All writers will tell you that when they’re trying to write there are words they will studiously avoid. They just hate them. Loathe them, in fact. Sometimes it’s irrational, sometimes the writer will have very solid, logical reasons behind hating a word, or words.
I’m reading Stephen King’s On Writing and King has many words he hates. All adverbs, for example. I’m sure he has many more. King has pretty good reasons for hating those words; they’re logical and well thought out. I have to admit, I’m now a lot more careful when it comes to using adverbs in my writing. What he says about them makes a lot of sense.
My magic word, my Shazam! for at least a decade has been “Pro-active”. Merely typing the word makes my skin crawl. I suspect it comes from many, many years of watching PR people beat it to death in government press releases or minister statements when I was a journalist. “Our department is being very pro-active in our approach.” (“Very” is another word high up on my hit list, although I confess to using that one too much.)
It’s just such a bloody redundant word. I think I called a PR person within the Newfoundland government and yelled at them one time because they used “pro-active” around six times in one press release. “Pick another goddamned word,” I said. “Your department can be just active. They can be aggressive! They can be determined! But for the love of God, can they not possibly be that pro-active!”
Undoubtedly the PR flack thought I was quite insane.
I’ve actually run into this at work a couple of times. I’ve written things and had one of my co-workers tell me “Can you put in ‘we’re being pro-active on this issue?’”
I’ve refused, much to their bafflement. Then I’ve done this rant; that it is a hideous word and I refuse to use it. I believe I’m now viewed as one of those quirky, eccentric writer-types with ego issues. We have compromised, however. I won’t write it, but what happens to my writing once it leaves my office is beyond my control, so if others want to add “pro-active” go crazy.
I also hate the word “arugula”, but that’s for purely irrational reasons, I admit. I lost a game of Scrabble many, many years ago (actually, 10 years ago this summer. Not that I’m stewing over it or anything) to “arugulas”, when the person putting out the tiles got something like 150 points, getting seven tiles out on a triple word score. Her and her (now) husband danced around the table screaming “Arugulas!” for five minutes.
The fact that they are not dead remains one of life’s great mysteries. I think I actually blanked out for a few moments, such was the level of my seething rage.
Today, I managed to find a new word to hate. Reading it made me want to peel a layer of skin off my body after reading the article containing the word and burning it, as an act of decontamination.
The word is...”manscaping.” And the article is this one.
This isn’t a rant against the practice of men trimming their body hair. I would never be so foolish to make that rant. I would be carpet bombed by women yelling at me for being such a wuss and describing in graphic details all the shaving, waxing, tearing, plucking and other forms of mutilation they endure to remove unwanted hair so stop being such a pussy and shut the fuck up.
Yes, I know these women. They are among my best friends. Which says something, I suspect.
No, it’s not the practice that makes me ill. There’s just something about the mental texture of the word. It feels so artificial and fake. It feels like mental vomit. I feel the urge to beat people who use it in articles. Or, God help me, in conversation.
That’s what a truly terrible word can do to you sometimes. It can make you physically ill just reading it.
So thanks for that Globe and Mail, and in particular, Patrick White. The pain you went through for the article is perhaps only comparable to the pain I went through in reading it.