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News article created on 7 January 2014

The most overused words of 2013?

I can’t get excited about ‘selfie’ or ‘hashtag’….

Little Venice Little Venice
'Selfie' and 'twerk' don't bother me and I use hashtags every day

I love words. I love that poetry or song lyrics can transport you to a different place. I cried the first time I heard Ernest Hemmingway’s heart-breaking story in six words: ‘For sale, baby shoes, never worn.’ If I come across a word that I don’t know, I’ll always look it up, eager to add it to my knowledge. This is handy, considering I write for a living. It partly explains why I don’t like words being misused – for example, people who have misheard the expression ‘Off my own bat’ (as in cricket) and say ‘Off my own back’ instead. Grrr.

I saw this on the BBC News website on New Year’s Day. And while ‘selfie’ and ‘twerk’ don’t bother me, other than I could go to a dance class for 18 hours a day, but my hips will never, ever be able to move like that, I’ve tired of hearing people say they have a ‘passion’ for what they do. Passion is… well…. so passionate and it shouldn’t be used when you what you really mean is ‘enthusiastic’. But as an early adopter of Twitter (my non-work account is six years old) I use hashtags every day. #SoWhat?

I must say, my heart soared when I saw an excellent article in The Independent about a government style guide that included a reminder that post and pizzas are delivered – but not improvements.

My pet hate in 2013 was the explosion of the incorrect use of the reflexive pronoun. Reflexive means that you do it to yourself, so “I picked myself up and dusted myself down” is correct but “Mary and myself walked down the road.” is not. Recently a (non-Trust, of course) customer service assistant said to me: “I have made a note on yourself’s file that yourself rang today and that yourself is unhappy with the service we have given yourself.” (I promise, I am not exaggerating!) Her constant misuse of ‘yourself’ when she meant ‘you’ or ‘your’ irritated me so much that it overshadowed my original complaint!

The Trust’s style guide calls for simplicity (I understand we had an energetic debate many years ago with the Plain English Campaign because they insisted that a ‘boater’ was nothing more than a gentleman’s summer straw hat).

Recently we have tried not to use words like ‘stoppage’ – understood by our boaters (there go those straw hats again) – but not by the general public who are fascinated by our winter repairs, line up in the cold to go down into the bottom of a drained (rather than de-watered) lock and often go on to become supporters. Research shows us that ‘network’ doesn’t mean anything to the man on the Clapham omnibus either – but I have yet to come across another single word that describes ‘all our canals and rivers in England and Wales’ so well. Our language is so rich, there must be one. Ideas anyone?

About this blog

Liz Waddington

Liz Waddington is editor of The Source, the Canal & River Trust’s monthly staff newspaper. She has been in love with canals and their industrial heritage since her first holiday on the Grand Union Canal when she was 10 years old. Liz likes nothing more than getting out and meeting her colleagues on the cut. 

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