Sketches on Atheism

No, no, no! Nothing is “Very irreversible.”

the horror!This is not an atheist-themed post. It’s not even remotely connected to the on-going and remarkably silly tug of war between science and superstition, rationalism and irrationalism, reasonableness and mindlessness. It’s a rant. It’s a weekend rant about language, American use of language to be specific, and before I get started I’ll happily admit that I’m a Language Nazi. I was born – thankfully – into a family of language Nazi’s headed by a goose-stepping, brown-shirted, grammatically correct matriarch who’d find more cause to blow her top over bad punctuation than in me ever arriving home a little drunk aged 16. As the unpaid editor of my school assignments you’d think by the ghastly expressions that occasionally marched across my mother’s face that I’d mounted the dining room table and dropped a giant three-day-in-the-works turd on the Sunday roast instead of perhaps confusing indefinite pronouns. Swearing was never really a problem in our house, not if used correctly, but fuck up with a verb tense and she would quite literally carpet bomb your ass with proper and improper examples of simple present, present perfect, past perfect, and present perfect continuous. Screw up with an inflection and you’d think waterboarding was gentle.

CommasIt was a good environment to grow up in. I learnt to never take language for granted and this alertness fostered in me a genuine love for expression. It also fermented in me a deep antipathy for those who misused language, and an all-out disdain for those who misused it for no other reason than simple laziness. With this in mind it should not come as a surprise to learn that a few years ago I started making a record of atrocious language use by Americans. Now before you think I’m chastising an entire country let me specify that the bulk of this record was acquired through one source: Fox (cough) News. Before being banned in Brazil I’d watch this freak show out of simple morbid curiosity just to see how badly they could 1. Distort and/or invent facts, and 2. Butcher the English language… and one day I just started jotting it all down. Six months later I gave up, but by then I’d filled two notebook pages with shitty English, and yesterday I found those pages again. So here’s the highlights reel of those six months, and believe me, I’ve not doctored one:

America, NOTHING can be “very irreversible,” “very vital,” or “very solitary.”  You cannot have “lots of conviction,” “a catharsis,” or a “terrible tragedy.” By its nature a coup is illegal; you don’t need to preface it with an “illegal coup.” One cannot “hoist the masks,” “swat a fly with a BB gun,” or be “optimistically hopeful.” Dangerousness might be a word but nothing, and I mean nothing is “social dangerousness.” A person cannot “miss-remember,” nothing is “very critical,” and “every year annually” is just about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. “Smart astronauts.” Is there any other kind? “Dangerous floods.” Is there any other kind? Asia is a geographic region of the planet; you cannot say “the Asia.” There is no such thing as “levels of morality,” and just what the fuck is “based on a true story which really happened?” Desertation is not word. Adding “dry” to it, as in “dry desertation” doesn’t make it one either. “On behalf of myself” is something only an omnipotent god could say. “Biggest event in history, ever!” is a double redundancy. “Very fatal.” Is there a mild kind? “Killed him dead immediately.” Thanks for the clarification, Shakespeare!  “Very mentally ill” is not a medical term. Nothing can be “very temporary,” no one on earth can be “very preoccupied,” and just what the hell is “very three-dimensional?” And please, please, please, NONE of these other adjectives require an adverb… ever.

“Very excellent,”

“Very delicious,”

“Very uncommon,”

“Very exhausting,”

“Very fantastic,”

“Very isolated,”

“Very, very startling,”

“Very deliberate,”

“Very crucial,”

“Very tenuously,”

“Very limited,”

“Very devastating,”

“Very, very massive,”

“Very normal,”

“Very obligated,”

“Very vocally,”

“Very granularly,”

“Very changed,”

“Very awesome,”

“Very key,”

“Very fundamental,”

“Very exceptional,”

“Very abbreviated,”

“Very reinvigorated,”

“Very articulate,”

“Very taboo,”

“Very historic,”

“Very accusatory.”

America, for the love of the Queen’s English, stop it.

42 thoughts on “No, no, no! Nothing is “Very irreversible.”

  1. Aw c’mon, John,

    Picking on Fox (sic) News is just too easy. News delivered by troglodytes, written by troglodytes, and for troglodytes will never have the panache of eridition you seek. Try the PBS News Hour, they got real good English there.


  2. Nice post Mr.Zande.

    Attention to grammar and construction are indicators of a person’s commitment to being understood. What tickles me wrong is the following. The media we subscribe to does everything but slap you about the head for making a coherent statement. The media we bathe our young in knows nothing of eloquence, nothing of deft construction of meaning, nothing of the pleasure of constructing a beautiful phrase.

