Word-Quirks and Word-Jerks: A Confession

I'll only say this one more time: These are VEGETABLES...

I’ll only say this one more time: These are VEGETABLES…

Not too long ago, a friend told me that her mother hates the word “passed.” She prefers “dead,” and has told everyone in her family that when she dies, to please refer to her as “dead,” and not “passed.” She feels that “passed” is sugar-coating the truth. Dead is dead. Period. While I think it is a point well taken, it made me wonder what she would say about referring to death as “being called Home” or the long-standing African-American tradition of referring to funerals as “Home-Going Celebrations?”

Personally, I don’t have a problem with passed or dead. I use them both, and I will continue to do so, and if anyone finds that offensive, too bad. As for being called Home, I can see why that phrase might come across as a fluffy, Victorian euphemism, but in accordance with my own beliefs, I see it as accurate. I am certain that Heaven IS our real home and that our earthly existence IS but a brief time in one’s eternal life. And frankly, if we would all start calling funerals “Home-Going Celebrations” that would be fine by me. It’s much happier to celebrate a person’s return to their heavenly home than to mourn their death at a funeral. No one dies thinking, “I want my family and friends to be miserable.” I hope.

and these are VEGGIES. Please, note the difference. Thank you.

and these are VEGGIES. Please, note the difference. Thank you.

Yet, the conversation my friend and I shared about her mom’s disapproval of “passed” had an unexpected, unintended impact on me. It made me think about my own word-quirks. I suspect we all have them—you know, those words or phrases that make you cringe or roll your eyes or question the intelligence of the speaker. No? Is it just me?

Here’s a short list of my word-quirks:

  • Veggies. What’s with the baby-talk? Why is it that otherwise intelligent adults use baby-talk when speaking to other adults? In my book, the only thing more annoying than hearing a grown person refer to vegetables as veggies is seeing the word in print. I once put a jar of spaghetti sauce back on the shelf because the label read, “2 Servings of Veggies in Every Jar!” Now, I make my own sauce. Why? Because it’s easy and I want my sauce to contain VEGETABLES, not veggies.
  • Comfy, Jammies, Hubby, Kindy, etc. All other baby-talk words are almost as bad as veggies, but the fact that I now see veggies in print makes it a little worse. Perhaps because I didn’t get a free lobotomy with the birth of either of my children, I don’t understand why so many women, upon becoming mothers, dumb-down their language. A friend once pointed out that I use the word “panties” when referring to underpants and asked why it isn’t on my anti-baby-talk list. My only explanation is that panties has always been a part of my vocabulary and not something I feel is being forced on me by motherhood. That’s a weak excuse—I know. (And for those of you who don’t have children, kindy rhymes with Cindy and it is short for kindergarten. The first time I saw it in print, I didn’t get it either. I kept saying “Kind-y. Kind-y? You registered your kid for Kind-y? What in the hell is that?”)
  • Mom. Okay, I don’t hate the word “mom.” I just hate to be addressed as “mom” by anyone besides my children. Emails that come to me as a part of group announcements that start with “Hey, Mom!” may go unread. I’m not your mom. I may be your friend, your peer, a member of your club, but I am NOT your mom. Take note.
  • Overwhelmed. People, who use the word overwhelmed, tend to over-use it to the point where I question the size of their vocabularies. I want to stop and ask them to be more specific. Are they excited? Tired? Frightened? Worried? Confused? Surprised? Beaten down? In awe? “I’m so overwhelmed!” Yeah, THAT could mean anything. Anything!
  • Anxious. People say “anxious,” but they mean “eager.” You are eager to meet a friend for lunch. Sharing tuna salad with your friend should not make you anxious—unless you are sleeping with her husband. You are eager, not anxious, to start your new job—unless you will be reporting to the person you fired at your last job. You can see how I have a little fun whenever I hear the word “anxious.” The imagined situational comedy is endless.

Yep, that’s my short list, and if you are guilty of using any of these words, you are probably

resolving to never, ever speak to me again, and I don’t blame you. Why? Because I am being a judgmental word-jerk. I’m not listening to what you say, but how you say it. I’m valuing style over content—and that is just wrong!

Really, when someone tells me, “I was in my comfy jammies when I realized my hubby had a boo-boo on his bum-bum,” shouldn’t I ask about his injured butt instead of concerning myself with the idiolect of the pajama-clad speaker? Certainly!

So, let me beg your forgiveness and promise to work on putting my word-quirks aside. Let me assure you that I have never believed anyone’s worth as a human being rests on what words they choose. What we say IS infinitely more important than how we say it, and we should all listen/read for meaning. You see, that whole conversation about passed and dead has reminded me that other people are paying attention to the words I use and are judging me according to their own word-quirks. I even judge myself. God knows, if I read this piece a year from now, I will want to take a red pen to the bad grammar and change a few words or phrases. It’s rare that I reread anything I write without wanting to tweak it.

Yeah, I know someone out there just read “tweak” and thought, “I hate that word!”






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