Words that set our teeth on edge

I had a Twitter conversation recently with Ashleigh Grange of Plush Text Communications and Janine Libbey of P & L Translations about words we dislike. Ashleigh’s language bugbear of the day was incentivise, Janine’s prioritise and mine diarise. My current handbag-book for the train and doctors’/dentists’ waiting rooms is “The English Language” by David Crystal. I was surprised to find there that diarise has been setting people’s teeth on edge since 1954. The first edition of Sir Ernest Gowers’ “The Complete Plain Words” listed it then, along with publicize, hospitalize, finalize and casualize (employ casual labour), as words to avoid. By the time the third edition came out in 1986,

the objections to publicize and the others are no longer cited. Instead, new -ize words are mentioned as currently attracting opposition, such as prioritize and routinize.

Confession: I find incentivise quite useful in certain contexts. In sentences, for instance, like “The Italian Government has passed a new law incentivising energy-saving and the use of renewables” (referring to specific incentives such as tax breaks).

And prioritising seems like a valuable and much-needed skill when I contemplate my lengthening to-do list.

We all have words we love or loathe, not necessarily for any rational reason. If I find incentivise and prioritise useful in their concision, why do I dislike the equally concise diarise so much? Anyway, I’d love to hear your pet hates, rational or not, in the comments.

By Marian Dougan

Published by Marian Dougan

Marian is a translator and editor (specialising in web content) currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Marian previously lived in Italy for over 20 years, working as a language teacher, translator and policy analyst with the British Embassy in Rome. A qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and its Italian-language and ITI Scotnet networks, she is currently Scotnet's Convenor and Deputy Webmaster. From 2003 to 2006 Marian taught translation skills at the Italian Department of Glasgow University and now gives Master Classes as part of the new Masters in Translation Studies course. She also conducts web-writing and usability workshops to help people improve their websites and communicate more effectively with their readers, users and customers. In September 2014 Marian obtained User Experience Certification, with specialisation in Web Design, from the Nielsen Norman Group. She loves language, especially English, and is convinced that learning languages opens up people’s minds and horizons (and increases their brainpower!). To share her enthusiasm, she advises schools and educational authorities on language skills and enterprise. She gives talks to pupils on how to combine language studies with other subjects and so enhance their potential and increase their career options. Marian is an active member of organisations such as: Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI); Association of Scottish Businesswomen; Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Scotland. She also loves architecture, design, fashion (British Vogue!), cities and chocolate. She’s a great fan of Twitter and you can also find her on Linkedin.

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  1. A sentence from our mag last week: “The challenge they face is how to do that on products with such low storageability and short life as cut flowers.” Yup, storageability.

    1. Confession: I use “deploy” quite often but mainly in a military context (I do a lot of foreign policy translations so UN and EU missions to Lebanon, Afghanistan etc). Lanciare comes up all the time in Italian texts and I do salti mortali (I wish!) to avoid translating it as launch.

  2. What really sets my teeth on edge are North Americans who drop the ‘h’ from herb and say ‘erb’. My wife does it and it literally (yes, really) causes me pain.

    ‘Medal’ and ‘Podium’ used as verbs make me twitch too, and the business phrase I loathe the most is ‘touch base’.

    So “You should touch base with the guy who podiumed in the erb growing contest” is probably a sentence you should never use around me.

  3. Great post, Marian! I still don’t like any of the three bugbears! I’ve posted a link to this on our Facebook page. Let’s see if some more people share their pet peeves.

    1. Thanks, Janine. “Parenting” and “myself” when used in wrong context (as in ‘contact myself’) were mentioned on Twitter. It’s fun finding out people’s pet hates!

  4. Several years ago, I opened a ready-meal which came, the directions told me, in an “ovenable” container.

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