Why can’t people use language properly? a tongue-in-cheek diatribe

Gerry Maguire Thompson
Oct 4 · 4 min read
Author Gerry Maguire Thompson performing stand-up comedy about stuff that annoys him
Author Gerry Maguire Thompson performing stand-up comedy about stuff that annoys him
The author doing stand-up comedy about stuff that annoys him (a lot of choice there)

I’m a linguistic specialist; my specialism is identifying how wrongly people express themselves, noticing when people do things wrong, and getting annoyed at it. I am very good at my job. Why can’t people simply use language correctly?

One of the most annoying things people say is “It was a nightmare!” They say it all the time. “I got stuck in traffic, it was a nightmare.” “My phone battery was flat, it was a nightmare.” “We couldn’t find any pizza anywhere, it was a nightmare.” “I couldn’t get on my Facebook page!” “My boyfriend saw me without make-up!” etc etc etc

Those are not nightmares. A nightmare is when you discover that the whole of your family have turned into vampire zombies, and they know you’ve found out. A nightmare is when someone is coming after you with a chainsaw and they’ve already killed the rest of the city. A nightmare is when the planet has been invaded by alien earwigs the size of elephants and have barbecued the rest of humanity with barbecue sauce, and you’re the only one left, and you’re next on the menu. That’s a nightmare. Why can’t people get these things right?

The other stuff is an inconvenience, not a nightmare. And by the way — these things are also your fault, not somebody else’s; you should have charged your phone up/ made sure what was a wi-fi connection/ looked up pizza restaurants/ left home earlier/ got a less shallow boyfriend.

Another annoying thing

Another really annoying thing people say is “I totally turned things round 360 degrees!” What these people are trying to say is that they completely changed a situation from one thing to its opposite — they stopped drinking or smoking or taking drugs, they’ve changed jobs from running a mafia outfit to being a traffic warden, they found a purpose in life making life-size cardboard models of St Paul’s cathedral, or they’re having sex in strange and unnatural new positions; so they are now heading in the opposite direction from where they were going before. Hello? This is turning things round 180 degrees, not 360 degrees. 360 degrees is turning the whole way round, i.e. not having changed anything at all. Why can’t people get these things right?

Actually, a further annoyance about this is that carrying on in exactly the same direction is what most people end up doing after they have made an attempt at becoming a completely new person. Naturally, the irony in this escapes them. And that doesn’t make them right about the 360 degree thing.

Several more annoying things

Football commentators: how annoying are they? They say a lot of things which are quite simply wrong. One of the more incorrect things you hear them say is that one or other team has been saved from having a goal scored against them “by the woodwork”. There is so much wrong with this statement. They weren’t “saved by the woodwork”. First of all, the goal-posts haven’t been made of wood since half-way through last century — they’re made of plastic. And more importantly, the ‘plastic-work’ didn’t miraculously dive to one side a couple of inches, like some sort of supernatural goalie, in order to direct the ball from its course into the net. The goal-posts stayed where they were; the shot simply wasn’t on target. Why can’t people just get these things right?

And don’t get me started about the way people use nouns as verbs (“to leverage” — surely one of the single most annoying terms in the entire pantheon of modern wrong-speak). Or the meaningless phrases which people insist on peppering their talk with (“Squaring the circle”; “The exception that proves the rule”; “at the end of the day” — what do these things mean? Then there are those terminally futile twin phrases of verbal pointlessness, “As you know…” and “Needless to say…” — so why are you ****ing well saying it?!!! “So-and-so needs no introduction…” then you introduce them. Aarrgghhh!

Simply wanting people to get things right: does that make me pedantic? I don’t think so. There’s a difference between being pedantic and being right. I know I am not alone in feeling this way; I know you feel exactly the same way. These are not trivial matters we’re talking about here, are they? This is nothing less than a threat to the entire world order. It must be stopped — now.

Oh and by the way, people say that I’m pedantic — actually I’m not. What I am is didactic. They can’t even get that right!

For more stuff like this, visit gerrymaguirethompson.com

Gerry Maguire Thompson
Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade