Pet Peeves

Car ads on the radio

I listen to a lot of baseball, which means I’m forced to endure a lot of ads. The worst are for cars, where each has a now-mandatory overlay of bad, repetitive music. Usually it’s a small phrase of one to two seconds, which is looped, a monotony broken only by a non-articulate voice singing at random things like “Unh” and “Ugh”.

Worse, when one ad agency hears that another ad agency is moving to “Unh” music, the first agency will feel it has to fall in line. Soon, they are all doing it. They never come to the realization that all the ads sound the same, which is surely a bad thing.

It used to be that all car commercials had snippets from 1970 “hard” rock. That was equally bad. I can’t wait to hear what’s next.

Dear Car Manufacturers: I won’t buy your cars if I have to listen to these ads.

Stupid. Taglines. In Your Life.

Companies used to content themselves with being called by their names. Now they feel the necessity of adding a snappy tagline. This tagline, constrained by brevity, is nearly always asinine or stupid. Of course, this phenomenon isn’t constrained to taglines; it is often found in print advertisements where space is limited.

Copywriters are driven to punch up their four- or five-word allotment, and the mechanism they have chosen to use is the lowly period (full stop). Thus, we see phrases such as “It’s not fitness. It’s life.”, “Life. Worth Living.”, “You. On Vacation.”, “Impact. Make one.”

That last is from an ad for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, surely a cause worthy enough to deserve a tagline that is not an eyesore.

The larger question is this: Is this just another fad among advertisers, or are these ads a results of our ever-lessening attention spans?

Either way. Hemingway. Would not be proud.

(I admit a weakness for the tagline “Who, but W.B. Mason?”)


I’ve said before that when I am emperor, I shall ban the word “like”, and that those who use it will suffer greatly. And the same goes for “goes.”

Linguist John McWhorter writes that people who rely on these devices are engaged in mimicry, which is the opposite of “literary” speech. He claims, and all experience tells us, that this sort of thing is on the increase.

The natural explanation is that I suppose it’s difficult to develop a sufficiently varied vocabulary and to learn how to string words together in sequences longer than five when your reading consists of bus kiosk ads and video game directions.


Music is passion, and anybody can be excused for the occasional indulgence of allowing a melody to control their musculature while in public. But to close your eyes—actually squeeze them shut—and wag your head for more than thirty seconds is affectation.

I see this frequently on the train. A young man, usually thirty-ish, will see that there are desirable females within eyeshot. He will then go into an act of what he imagines one feels while in the throws of musical ecstasy. He will sway his head to the beat, one lip tucked under another.

Occasionally, he will open his eyes—the head will remain bopping—to see if he has caught somebody’s attention. If he thinks he has, he redoubles his efforts; his head will carve out larger arcs, he may sing softly. For all this work, I have never yet seen one of these men approach a woman to follow up. As a mating strategy, this is fairly weak.

If you did this kind of thing where I grew up, you would have found yourself smacked upside the head.

Unfunny Euphemisms

Regulars will know that I have an issue with “issue” as a euphemism for “problem.” I mention it again hoping to elicit your least favorite euphemisms.


Feel free to mention any. Except typos.


  1. Yooper Paul

    Bunny Hopping in Call of Duty Multiplayer….it’s so 2004, oh, and the word “preventative”, just rubs me the wrong way (incidentally, this list could go on for quite a few pages, I’m a tad compulsive).

  2. View from the Solent

    (in UK, don’t know if it’s prevalent on your side of the water) ‘affordable’, as in affordable housing etc. Meaning low in price or, more succinctly, cheap.
    Anyone who made or built a product that nobody could afford to buy or rent wouldn’t last long.

  3. David C.

    Actually, here in Western Pennsylvania, “Affordable” means “I can’t afford it”.

  4. John

    HIKE; When and why did prices, wages, interest rates stop: increasing; rocketing; soaring; jumping, or just going up?

    Neologisms are great but they should expand English not contract it by replacing other words. Also they should have some logical and novel derivation. How does a walk in the country relate to increasing prices, rates, etc?