    The phrases of today are about brevity, concision and concision. Did I mention concision? I state this because I’m running into a situation often with my peers. Our magniloquence ascends as we age but it is not uniform across society. During the rare discussions I have with my friends who do not share the benefit of extended educational opportunity, I often get “the look”.

    It is the same “look”, when I see it on my students’ faces is the one of, “Oh there he goes again using those big words and discussing stuff I don’t care about,” the look that says, “you’ve lost me, and I care not to return.” Tailoring your message to the audience, of course, is my responsibility – but dammit – it feels like its getting close to describing things as “double plus good” just so people stay with the program.

    I am all for the elegant construction of language. The labour involved is arduous, as the results are more that worth it. Getting this message across to people is where it all goes to hell, because the pursuit of the bon mot is often interpreted as language snobbery, and nothing kills communication faster that resentment.

    Defending the fortress of cogent grammatical usage should not be quick ticket to “the look” and obscurity, yet it is and it should not be.


  3. Agree completely with the gist of the post.

    I didn’t have the advantage of a language nazi in my childhood home and I never encountered any in the american public school system. Like nearly everything else I’ve managed to learn in Life, I taught myself, for the most part, what little I know of language.

    To be honest, I’m sure I occasionally apply an unnecessary adverb just to convey a sense that, for instance, that particular dish was a bit beyond the ordinary, generic version of “delicious”.

    There are degrees of things like violence, fundamentalism or joyousness, which sometimes seem to require qualification.

    Right or wrong, frankly, I don’t see the harm.


    • Agreed, no one’s lost an eye upon hearing “Very normal” but it’s an unhealthy trend. It’s laziness. Your English is fantastic, Richard. Nearly everyone here on WP have exceptional language skills, but these examples were actually in the media. It’s a dumbing down of the population, and that has to be reversed. Language is beautiful, our greatest gift, and to see it abused drives me nuts. Shit, you guys had President Mission Accomplished for 8 years whose grasp of the English language was somewhere around 3rd Grade level. It’s this acceptance of the mistakes that i find infuriating. America is better than that. I’ve been reading the letters passed between Adams and Jefferson these last few days and they’re simply magnificent. Pure poetry.


      • I agree completely John. I find some pretty gross errors on just about all media, especially TV and the internet. Some sites and authors seem to publish without even bothering with a spellcheck.

        I think The Arbourist, above, has it pretty well sorted out with his comments about concision and “the look”.

        Please don’t remind me about dubya. Those may have been the eight worst years in the abysmal history of this empire built upon genocide. Although the new emperor is giving it his all to take it to the next level.


  4. I’m a lover of good English too. Have you seen Lynn Truss’ book, ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves”? I think you would love it! Sorry to be pedantic but I’m part of the apostrophe police too and would just draw your attention to the above comment – who’s should be whose! In English English, everyone takes a single verb i.e. everyone has rather than everyone have. I suspect that’s one of our many differences!
    All the best to you


  5. A delightful read.

    I take issue with two things. Do you think using ‘Nazi’ to describe strongly felt language preferences is reasonable? The Nazis murdered millions of Germans (and others if you count war as murder) from a variety of backgrounds and you and I are objecting to the use of language with, erm, words. Perhaps some people are authoritarian about it but ‘Nazi’ is the wrong term, I think.

    As you say, all of your examples come from one source. Equating Fox News to America is incorrect and unfair.

    Great work otherwise!


    • Well, “Grammar Nazi” was invented by others, but i see your point. Now, i’ve got you on a technicality, i said the bulk came from Fox. An “Illegal coup” was Condoleeza Rice. I forget the origin of all the others, but yes, the majority was Fox and i’m fully aware its not entirely representative of the US. Well, i HOPE its not representative 😉


  6. Ah, lazy reading on my part: I missed ‘bulk’ somehow.

    An ‘illegal coup’ is one of the worst terms. Not only is the redundancy poor language, it implies all those other coups might have been sort of legal! Bitch.


  7. Unless I noticed it you omitted very successful. One of the ones I wd have been whacked around the head for in the newspaper office, along with great success. It either was a success/successful or it wasn’t. Sadly appalling journalese has crept into English too 😦


    • My favourite was Hillary Clinton’s “a catharsis.” Seems these people hear a word, think it sounds intelligent and therefore must be deployed, yet have no idea of its use. The oddity is, the entire US has lowered the bar so greatly that no one even picks up on these things.


      • US has lowered the bar on pretty much everything. Have you seen some of those programmes where they ask Americans about the rest of the world? Cringeworthy.

        We’ve heard of US tourists here expecting to use US dollars. Er, why? This is Gibraltar, Gibraltar, not Gibraltar USA.


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