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Words I love and words I love to hate (and why)

No need for a lengthy intro here. Let’s get started.

1. Why I hate the word: Facilitate

If you ever use this word, stop and think to yourself, ‘what’s wrong with help?’

Helping something along is just the same as facilitating it. Help is a nice, simple word that even people who speak limited English will understand. And help has 75% fewer syllables and 60% fewer letters. So why choose facilitate?

If you think it makes your writing sound more professional or authoritative, think again. It does the opposite.

Just like using French words made Del Boy sound the opposite of cultured, and just like David Brent saying ‘doobie’ made him sound the opposite of rock ‘n’ roll. Using fancy words to sound smart will just make you sound like the kind of person who has to try to sound smart.

2. Why I love the word: Hello

I love this word ‘cos it makes friends. It makes people smile. It brings people together.

When you’re sitting down on a train, arriving at a conference or shifting around awkwardly at a social event, just smile and say hello to whoever’s next to you.

What’s the worst that could happen? The person forces a smile, says hello back and then looks the other way. Well, then you know they’re not interested in chatting. But nothing’s lost. And at least they know you’re friendly.

And what’s the best that could happen? Maybe you get chatting. Maybe you make a new friend or a new work contact. Maybe you meet your future husband or wife. Just say hello.

It works in business writing too. If you’re writing about legal matters or delivering bad news, best stick to ‘Dear Mrs Smith’. But if you’ve got a relaxed tone of voice and you’re writing about something positive, try starting with ‘Hello, Mrs Smith’.

3. Why I hate the word: Onomatopoeia

Oh man, this word sucks.

If you don’t know, words that are onomatopoeic sound similar to the thing they describe. Words like bang, beep or gargle.

My beef with this word is that it’s a long word for the sake of a long word. It’s awkward to say, difficult to spell and perfect for use by smartasses.

If we must have a word for this obscure concept, how about something like ‘linguophonic’?

it’s easy to say, easy to spell and fairly self-explanatory if you’re in the words business – it’s something that sounds (phonic) like the word (linguo). And let’s face it, who outside of language studies even needs a word for this thing?

Boo, onomatopoeia, boo!

4. Why I love the word: Mellifluous

Okay, you might be reaching for the fancy-word-hypocrisy klaxon here, but just let me explain. (Incidentally, I quite like that word too – klaxon.)

This is the big, long, needlessly specific word done right. It rolls off the tongue so enjoyably. And get a load of its definition:

It comes from two latin words: ‘mel’ meaning honey, and ‘fluere’, meaning flow. In English, it describes a voice or sound – one that ‘flows like honey’.

Mellifluous is to words what the Lamborghini Veneno (Google it) is to cars. It’s gratuitous and impractical. I’ll never own a Lamborghini, ‘cos they’re ridiculously expensive and almost impossible to park. And I’ll never use mellifluous in anything I write, because no one knows what it means and I’d sound like twat.

But what a gorgeous word.

5. Why I hate the word: Solution

There’s only one context in which I have a problem with this word. All the others are fine with me. Giving saline solution to a patient? Fine. Trying to find the solution to a puzzle on Portal 2? Have fun. Great game.

Touting your ability to conceptualise and execute innovative, integrated solutions? No! Bad! Stop it!

Of all the wanky words you find in corporate documents, this word may score the wankiest wanky rating on the world’s most forgiving wank-o-meter.

Solution has pretty much become a corporate byword for ‘doing stuff’. It appears when pompous, fancy language and vague, non-commital business speak combine to the point where you can write pages and pages without ever actually saying anything.

There’s a great sketch by Armstrong and Miller in which a man on a plane rambles on about business to his co-passenger, before admitting that he has no idea what his job is. His job is so generically, abstrusely corporate that it’s totally devoid of any meaning.

His employer? PHP Residual Solutions.

6. Why I love the word: Bunch

Bunch is quite a nice word in general, but I like it for a very specific reason.

You can sub it in for pretty much any collective noun. And if there’s one thing the English language has waaaaay too many of, it’s collective nouns.

This problem reaches max ridiculousness when it comes to animals. If you’re pedantic enough, you’ll always refer to a bunch of fish as a shoal, a bunch of hyenas as a cackle and, get this: an implausibility of gnus. Apparently dogs, cats and geese even have different collective nouns depending on what breed they are. Seriously?

Again, why use an obscure, fancy word when a simple one like bunch will do? It’s not like anyone will ever be confused about what you mean.

If I’m exploring the jungle, is this conversation really going to happen?:

Me: “Holy s**t, guys, there’s a bunch of really angry looking apes behind that bush!”

My fellow explorers: “Well, I have no idea what he’s talking about, so let’s just carry on beyond this bush and OH DEAR LORD, it’s a shrewdness of pissed off apes!”

I think not.

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