How We Use Our Words

I was driving home yesterday, and a radio host was interviewing women about their choices to stay home or go back to work after having children.  One woman said she felt better about choosing to say home after her husband offered to give her an allowance.  “I mean, my allowance is only $200 a month, but it makes me feel valued.”

It was the way she used the word allowance, like she hadn’t an ounce of say-so or power over those two hundred dollars, like she had to wait for him to offer it up.  I do believe my hair caught a bit on fire.  That word.  ALLOWANCE:  An amount of something, especially money or food, given or allotted usually at regular intervals.

The rest of the way home, I got to thinking about other words that bug me.

TOLERANCE / TOLERATE.  To allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference.  To accept or endure (someone or something unpleasant or disliked) with forbearance.  When someone says we need to be more tolerant, that we need to tolerate each other differences, my hackles go up.  If I’m “tolerating” you, am I really accepting you?  If a child walks into a room and I say I’m tolerating her presence, does that sound accepting, or like I’m really trying to love or understand her?  I vote no.

FRIEND (as a verb?).  A person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.  Is it strange to be “friends” with people you’ve never met or never had a conversation with?  Is it strange to receive a “friend” request from your birth father whom you don’t know?  Oh, it’s strange alright.  Can we really be friends?  What would that mean?

AMAZING!  Causing great wonder or astonishment.  I hear people in the coffee shop or the train station or the restaurant saying “Amazing!”  A new girlfriend (She’s amazing!), the game they just saw (It was amazing!), the egg sandwich they just tasted (Fucking amazing!).  Then I hear a tourist pass by a massive stone and marble church built in the 4th and 5th centuries (taking 150 years to erect) say, “Hmm.  The guidebook said this would be amazing.  Looks like any church.”  Hmm is right.

And if  you are addicted, like me, to play Words With Friends, doesn’t it make you nuts when your opponent plays Za, Qi, or Jo on a triple letter space?

Za.  A pizza.

Qi.  A variant of chi.

Jo.  Sweetheart or dear.

I mean really, had any of us ever heard of these words before WWF?  There’s even an article about it in the Wall Street Journal.


What words are driving you crazy?


23 thoughts on “How We Use Our Words

  1. lisahgolden

    Tolerance/Tolerate bothers me, too. The way allowance was used makes me wonder why we are going backward. Yes, the word “friend” has been bastardized beyond recognition and I’m trying to eradicate the word amazing from my vocabulary.

    I LOLed at your WWF bit. While it’s true that I knew za as pizza, I hadn’t a clue about qi or jo. I only discovered qi by accident during a game.

    The words/phrases that most recently have bothered me are “the tick-tock” meaning the timeline. Assault because it’s such a weak-ass word for what it means when placed alongside words like sexual, rifle, and weapons. Like what? You’re going to tickle someone with that rifle?

    1. Teri Post author

      Assault is such a soft word, isn’t it? Kind of like Enhanced Interrogation —- let’s be grown ups and call it Torture.

  2. Josey

    i’ve been stuck on the word futility for a couple days now, as if it’s a current mantra in my life. I looked up its literal definition last week to make sure it was the very best word that applied to where i was using it and since then i have seen it, heard it, read it numerous times (al gore used it–yes, i will be name/event-dropping al gore for days to come, so please settle into it–and i swear, he looked straight at me when he said it. he wasn’t talking about my career…but i know the universe meant…i know.)

    there’s a pizza/bar place around me named Za’s. it’s been around here forever. i never knew the rest of the world called pizza za.

    i bet that guy that gives his wife a $200 allowances likes to be spanked with a paddle during sex.

    1. Teri Post author

      You better be posting a LONG story about seeing Al Gore. I want all the good details, every single one.

      Futility. Futile. It sounds so limp, doesn’t it?

  3. jpon

    Amazing is the one that gets me. It’s so vague, overused and misused as to be meaningless. It reminds me of the corporate cliches the people at my wife’s work use to express themselves. We must think out of the box? Well at least they admit they’re confined in an intellectual box.

    1. Teri Post author

      I’m pretty sure that anyone who talks about getting out of the box is intent on staying IN the box. There might be some very scary stuff outside the box, like new ideas.

    1. Teri Post author

      Who can argue when it’s screamed like that?

      That said, I used to dream of what it would feel like to be called mom. (the non-screamed version) I think we were married about 10 years the first time my stepson said, “Hello Mother.” He said it with some humor, and I didn’t make a big deal of it, but it made my year.

  4. Pamela

    I’ve never liked the word “tolerate” either. Or to hear someone talk about being “humbled” because it’s almost never true. And I don’t like the word “lance,” especially when followed by the word “boil.” Ugh.

    If you like WWF, then you’ll love Abble Dabble. You’ll find me (pamelajojo) on the 1-player Leaderboard (um, #1, thank you very much) for the game configuration called “Big X, Clockwise, Random.” The tiles *move* after each play. Don’t ever try it if you want to finish your memoir.

  5. independentclause

    Evidences as a verb (gah!)
    baby bump (double gah!)
    constellation as a metaphor (you may laugh)
    “best of luck placing your work elsewhere” oh, maybe that’s a response to another post 😉

    1. Teri Post author

      Oh but Indy, you’re so unique, as evidenced by your patience in thinking up 50,000 point WWF words.

      Best of luck placing your work elsewhere is awful. Just awful. I imagine them with turned up noses, giggling with each other about how my work is not worthy.

      1. independentclause

        It makes me sad that I had to settle for 50-point words, rather than the 5,000-point words I was seeking.

        As for best of luck…it’s a very elegant fuck you as far as I am concerned. But mostly I try not to think about it. Ever. Stupid [journal name redacted].

  6. timkeen40

    I cringe at the use of a person’s name to make a point about something perceived to be larger than one’s self. “The Elvis Presleys of the world don’t to have to bother with that. Men who aspire to greatness, the Einsteins, the Franklins, just see things differently. It is really overused in the world of the sports announcers. The Jerry Rices, The Walter Paytons.

    STOP IT.


    1. Teri Post author

      The Bill Gates of the world. The Michael Jordans. Ugh.

      I had the grand good fortune to meet Sweetness once and I gave him a great big hug and a kiss on the cheek. He was lovely. And tolerant of me. 😉

      1. timkeen40

        That is awesome. If you want a shining example of how to make it in life, you can do no better than Sweetness. Take a little bit of talent and work you ##34 off. I read an article once where he had friends over to run a hill close his house. His wife laughed because laughed when the people he invited quit running the hill after they threw up.


  7. Downith

    My daughter and I walked into a shop awhile ago and the guy on the cash asked us how we were. I said we were fine and then I asked him how he was. “Amazing,” he said. Ugh.

    1. Teri Post author

      Everything and everybody is amazing. We should put this word on hiatus until people remember what it’s for.

  8. Jennine G.

    “Tolerant” drives me nuts! A book on my list this year is titled “The Intolerance of Tolerance.”

    Great post – absolutely AH-MAY-ZING!!! (Lol, no really, very good;)

  9. girl in the hat

    I completely agree with your list. I would add awesome, actually, whatnot (I have a love/hat thing for whatnot), and like (yes, I have a 12 year old). Sometimes I listen to my husband during work phone conversations and I have no idea what he is saying– that business-speak he does is so irritating. Architecting as a verb? “The front end” and “the back end” in the same sentence? (He’s talking about developing mobile websites. I only wish it was something sexy.)

  10. Catherine

    I sometimes worry that I overuse the same vocab in my stories and it’s time to shake down some new words. I love dictionaries and delving deep into meaning.

    Amazing – that word is not on my agenda either.

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