Thursday, June 19, 2008

Words I Could Live Without

I cringe when I hear certain words--and because of where I live and the work I do, I cringe far too often.

For example:

Ministry. Half the people who hang out in any coffee shop in Western Michigan are there because they have a "ministry," which consists of (i) talking to each other (too loudly) about how their church's $5 million building expansion and audio-visual technology initiative will improve the church's "ministry" and (ii) explaining to you why you should join their church and help support its "exciting new ministry"--a $5 million building expansion and audio-visual technology initiative.

I think that only ordained ministers should have ministries. Everyone else should quietly sip their de-caf double mocha lattes, say their prayers, and do their best to live good lives.

And give the $5 million to the poor.

Stakeholder. In the world of social services, "stakeholders" are periodically given an opportunity for "input" on the "strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats" posed to the existing social services programs. Everyone, of course, is a "stakeholder." On any particular issue, your steak may be filet mignon and mine might be Salisbury, but we are both "stakeholders," so we must have an opportunity for "input," which must be grouped, reported, analyzed and arrayed across many multi-colored pie charts.

In every statistical report from "stakeholders," there must be several "compelling narratives."

I have no problem with strategic planning and am a sucker for a good story, but "stakeholder" is a word that should not be used outside of the cast list of a vampire movie.

Folks. In written reports, people are "clients" and "consumers,"* but when the report turns oral or someone asks a difficult question, people quickly become "these folks" and "those folks." "Folks" is a very strange word and, in this context, an odd usage--mixing condescension, familiarity, an "aw, shucks" populism, and the word's Germanic origins ("volks"--which means "people," but which also had a near mystical connotation in Nazi propaganda) into a totemic noun--an entity which has an undifferentiated face, a beehive's intellect, and a common--if sometimes, inscrutable--will. "These folks" are an entity which must be simultaneously admired, ignored, and served. Too often, any particular member of "those folks" is portrayed as "the Other"--a problem; a non-person to be denied services, punished, or avoided.

What are the words you hear (or read) too often and could live without?


*And of course, "stakeholders."


Blogger Karla Huston said...

I dislike the word share, as if what someone is sharing is something I want to receive.

Greg, please contact me. I want to talk to you about your poems but I am not a blogger. Find me at

4:45 PM  
Blogger Cindy Hunter Morgan said...

Utilize. That one really raises my hackles. There are also many words used in the marketing/public relations/advertising field that irritate me. Among them: "creative" and "key message."

9:22 PM  
Blogger Leslie said...

I hate when people verb nouns.

Like that.

8:11 AM  
Blogger Macy Swain said...

Ha ha! I especially chuckled at your take on "stakeholders." Vampires indeed!
I'm still cringing when I hear "impact" as a verb, but that's a battle long lost.
Cringe #2: the word "grow" as a verb, as in, "we're growing our ministries through lots of sharing with stakeholders." Those folks should only use "grow" when they're talking about corn.

8:13 AM  
Blogger Matthew Thorburn said...

Amen! I don't hear "ministry" much here in NY (surprise, surprise), but I can relate on the others. Working in corporate/law firm settings, "value" and "providing value" are the ones that I hear constantly, along with a lot of people overdoing it with the idea of a "brand" or "branding"...

Thanks for a good lunchtime laugh!

12:11 PM  
Blogger Mark Granier said...

Poetics: nearly always comes with a full tank of bilge.

Loo: what's wrong with toilet?

Closure: another euphemistic door slammed on meaning.

The usual suspects (fine in their own rights but obscene in the mouths of many politicians): Freedom, democracy, truth, justice, terrorism, patriotism etc.

1:15 PM  
Blogger Mark Granier said...

Also 'toxic', horribly overused, and the astonishingly aggreessive misuse of 'gay' for lousy/boring/drab/ etc. The first hijaccking of that adjective was bad enough (though perfectly understandable). The second makes no sense whatsoever.

Oh, and the advertising phrase "does what it says on the tin" which is parroted everywhere now.

1:22 PM  

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