Words Matter Week: Day #6

If you had to eliminate one word or phrase from the English language, what would it be? Why?

A certain supercilious, if not super-sillyus, character in English-language literature was heard to remark: “When I use a word . . . it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”


This Illustration was by Sir John Tenniel, for Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. It was obtained via Wikimedia Commons.

Then this pointedly opinionated fellow continued to egg on another young character (sorry, I could not resist), asserting that verbs are very nearly wild stallions galloping across an open plain. Such fluidity in language, where words exist anew in each person who uses them, does not a working human system make. However, it does pierce an arrow right at the heart of the issue of connotation and denotation (what a word could mean—what it implies or suggests—versus what a word does literally mean, usually as defined by an accepted reference source such as a dictionary). Said a slightly different way, are you a prescriptivist or a descriptivist with regard to language?

When I was younger, some words used to niggle: impact as a verb or idear for idea, for instance. But as time passed and I had more experiences and gained some knowledge, I ceased being a prescriptivist with respect to linguistics. Instead, I eased into linguistic description (or linguistic descriptivism). One might even say I matured into it.

So, I would not remove a single word from any world language, either extant or deceased. I would, however, remove many concepts or experiences: hatred, warfare, racism, classism, ignorance, murder, rape, child abuse and neglect, and death head the list. But, alas, I can sometimes be a bit of a head-in-the-clouds or clouds-in-the-head kind of gal. And yet I sincerely hope I am not the only dreamer.

What, if anything, would you remove from the lexicon, if you had the power?