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Words are special things. They carry weight, meaning and importance, specific to the circumstances under which they are used.

That cartoon about the insurgents, which I did way back in 2005, applies a context and a perspective to the meaning of the word. Of course, the word, as defined, is a person who revolts against civil authority or an established government. But an insurgent is also a person who acts contrary to the policies and decisions of one's own political party. Think of that.  Right now, we can argue that we have an insurgent president. And we've had them before. But an insurgency also just played out with a vote to get rid of a keystone of the previous administration. The result was sort of an insurgency against an insurgency, wrapped in an insurgent tactic to prevent a vote that would run counter to the insurgency. The result was failure.

But I really do not care about that at all. I'm interested in words and word usage. Just now, a newsroom conversation revolved around whether it's accurate to say "none of these students (is) or (are) a journalism major." The correct usage is is. Sound familiar? Yes. It depends on what the meaning of the word is is. Is that too much? Words are important. But more important than how they apply to politicians, or insurgents for that matter, are the words and turns of phrase that I cannot abide. One of the worst contemporary expressions is "went missing." This awful descriptor has its origins somewhere in the early 2000's. Apparently some British journalist started it, and now an unacceptable number of writers use it. "Went missing" is idiotic. Why not just say disappeared? And anyway, anyone who uses it is only using it because learned to use it. So it's my hope that you'll begin to notice this affectation, and become as irritated as I am about it.

But when I wrote that just now I used another word combination I can't stand when I said "and now an unacceptable number of writers use it." It's that one: "A number." Why in the name of all things holy is it okay to refer to "a number" of anything as an illustration of multitude? Really. One is a number. So is 7,000. It's as logical as saying, "He sent me a word of notes" when trying to illustrate there were a lot of them.

"A number" is no measurement at all. I cannot abide. But another word I will never embrace, and one used exclusively by media professionals, is Motorist.

"Motorists might notice more traffic on Thursday..." or that kind of thing. Why not just call them drivers? "Motorist" suggests some kind of austere formality, and harkens back to some turn of the last century fascination with the automobile. Again, I cannot abide.

"Jets" is another silly usage in the media. "Military jets flew missions yesterday..." or "A 747 jet landed yesterday..." Using the word "jet" to describe a plane seems like some 1950's throwback, when jet engines were new and as a result seemed very cool to mention. But calling a military plane a jet is as logical as calling a car an "internal combustion." It's nothing more than a description of the power plant for the vehicle. We might as well call propeller-driven planes props, but we don't.

Another word technique I cannot abide is alliteration. This is a parlor trick, designed to create the illusion of cleverness. I cannot abide alliteration, and it has no place in effective writing. In fact, and many who have known and worked with me over the years will corroborate this, I reject alliteration out of hand. I won't even buy ice cream that has alliteration on the packaging. If Moses appeared to me in my kitchen and handed me stone tablets that laid bare the secrets to the origins of the universe and the very meaning of life, as soon as he started to alliterate, I would stop reading. 

"Sort of" is another affectation I cannot abide. I'll find myself counting the "sort of's" in public radio broadcasts. sometimes I'll count eight or nine in one broadcast. Listen for them. You'll hear them. The pretension of saying "sort of" is unbearable.

"The play is a sort of commentary..." or "A lot of musicians will sort of record..." Here's another example: "The senators are sort of debating the issue..."

Even worse, they'll say it so fast, it gets slanged into something that can only be written as "sor'f." 

Come on. There is no sort of. It either is or is not.  Really. listen for the sort of's. You'll hear them.

This partial list of words and word combinations I cannot abide may grow in coming weeks, and I can say with confidence that my fellow professional word users have their own lists of things they too cannot abide. 

In the meantime, consider the use of the word insurgent, as it applies to what you may or may not believe. 

We can live and die by these things.

Contact reporter Neil Zawicki at 541-812-6099 or


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