    How was “hike” derived – perhaps some dumb anchor getting caught in some sort of mental abyss between a price spike and a price hiccup whilst on-air.

    I suppose it could have been worse – price/rate sickup… although on balance that carries a certain pertinence.

    Ad tags. This from EDF Energy (UK subsidiary of Electricité de France). Their ad, after yapping on about you-know-what-change and how to save energy and reduce electricity costs with windmills, has voice over on-screen tag,

    “Because…” SAVING TODAY “… means…” SAVING TOMORROW.

    Geddit everyone? And speaking of sickup.

    An advertising agency once told me they had been commissioned by tampon manufacturer to provide a strong ad countering a competitor, selling sanitary towels.

    The competitor ad tag for the towel was, “Brand A – Because…”

    My friend’s agency came up with a tag for the tampon company, “Brand B – insofaras…”

    It was never used for some reason.

  5. gcb

    As regards the use of the word “like” in conversations, my suspicion is that it’s being used as a place-holder while the speaker tries to finish their thought. It’s a direct result of speaking before thinking, which is itself (I believe) a consequence of the fact that modern conversations are less about “two people taking turns expressing thoughts and ideas” and more about “two people competing to fill the air with noise”.

  6. rpt

    Diversity….Political Correctness… Eveytime one of these is coinded, I check my walit and find its contents has decreased with out effort on my part….

  7. JHP

    “Sustainable development”. It just makes me itch.

  8. Swade016 (Wade Michaels)

    Sadly, my least favorite word (at this time) is “Awesome” (cue Eddie Izzard). Although, at work it has become quite fun trying to mash it into everyday conversation in ways that actually would enforce the word’s underlying meaning, except we only do this when someone uses the word poorly and we can mock both them and their usage simultaneously.


    [Person A] “This coffee is awesome”
    [Person B] “I can tell! I’m feeling awesomer just being next to you thanks to Trickle-Down Awesomenomics. I hope lunch is awesome too because I’ve had a truly disastrous day.”

    Oh, and I worry about the word “illegal”. Of all the words in the American lexicon, it’s losing its meaning by the day. It certainly no longer carries a negative connotation. It may end up like the word “like”….pointless subterfuge mixed into conversation.

  9. Kevin

    1) Socially responsible — meaning to hire goopey PR and social science types who will deflect the organization completely away from its mission and toward their interests.

    2) Sustainable — meaning unable to exist without subsidies taken from unsuspecting tax- or ratepayers.

    John: It is strange that people use price and hike together, but it does mean to raise or hoist.

  10. gcb

    “Green” (as in “environmentally-friendly”, itself a hideous term). These days it seems to mean “not as bad for the environment as it used to be”. By extension, “green-washing”, as the act of sprucing up a company’s environmental image.

  11. WJb

    Big, horrible, expansive, titanic, golf umbrellas on a street with two or more people.

  12. DAV

    Having issues can be a problem. Like. Way it goes. Unh?

  13. JH

    Don’t miss the “Buy More, Save More” deal at Oxymoron’s.

  14. Doug M

    Confusing Four Letter Acronymns (CFLAs).

    My boss likes to talk about the SLA. I thinking he means terrorists, and then the conversation goes to something less intersting.

    The MacArthur Foundation recently came up with “Working for a more just, peaceful and verdandant world.”

    I was quite distressed when I learned that my old high school hired a “drirector of multi-cultural affairs.”

    On hike, as someone who has had to write economic and market commentary, only so many words describe a price change. Hike is as good as the rest.

    WJb, explain the problem big umbrella for to me. I would use one of those when I would walk the dog. My wife tried to tell me that this is rude. I still don’t understand.

  15. j ferguson

    Reponsibly. I don’t want to drink responsibly.

  16. JJD

    “On the ground,” meaning “at some location.” As in “Betty is on the ground at the bank waiting for our call.” I think CNN started this one. And yes, “like” when used to describe dialog. “I was like, ‘My panties are like too tight,’ and he was like ‘Dude, I didn’t like know you like wear them.'”

