A bit of a rant about the use/misuse of words

By Bernie Bell

This was prompted by a friend questioning my use of the word ’iconic’ in relation to this image

World War 1 troops and biplane at Stonehenge

And this was my response……….

“In times of war, all else is subsumed to The War Effort.  I would call this image, iconic, because……….I see an icon, as being an image which encapsulates many concepts, in one image. Or, encapsulates a huge concept, in one image.  From the old religious icons, which would be one image, that ‘told’ a whole story.

I agree, as with a lot of words, it’s over-used, and often used incorrectly today,  but I see this as a truly iconic image, because, well, just look at it!  There’s Stonehenge, and there are the roads, and all those columns of men, marching – how many of those out-lived the war? And, above it all, a bi-plane – a symbol of ‘modern life’, and new developments – and yet, people are still marching to war, and dis-regarding ancient sites of great meaning and reverence,  which used to be used for celebratory gatherings by people.  I could go on and on. This image, knocked me for six, there’s so much there, all in one image. Iconic.

Other words which I think are over-used or wrongly used, today……….’Devastated’, everyone is “Devastated’ about…everything!  Do they have any idea of what it’s like, to have something really, truly devastating happen to you?

‘Absolutely’ – every-one, responds to everything, with “Absolutely”. It’s a good, strong word, but becomes meaningless, when it’s used where “Yes” is all that’s needed, or meant.

The other mis-use of words is often to do with illness, or medical conditions.  People don’t say they’re going to the dentist, they say they’re going to the orthodontist, and they don’t say they’re going to the opticians, they’re going to the optometrist.  And……they don’t have a cold, they have flu. They don’t have  a head-ache, they have migraine, they’re not fed up, they’re ‘depressed’. These terms are often used, implying that people have serious conditions, when they don’t – and, again, do they know what it’s like to actually experience those conditions? If you’re not sure whether it’s a headache or a migraine – it’s a headache. If you’re not sure whether it’s a cold, or ‘flu – it’s a cold.  With a headache or cold, you can function, with a migraine or ‘flu, you can’t – you just can’t.

I’m herumphing a bit here, but it’s something which is creeping into our use of language. Always something more excessive than is needed, or meant. As with what you pick up on, with the use of iconic – it’s often used to just mean impressive – which is a different thing!  In this case, I did mean iconic.”


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7 replies »

      • It may have been, Bernie! Hence the smilie. But a sentiment I heartily agree with. As with ‘most unique’.

  1. I agree with what you say and in many cases blame the Americans who will always use a more weighty-sounding word. Unfortunately, we seem to follow them. Can I add the truly dreadful use of “awesome”? Oh and the increasing use of “critters”. Language changes, of course it does, but it doesn’t mean that we have to meekly accept these changes, especially when they are for the worse. One Americanism that always makes me laugh is “careen” instead of “career”, in the sense of “careering down a slope”. Careen means to turn a boat upside down in order to scrape the barnacles off its bottom – but not in the USA!

    • In Ireland we use a derivative of critter- or perhaps it’s a derivative of the Irish. It’s ‘cratur’ It means the same-a creature. Usually in a pitying sense, as in ‘awww, the poor wee cratur’ often referring to sick children, but also to whiskey, as in ‘d’you fancy a glass of the cratur?’ It’s an old phrase. My gran, who was born in 1880, used it constantly.

  2. And don’t get me started on ‘official-speak’ – where ‘re-structuring’ usually means cutting staff and/or services – places become ‘facilities’, and people become ‘operatives’. Grrrrrrrrrr

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