Tag Archives: vocabulary


This is like a really minor pet peeve of mine, something I’ve noticed just kind of peripherally for a while now. When I think about even trying to describe it, I feel crazy, because it’s so minor. I’m talking about when writers use the word “devour” in terms of reading. I just read some blog post somewhere, and the author was making the case that she’s an avid reader. And she said it, that she devours books.


And it just kind of sets me off, because, in my mind anyway, there’s so much going on in that choice of vocabulary. The first time I became aware of this weird figure of speech was while I was reading Team of Rivals, the Lincoln biography by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Obviously I’m not going to go through it and check how many times exactly, but she wrote about Lincoln devouring books and newspapers often enough that it stood out in my memory.

Wow, I thought to myself, she really likes using that word to describe Lincoln’s voracious appetite for the written word. And that was it, I finished the book, eventually. It was a really big book. Definitely top five biggest books I’ve ever read in my life. Although, if you pressed me to name four other books in that top five list, I don’t think I’d be able to name anything. Maybe it’s the top one.

Maybe that’s one of my annoying figures of speech that I overuse, top five, top whatever. I’m aware of some of them. I hope that I’m somewhat conscious of phrases or words that I maybe rely on too heavily in my writing. I don’t know where any of it comes from, really, the words that I use, the way in which I speak or write.

Like here’s a little example. The other night I was watching an episode of Parks and Recreation on Netflix, and one of the characters used the word “innocuous.” And for some reason it popped in my head, it stood out amongst all the other dialogue. In the sentence that the word was spoken, I was able to kind of piece together through context what it meant. But I thought about it a little more. Did I know what the word innocuous meant before I’d seen the show?

I have no idea. I can’t think of any previous instances in which I’d used or heard or read the word innocuous. And since then, I keep finding myself wanting to slip it into conversation, or writing. The thing is, I’m not even sure I know how to use it, really. I could look it up, but I’m afraid that if I do, I’m just going to be all about innocuous, like look at this big word I’m using, and I’ll get to the point where I’m using it too much.

I feel like a word like innocuous is probably best used maybe once a year. Anything more, well, I don’t know, it sounds weird. And that’s kind of the feeling that I get when I see somebody writing about how they devour books. I definitely noticed it being used more than once in that Lincoln book, and now I’m hyper conscious of it whenever I see it in the wild.

It’s too original to be used more than, I’d say, once in a lifetime. That’s it. If you’re a writer, you should only be allowed to use it once. Definitely not twice in the same book. And you know what? I take it back, it shouldn’t be used at all. And never in reference to your own reading habits, like that blog post I was talking about earlier. Because even if you’re only using it that one time, it’s like, OK, we get it, you read a lot of books. Congratulations.

Does this bother anybody else? Am I the only person in the world that gets all bent out of shape about trivial crap like this? Because I would never be able to talk about it in real life. I wouldn’t know how to explain it to anybody else. I’m not even sure that I’m doing a good job of articulating what I mean right now.

And I’m not trying to nitpick, because like I said, everybody’s got their own quirks and styles and traps that they fail to notice themselves continually falling into. And maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m seeing a trend or a pattern where there’s nothing there at all. Maybe it’s like innocuous. I notice a word for the first time and after that I find that I’m seeing it everywhere.

This happened a while back when I “discovered” the word zeitgeist in some newspaper article. I’d never seen it before, so I looked it up, I found out what it meant, and then I felt like I saw it being used in every other piece of writing I read. Was I going crazy? Were people all of the sudden using these novel words? Or was it simply the fact that I’d noticed it, and now I was more aware of their occasional use?

Like what other weird words are out there in use that have yet to make an appearance on my radar? When I’m reading a book, am I just glossing over the occasional word or phrase that doesn’t make sense to me? As long as I get the general context of a paragraph or a page, am I missing out on material, a word, a line, that I’m simply not aware that I’m unaware of?

I have no idea, and the more I try to think about it, I’m just getting dizzy, my chain of thought processes is starting to unravel. I don’t know how I got here based on writing about a pet peeve, that it annoys me when people use the word devour in the context of reading. But it does annoy me. It’s like a little verbal trick that’s, in my view anyway, beyond overused. It’s like fondue. The first time you have fondue, you’re like, wow, that’s pretty cool, really interesting. But after that, do you really want fondue again? No, once in a lifetime is enough. Both for devour and for fondue.

5 words we should ban along with bossy

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has been popping up all over my Facebook News Feed ever since she unveiled her campaign to ban the word bossy. I for one would actually love to be called bossy, because it might imply that people see me as boss material, or at the very least someone worth paying attention to, or listening to, or not ignoring completely when I politely leave post-it notes asking not to take any of my good Mexican glass bottle Cokes out of the fridge.


