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Wilf Popoff

WASTED WORDS: My hit list

A two-story house is burning, filled with flames that are coming out through the front porch, upstairs windows, and through the roof. Four firemen in gear, with their backs to us, are standing in the foreground, watching the fire.

A two-story house is burning, filled with flames that are coming out through the front porch, upstairs windows, and through the roof. Four firemen in gear, with their backs to us, are standing in the foreground, watching the fire.I have a dream: English users create their equivalent to the Académie Française to mind the language. I’m at the first hearing of this august body presenting a list of words I want banned. The English Academy must acquiesce if the language is to be saved.

First up is the noun process. I recognize that this will temporarily silence many writers, but once they develop workarounds clarity will flower.

Mining engineers will no longer put their ore through the mining process, the refining process, and the marketing process; it will simply be mined, refined, and sold. Lawyers and social workers will need to adjust to prisoners being tried, sentenced, and rehabilitated, rather than being subjected to the trial process, sentencing process, and rehabilitation process.

The academy’s directive will note that the noun process adds neither importance nor credibility to communication, only obfuscation.

Next word: completely. News reports will not be able to say that fire completely destroyed a house or a collision completely demolished a car. Readers will soon learn that when something is simply destroyed there is nothing left. Same goes for demolished vehicles.

If the academy hasn’t thrown me out by now, I’ll go after facility. Seldom a word in its own right, it’s paired with others to corrupt language: a school becomes an education facility, a hospital a health facility. What is a recreation facility or a sewage facility? For a while there’ll be gaps of silence at city council meetings.

Finally: very. Sports broadcasters will be dumbstruck. “Igor learned to play hockey when he was very very young.” Mark Twain said, “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

The academicians break for lunch.

Wasted Words is a series of musings on language and usage by editor emeritus Wilf Popoff.

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