  17. Ken

    My pet peeves:

    “insure” used when what is meant is to “ensure”

    “I could care less” when what is meant is “I couldN’T care less”

    As PT Barnum put it, ‘People are fools’ (I concede his well known line about fooling people some or all of the time was much longer, but I’m in a bit of a rush & need to “cut to the chase”). People are also lazy–physically & mentally–as a loose general rule.

    Of course, exceptions abound.

    Fools are like sheep, they find comfort in groups–herd mentality. That’s also easy. Thus, in modern culture with a more or less continuous onslaught of advertising telling you how to dress, look, smell, etc. — advertising carefully designed with use of social psychologists to not only target & play on people’s natural insecurities but to fuel them to make the suggested answer all that more appealing — people naturally gravitate to “simplistics” (that’s a word I might have just made up)…simple phrases, simple this, simple that all characterized by widespread use. From conformity comes comfort, people feel like they fit in (or at least don’t stand out incorrectly).

    Thus, trite marketing phrases like: “Life. Worth Living.” & “Impact. Make one” — all sound appealing as they reflect the person’s natural instinct to be themselves. And such marketing allows one to express their uniqueness & individuality while simultaneously force-fitting their personality & identity in fashion’s psychological cookie-cutter-du-jour. Now one can be independent & “self-actualized” while staying with the herd.

    Phrases, or abuse of words such as “like” all stem from youth following the inevitable rite of passage of rebelling against social norms by going out of their way to be different — while, within thier subculture, ensuring they’re still “following the follower” and conforming to thier set of [sub-group] norms. Inevitably, those new norms catch on & become more widespread & ordinary. Another example of more “following the followers.”

    That barely scratches the scratch on marketing psychology, but it commonly reflects a very sophisticated bit of psychological engineering. The best recourse is to simply not pay it any attention (even while its designed to intrude into one’s consciousness & force attention be paid).

  18. Hal

    How about the ghetto talk, “axe” for ask.
    EXCUSE: It’s easier to say.
    Buthe they still play basketball, not baxetball.

  19. Speed

    “Distinct possibility.”

    ScienceDaily (May 25, 2010) — The major earthquakes that devastated Chile earlier this year and which triggered the catastrophic Indonesian tsunami of 2004 are more than just a distinct possibility to strike the Pacific Northwest coast of the United States, scientists say.

    Perhaps the Pacific Northwest has passed a geologicaltipping point which will lead to the devastation of the fragile ecosystem surrounding Portland. I blame Big Oil and Global Warming. It’s unbelievable, unconscionable, unconceivable and inconceivable.

  20. Earle Williams

    One of my favorites:
    “Be original, join the Dr. Pepper crowd.”

    Impact. Like, make one.

  21. Yooper Paul

    “blah blah blah…and at the end of the day…”

  22. bgc

    “As regards the use of the word “like” in conversations, my suspicion is that it’s being used as a place-holder while the speaker tries to finish their thought.”

    Or possibly as they try to begin their thought.

  23. Ron C

    Dude, I’m like so tired of made-up words and phrases – they’re so old-school. TTFN.

  24. Ron C

    (Dang. Remembered one of my favorites right after I hit submit)

    Brooks – take a pill and chillax.

  25. Hilfy

    gcb, I have always considered “green-washing” as the condition of having bought into all the myriad environmental scams. I tend to apply it to people more than corporations.

    dearieme, funny, all those dead rats!

    Personally, I hate euphemisms that strive to make criminals appear as model citizens or at least not guilty in any way. And then there’s the ones they use to pretend that people are smart when they’re not.

    A pet peeve of mine is intentional misspellings used in company names and advertising. If you are making a word up, then you get to spell it how you want. The rest of the words already have a way that they are spelled.

  26. Doug M

    RCM Capital Management — Rosenberg Capital Management Capital Management.

  27. Doug M

    RCM Capital Management — RCM Capital Management

    ‘Naked short sellers’ If you are selling shorts, the least you could do is put a pair on yourself.