But I also hate being told what to do. I feel like I’m constantly being bossed around. By my boss. By the government. So yeah, let’s get rid of the word bossy. I’m all for hashtagging BanBossy. But why stop there? While we’re at it, here’s a list of other words long overdue for a ban:

1. Hairy

I remember when I was a little kid and my family would go on vacation every summer, it would always be a shock to see my dad put on a bathing suit and take off his shirt to jump in the pool. Because it’s not a sight we were used to seeing around the house. Now that I’m a grown man, I feel that same instant recoil, the jolt of disbelief every time I step in front of the mirror on my way into the shower. Nobody told me when I was a little kid exactly what I was in for as an adult.

And even though I try my best at manscaping to a degree of acceptable manageability, every once in a while someone will say something to me like, “Dude, your hands are fucking hairy.” I just smile and try to act casual, but I really want to grab them on the wrist, pull them in close, look them dead in the eye and say, “It’s not just my hands. It’s everywhere. And it’s getting worse. Help me.” Please, it’s time to #BanHairy.

2. Lanky

Here’s a word with absolutely no positive connotations whatsoever, yet it’s thrown around casually, like a term of endearment, the way you’d call a loveable yet disheveled looking puppy mangy or mutt. You might not think lanky is that big of a deal, but you try being a 160-pound high school sophomore who, after a very intensive growth spurt, rockets up to six foot three almost overnight. Would you be able to control the trajectory of your limbs at all times? Do you think it’s easy to constantly not trip while walking or running?

Fast forward ten years and you’re waiting tables for a living. You’ve filled out somewhat, but your arms and legs are still disproportionately long, and the effect is only pronounced when the restaurant can’t seem to find a waiter’s uniform that fits just right. Then there are the accidents, the spilled glass of wine, the five or so dropped platter plates in the kitchen. Just try it, I dare you, see what happens if you say lanky. This applies also to gangly, klutzy, and spastic, OK, but it’s long overdue that we #BanLanky.

3. Clingy

Listen, I don’t think that I’m spending too much time calling you. I just love you so much. Is there something wrong with showing my affection? Yes, after you explained to me how embarrassed you were after I sent that barbershop quartet to serenade you at the office for Valentine’s Day, I get it, that it was maybe too big of a gesture. But if you’d only synch our Google calendars like I’ve been telling you we should, I’d have known that you were in the middle of a really important presentation, I could have waited until later in the day.

And look, I’m behaving myself here, on the Internet. I’m not doing those big public displays of love on the Internet anymore, where I write your full name in the middle of the article, tag you, and then post it all over your Facebook wall. I get it, personal space, boundaries, all of those things the lawyer highlighted in the subpoena, OK, I know how to read. Baby, just give me a call and we can talk about it, OK? Baby? Just don’t call me clingy, OK? We’ve seriously got to #BanClingy.

4. Spicy

Here’s a word that, in its quest to be everything, ultimately winds up meaning nothing. Actually, it’s worse than nothing, it’s doing a disservice to language. It’s like, I went to a Vietnamese place last night with my brother. After I ordered my food, the waiter warned me, “Oooh, that’s pretty spicy.” I told him, “That’s OK, I like spicy.” My brother then put in his dish, to which the waiter said the same thing, “That’s very spicy.”

Ultimately both of our dishes packed about as much heat as a packet and a half of “mild” sauce from Taco Bell, but as we sat there and wondered if maybe the chefs watered down the seasoning because they didn’t think we could handle it, we both recalled different experiences in which dishes marked as “spicy” were served so hot as to be practically inedible. And that’s the problem with spicy. That bag of BBQ Fritos over there is labeled “spicy,” but so is that ghost pepper that would render my tongue immobile. We need more words, vocabulary that’s better able to describe the various degrees of heat. Until then, there’s no option but to #BanSpicy.

5. Lucky

It’s just like Obi Wan said in the middle of Episode IV: “In my experience, there is no such thing as luck.” It’s all skill. Like when I was playing my friend Matt in a game of HORSE last week, he was destroying me. Left-handed shot from the point. H. Three point shot on one foot. H-O. By the time he cornered me all the way to H-O-R-S, I didn’t have any choice. So I started pulling my junk shots out. Slam-dunk. H. Matt’s a lot shorter than me and can’t reach the rim. H-O. Another dunk. And another. H-O-R-S for the tie game.

“You lanky motherfucker!” Matt was pissed. (#BanLanky.) “This is beyond cheap, Rob. I bet you ten bucks you can’t win on a real shot. A three-pointer.” Ten bucks? I couldn’t resist. “You’re on.” And yeah, I don’t have much of an outside shot, but for whatever reason, this one just sailed in, a total swish. And Matt, he hits maybe nine out of ten, a great shot, he missed this one, a brick. Of course I gloated a little, I mean, it’s a competition. And as he handed over the ten singles, he commented, “What a lucky shot.” You know what Matt? It wasn’t luck. It was skill. I don’t always hit those shots, but that one was a perfect three. OK? You can’t take that victory away from me by calling it lucky. Because it wasn’t. And now look. Everybody’s reading about this on the Internet. And they’re all hearing about what a baby you were. I won, fair and square. #BanLucky.

Originally published on Thought Catalog