do love them, though – I use them every day in the stories I write, in the emails I send, in the Facebook updates I craft, on the phone ordering pizza, in shops buying pizza, in restaurants sending back under-topped pizza. I use them and I value them and I don’t know where I’d be without them. See, I’m even using them right now, and I’m being careful only to pick the best and most succulent words for you (these aren’t just words… these are WHW words…).

But, in amongst the words which drive me up the wall (‘relatable’ being my absolute bugbear, but a rather specialised one) is the word ‘literally’. Now, I know that literally some people have complained about it over literally some years, but I’m calling for an outright ban. It’s not just that it is used incorrectly more often than not. I don’t think we need this word at all.

Let’s look at it. What does it mean?

It means that something is surprisingly true according to the dictionary definition of the words it describes. It means that the topic under discussion actually, really and truly is the way it was stated.

All of which is fine. But it means much more than that. After all, if that was all it was, we could just say what we mean without it. We’re not liars, we don’t make things up, people shouldn’t expect our words to mean something other than they do. You shouldn’t have to walk around making excuses for describing the world the way you see it, should you? I mean, who do these people think they are, questioning your good name and your good intentions? Here you are, just trying to hold a civilised conversation and these people are literally driving you up the wall!

Ahh…

Yes…

There it is…

That’s the problem with this word. It’s lost its way. It’s become an intensifier, a way to say that the thing you are describing is an extreme version of its type. But that’s not what it means. In this case it would mean that the person put you in their car and defied the law of gravity.

“I was so thirsty, I was literally spitting feathers.”

Unless you were thirsty because you ate a parrot, no you weren’t.

“I was so angry, I was literally seeing red.”

See a doctor. That sounds like burst blood vessels.

“He was, like, literally thirteen feet tall.”

Call the Guinness Book of Records. And stop using ‘like’ as well.

No, the only excuse for using the word is when something traditionally metaphorical happens.

A plane full of pets springs a leak? It’s literally raining cats and dogs.

Someone lets a large male bovine into a gift emporium? There’s literally a bull in a china shop.

Beating your head against a concrete wall? It’s literally like beating your head against a brick wall.

And on, and on.

These are the only times to use this word, but we don’t need it even then, because if the person you are talking to has half a brain (and I know there is every chance that they don’t, but let’s suppose) then they understand the joke you are making. Using the word ‘literally’ just suggests that you are unsure you have conveyed the strangeness of the situation correctly so you feel the need to add a signpost.

So, let’s get rid of this word. Literally come with me on my journey of freedom. Literally cast off your shackles and literally set yourself free!

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Another week, another word-hating punch-up. Today, it’s “spud” that gets soil kicked in its eye by anti-vegetable activist Frank I Swannack. Frank probably does like vegetables, really. In any case, he really likes English Renaissance literature, which he writes about here.

Worst Word – by Frank I Swannack

There’s no need to shamefully quote spud out of context for cheap laughs, or mash its multiple definitions to a meaningless and tasteless, albeit fluffy, pulp. It’s just bloody awful.

I apologise in advance if you know someone whose child or beloved Poodle is nicknamed Spud. I also realise that some people find poetaetoe tricky to spell, so spud provides a less embarrassing alternative for those all-important office emails. But let’s not kid ourselves here: the word is, in a word, an obstinate skidmark on our vegetable souls. I’m not sure what that last sentence means, but the philosophical phraseology illustrates my other beef with spud – it doesn’t exactly endear itself to poetic language.

I truly appreciate how spud humbles the righteous King Edward – come to think of it, what was the herbalist John Gerard thinking when he wrote the first description of the potato in English in The Herball Or Generall Historie Of Plantes in 1597? Having mistakenly thought that the bogstandard potato was American, he named it “the Virginian potato”, thus committing the ill-shaped monstrosity to a semantic madhouse that started a confusion with the red sweet potato, which he simply called “potato”.

Unfortunately, even with all the digressions in the world, there’s still no escaping the sad fact that even as a noun, spud sounds and looks ridiculous. Be honest, when was the last time you said it, wrote it, peeled one?

This little test should finally convince you – say spud out loud in the office without attracting incomprehensible looks from harassed work colleagues. Then repeat it nose-to-nose in front of their ruddy faces. Comprendez? – even the Spanish are not entirely innocent concerning the Solanum tuberosum’s linguistic history, try Tweeting “patata” after a few glasses of plonk. I think you’ll agree that the word, noun, verb, unpleasant brown stain, whatever you want to call it, single-handedly debases a sophisticated mode of communication into Neanderthal mono-rhythmic nonsense. Spud-U-Like, anyone?

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Issue 5

Well, Wednesday is here again. Well well well. And this Wednesday, we have none other than Fat Roland railing against the word “well”. Fat Roland writes about electronica on the award-winning blog, er, Fat Roland On Electronica, and he also posts “fiction noodlings” (his words) at Italic Eyeball.

Worst Word – by Fat Roland

What do you call a stinking, dirt-smeared hole in the earth whose only contribution to fiction is as a device allowing stupid boys or hapless puppies to drown in its hidden watery depths or die of isolated starvation?

“Well” is the word you’re looking for. Wells kill children. They kill puppies. They also provide valuable drinking water for some of the most vulnerable people in the world, but for the purposes of me painting wells to be humanity’s greatest threat, LET’S PRETEND THAT NEVER HAPPENS.

Well. Where am I going with this? Well. Let me think. Well…

Any writer who peppers their dialogue with the defunct rhythmic vocal tick “well” deserves to plunge a bucket into that proverbial well and drench their stories with ecoli-ridden turd-infested drain water. You might as well (GEDDIT?!?!?) , since you seem to have so little confidence in your writing that you have to rely on real-world annoyances such as “well” and “y’know” and “I see.”

Here’s an example from my unwritten ten-part science fiction series The Octonauts Invade Uranus. We join it at a moment that should be full of tension and, therefore, tight writing.

“Doctor Fapto, how long until the asteroid hits us?”

“Well. My calculations suggest…”

“GET OUT. GET OUT OF THIS SPACESHIP NOW.”

If your mind hesitates to come up with something truly snappy and original, don’t dot your manuscript with that same hesitation. Real-life people say “well”: office workers; laboratory technicians; photocopier salespeople. You are not writing real life: you are sculpting dialogue. Sculpting. Michaelangelo probably gave David more than one willy, but he had the courtesy to give the statue an extra chisel here and there before he took a step back and declared it a masterpiece. You should do the same with your dialogue. And quickly, before the asteroid hits.

Wells kill. Wells kill children. Wells kill small animals. And wells kill the flow of your fiction. They also force me to dredge up astronomy and sculpting metaphors because I wasn’t sure the well metaphor was working. See what you’ve done? SEE WHAT YOU’VE DONE? Well. I hope you’re happy.

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