Words that set our teeth on edge


I had a Twitter conversation recently with Ashleigh Grange of Plush Text Communications and Janine Libbey of P & L Translations about words we dislike. Ashleigh’s language bugbear of the day was incentivise, Janine’s prioritise and mine diarise.

My current handbag-book for the train and doctors’/dentists’ waiting rooms is “The English Language” by David Crystal. I was surprised to find there that diarise has been setting people’s teeth on edge since 1954. The first edition of Sir Ernest Gowers’ “The Complete Plain Words” listed it then, along with publicize, hospitalize, finalize and casualize (employ casual labour), as words to avoid. By the time the third edition came out in 1986,

the objections to publicize and the others are no longer cited. Instead, new -ize words are mentioned as currently attracting opposition, such as prioritize and routinize.

Confession: I find incentivise quite useful in certain contexts. In sentences, for instance, like “The Italian Government has passed a new law incentivising energy-saving and the use of renewables” (referring to specific incentives such as tax breaks).

And prioritising seems like a valuable and much-needed skill when I contemplate my lengthening to-do list.

We all have words we love or loathe, not necessarily for any rational reason. If I find incentivise and prioritise useful in their concision, why do I dislike the equally concise diarise so much? Anyway, I’d love to hear your pet hates, rational or not, in the comments.

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16 Responses to “Words that set our teeth on edge”

  1. 1 janibach

    Several years ago, I opened a ready-meal which came, the directions told me, in an “ovenable” container.

  2. Great post, Marian! I still don’t like any of the three bugbears! I’ve posted a link to this on our Facebook page. Let’s see if some more people share their pet peeves.

    • Thanks, Janine. “Parenting” and “myself” when used in wrong context (as in ‘contact myself’) were mentioned on Twitter. It’s fun finding out people’s pet hates!

  3. 4 Mark Ireland

    What really sets my teeth on edge are North Americans who drop the ‘h’ from herb and say ‘erb’. My wife does it and it literally (yes, really) causes me pain.

    ‘Medal’ and ‘Podium’ used as verbs make me twitch too, and the business phrase I loathe the most is ‘touch base’.

    So “You should touch base with the guy who podiumed in the erb growing contest” is probably a sentence you should never use around me.

  4. 6 Sara

    For some reason, “deploy” really grates on me, as does “launch.” Go figure…

    • Confession: I use “deploy” quite often but mainly in a military context (I do a lot of foreign policy translations so UN and EU missions to Lebanon, Afghanistan etc). Lanciare comes up all the time in Italian texts and I do salti mortali (I wish!) to avoid translating it as launch.

  5. Valorise means everything and nothing.

    • I come across valorizzare all the time in Ital to Eng translations and it drives me bonkers! And I’ve noticed they’re using valorise in EU documents now.

  6. Not quite sure why it riles me so, but I really hate the word “winningest” when used to describe a successful sportsperson/team.

  7. A sentence from our mag last week: “The challenge they face is how to do that on products with such low storageability and short life as cut flowers.” Yup, storageability.

  8. Share your pain although I’m guilty of using that dreaded “diarise”! My pet hate would be “verbalise”. Why can’t we just use “articulate”?

    • We’ll forgive you “diarise” as you’ve got an excuse – you must come across dictionaries-worth of these words in your line of work!

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