  28. bob

    “To be perfectly honest with you, …” Yeah. You have been lying to me all along.

    “Future plans…” I thoughts plans were about the future.

    “True freshman…” Only a college football coach could come up with this. What do they do with the false freshmen?

    “Live nudes…” I would never think of pulling off the interstate into a joint that featured dead nudes!

    The words “awesome” and “amazing” should be temporaily removed from vocabularies.

  29. Mikey

    Ken, couldn’t agree more with misuse of couldn’t care less. More frustrating are refusals of some to accept the logic against “I could care less.” I usually ask how much less?

    Along the same lines: “If you think x, you’ve got another THING coming.” Those using this phrase fail to recognize that it arises from failure of enunciation.

    Yooper, may I add “yada, yada, yada” and “the bottom line.”

  30. T. Murr


    It’s difficult not to go into a rage whenever I heard this word. I guess people think they’re being cute by using it, but it just sounds moronic.

  31. bgc

    Hilfy, one of my least favorite company names is FCUK. I hate walking around the shops and seeing this. I can just imagine the sniggering when they thought it up.

    Ken, an aside: “I could care less” seems to be an American usage. The Commonwealth version that I grew up with is “I couldn’t care less”, as a result I always mentally do a double-take when I hear the US version.

  32. C.K. Moore

    Newscasters who say “…three people in as many days have…”

    Is it bad to say “three” twice in one sentence?

  33. j ferguson

    The true facts.

    Well I suppose I could care less if i put my mind to it.


  34. Pat Crowley

    If I hear the word “TRANSPARENCY” one more time I think I am going to puke all over the television set.

  35. tmatsci

    I really loathe ‘going forward’. In most contexts it is an unnecessary addition to a sentence and anyway what has happened to ‘in the future’? In Australia our politicians constantly ramble on about ‘working families’ and ‘family values’. I wonder who are the non working families and what proportion of our population does not work and what are non family values. These are not really euphemisms but your blog seems to have degenerated into a rave about lousy expression and cliches. Absolutely

  36. Rich

    “These ones”. How is it better than “these”?

    Non-businesses acting like businesses. Why does the local Police force need a PR department? What is achieved by putting “Do the crime, pay the fine” on the side of a Police van? Apart from inviting citizens to do a cost-benefit analysis of crime instead of making a moral judgment about it.

    ‘to’ instead of ‘too’. ‘no’ instead of ‘know’.

  37. Hilfy

    bgc, yes, American usage for ignorant Americans. Non-ignorant Americans say “I couldn’t care less”.

    Down here in Florida we have the “Sun Cruz” line of gambling cruises. Pronounced phonetically, it’s private joke for me and my husband.

    T. Murr – thank you for mentioning one of my most hated made up words. Arrrgghhh – not again!

  38. brad tittle

    liberal — I went and looked up the definition one day and discovered that I was a liberal.

    I believe in liberty.
    I believe in freedom.
    I believe in letting you do what the hell you want.

    then comes the conservative aspects of my liberalism.

    I believe in letting you deal with the consequences of doing what the hell you want.

  39. Ray

    horrific. I hope something horrific happens to people who use that word.

  40. Rich


    You are a person who used the word. Now suffer the horror of some pedant pointing it out.

  41. Parabellum

    “Gifted” as in “He was gifted a gold watch.”

    We already have a perfectly good word for that. Given.

    Also, adults that use the word “yummy” need to be kicked in the shins hard.

  42. Briggs


    You win. I surrender “gifted.”

  43. JohnGalt

    Good morning, Mr. Briggs,

    I agree with parabellum (which means for war). I agree with your post as well. At least we’re now being spared those stupid BP ads.

  44. Curt

    Re: “I could care less”:

    Apparently, this started as an ironic/sarcastic idiom in the Jewish culture in the US, said with the proper inflection so it was obvious as such.

    Unfortunately, it was picked up by the irony-challenged, especially in the Gentile community…

    Re: “fragile ecosystem”:

    This is actually one of my pet peeves. I am still waiting for the news story that describes a “robust ecosystem”.

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