10 Words I’m Not Using in 2018

As I refine my writing style, I’m defining it by both the things it is and is not. A lot of these are words I haven’t used in some time, and others are recent additions to the no-no list. In no particular order:

Sorry for the stupid clip art.

Intelligence: Like “love” or “art”, it is a word that represents an important concept, but doesn’t have anything close to an agreed-upon definition. Measuring it is also wishy-washy at best, especially when considering non-human intelligence. There are easy ways around it.

Traditional Housing: Based on context, I think when most people say “traditional housing” they mean “the type of housing I grew up in.” This is almost exclusively a detached single family house. I know that I’m an obnoxiously big-picture person, but when someone says “traditional housing,” I picture a yurt.

Random: This word made the list because of the literal way my brain works. I know true randomness only exists in the quantum sense, so I try to avoid it in pretty much any other context.

Ironic: I know the “right” and the “wrong” use of ironic, but I prefer to avoid the word altogether because either way, someone is going to insist on starting a conversation about it. Pedants ruin everything.

Deserve: Deserve made the list mainly because I don’t like the concept. Every person has a different idea of what they deserve, based on their cultural and social affiliation and their moral framework. We also have ideas of others deserve, likely based on altogether different criteria. It’s also part of my worldview that no one deserves anything. It’s complicated.

Retarded: There is a concept called the “euphemism treadmill” where clinical words with specific definitions become insults over time. I added this to the list because a friend recently posted a video about the word on Facebook and her uncle(?) went on a rant about how it was fine when he was a kid so he is going to keep using it. Things change. Adapt or go extinct.

Healthy: The word has a range of definitions and is intentionally misused by marketers or people justifying behavior. I see bottled water and processed snacks labeled as “healthy” right alongside vegetables. It is also (somewhat controversially) used in the Healthy At Any Size context, where people ignore the broader definition and take instead the narrow one to mean “not sick.” The word has been abused beyond recognition and lost any real meaning.

Thoughts and prayers: I’m not a religious person, and I’m not denying the usefulness of prayer as a sort of verbal journaling, but saying this phrase is as about as helpful to a cause as liking a post on Facebook.

That: This applies only in a specific context. During my undergrad, I volunteered with a nonprofit performing crisis counseling and suicide intervention. We were very specific in how we referred to people — someone was not a “schizophrenic,” they were “a person with schizophrenia.” It is important to reinforce their personhood and not define them as their mental illness.

The context when I don’t use “that” is in an interpersonal one. Take the phrase “The person that I went to dinner with last night.” To me, it sounds like the person is being referred to as an “it.” I prefer “The person who I went to dinner with last night,” as I feel it acknowledges them as a person. Now, clever poets and songwriters may intentionally objectify (i.e. de-personify) a person by saying, for example, “Now you’re just somebody that I used to know.” On the other hand, someone might personify an object by saying “My teddy bear who was always there for me when my parents were fighting.” I’m fine with both of these clever usages.

Gentrification: I do NOT mean to dismiss gentrification as unimportant. It is an extremely charged word that represents a collection of concepts. Using the word to refer to only one of those concepts while ignoring others could get you…er…roasted. Google “Ink Coffee Gentrification Sign” for context. During conversations about gentrification, I refer to the specific issue by name — for example, “displacement.” It should keep me out of hot water.

Now just because I don’t use these words doesn’t mean that I criticize others when they use them. The only time I would consider bringing it up is if someone asked me to edit their writing. I’m not here to force anyone else into my value system.

Let me know what you think, especially if you disagree with any of my choices. I’m eager to continue to refine my writing style.