As most of you know, I write lot. I enjoy it. I started out writing 800-page books; when I was offered by first 800-word monthly magazine column, a wise editor told me, “this’ll make you a better writer.” That’s because, when you only have 800 words, you choose every one with care. An unfortunate side effect of that is it can make you a bit of a syntactic hair-splitter.
For example, I hate the word training, and all of its friends – trainer, for example. Training is for dogs and dolphins; it implies showing someone how to repeat a precise series of steps on command. Outside the US, trainings has somehow become a noun, eliminating the phrase training class, where training is at least an adjective. Making things a noun gives them even more power – and I just hate training having that kind of power. I am not a trainer. I am a teacher, despite whatever government issues may arise around that profession. I try to make people smarter, able to make decisions on their own, and able to learn on their own. I use stories, analogies, and shared experiences to convey information in a way that builds on what someone already knows.
And again despite the many trade and government issues around the word, I love engineering. Engineers of all kinds deal with science and facts. A civil engineer working on a bridge might not care for the way gravity works, but is bound by it regardless. For better or for worse, I am not a craftsman or ninja or whatever; my work with technology doesn’t involve a great deal of design aesthetic or uninformed opinion, nor does it involve nunchucks or stealth. While I may not work as a “network engineer” in a sense accepted by engineering professional associations, I very much apply the basic principles of engineering to my work.
Even ignoring the many ridiculous phrases and euphemisms we come up with for political correctness, I’m still amazed at the wide range of meaningless words we use to describe otherwise straightforward things. For example, when teaching in Europe, I found that the people in my classes were delegates, not students. I found that odd, and always wondered if there was some legal reason (e.g., if you have students, you’re legally a school, and must comply with ____). But it’s not like the class is a standards body – we don’t have delegates. You’re students. Or learners, maybe. Attendees at the least.
So – again, political correctness aside, because it’s boring – what meaningless or wrong words do you run across in your career? What words do you think we should be using instead, and why?