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June 26, 2022

Pet Peeves: Pretentiously Incorrect Words (And Open Thread)

I’m not a grammar snob.

I don’t mind bad grammar or incorrect word usage – there’s probably plenty of it in my writing. I just can’t stand pretentiously incorrect word usage. That’s why I cringe when it’s the result of journalists or business leaders incorrectly using fancy words.

Here are a few:

RETICENT – Journalists love this word. And almost none of them knows what it means. It does not mean “reluctant” or “hesitant” or some mash-up of those two words. It means someone chooses not to speak or share his thoughts. The most awkward use of the word is when a journalist writes that someone “was reticent to speak.” That hurts my eyeballs. No, if he chose not to speak, he was simply being reticent.

INFLECTION POINT – An inflection point is neither a ceiling nor a fork in the road. A line that is increasing will continue to increase after an inflection point, albeit with a different curve and a change in the dominant axis.

LEARNING CURVE – This is another statistical term misused by people who don’t know what it means. A steep learning curve means that learning the task is easy, therefore the learning rapidly moves up the y-axis. A flat learning curve means that one learns slowly. Pretty much everyone who uses the term “steep learning curve” means “flat learning curve,” and I want to correct each and every one of them.

FEWER THAN - We all know the grammatical rule “less money / fewer dollars.” We know not to say “less dollars.” But if “fewer than ten dollars” sounds awkward, that’s because it is awkward. It should be “less than 10 dollars.“ I’m not sure how the “fewer than” trend started. I’ll blame journalists who are afraid of being mocked for getting fewer/less wrong. The grammar.com website backs me up on this.

Thus, in a word, use less when you cannot count the noun modified. Use fewer when you can. Use less with singular nouns; fewer, with plural nouns. But if you’re using a plural noun to measure a chunk or amount of money or time, then you should use less (less than five years, less than 2,500 dollars).

One more thing…this isn’t a grammar peeve, or actually a peeve at all, I’m just curious why so many people started using the word “whilst.” Several friends I grew up with in the Texas suburbs several decades ago now use the word “whilst” instead of “while.” I know that they didn’t use that word while growing up. How did it become so widely used here in the States? Was there some British show that everyone watched except for me? I never read or watched Harry Potter, is that where it came from?

Do you have any grammar pet peeves?

Just for fun, feel free to correct me on any bad grammar or word usage you find in this post. I deserve it!

Also, Open Thread.

Drive slowly.JPG

(buck.throckmorton at protonmail dot com)

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posted by Buck Throckmorton at 02:00 PM

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