Last week, I shared a few things I’d learned recently. As a result of this exercise in personal accounting, I have repudiated the word “unlikeable,” which, I’d discovered, I had been using solely, squarely in the description of women with strident personalities. Men of the same ilk were “aggressive” or “assertive” or “brash.” Yuck yuck yuck. YUCK. A few of you had some interesting reactions to this point, so I did a little digging around. I came across an interesting post on the perception of female voices in politics. This observation was piquant: “Think about Jeb Bush’s voice. It’s so—wait, what does it sound like again? He sounds just … like a guy, maybe?” Women in politics, the author demonstrates, are rarely afforded such latitude.
A few other words I despise:
+Shrill. (Same category as “unlikeable.” Overly gendered.)
+Just. (Mr. Magpie and I collectively banned this word from our vocabulary while running our business — we found ourselves writing, flabbily: “I’m just checking in on this note…” or “Just wondering whether…” The just always undercut our let’s-get-down-to-business mentality and cast us as flustered, docile Hugh Grant-like wimby nimbies.)
+Very. (I tend to over-lean on “extraordinarily” as a substitute because sometimes you need an exclamation point tacked onto your adjective, but, in truth, it’s scarcely an improvement.)
+Hack. (I have more of a problem with the meaning of this word and its abuse in the startup world in particular — #growthhacking, #solutionhack. #BARF. In my opinion, there are few short-cuts in business — or in life. Nearly anything worth doing requires hard work and dedication, and approaching these challenges the hard and honest way tends to pay off manifold.)
+Plopped. (A purely aesthetic judgment, but this word is, simply, unseemly. It’s overused in contemporary fiction writing: “She plopped down on the couch”; “He plopped down beside her.” Never describe me as plopping anywhere, pls + ty.)
+Pulchritude. (An unlikely companion to its intended meaning (beauty), this word is hideous. The adjectival form is worse: pulchritudinous. Don’t call me pretty at all if you need to use this behemoth.)
+Synergy. (The most egregious case of corporate speak I can think of.)
+Competitive advantage. (What this really means, in the mouth of 99% of all VCs, is: “What insider do you have a relationship with that will make it easy to close massive deals?” Sounds innocuous enough — “tell me what makes you different and better than competitors?” — but actually winks conspiratorially at the cabalistic practices of the industry: “who do you know?” AKA, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.)
+The usual parade of disgusting medicinal/bodily descriptors: pus, ointment, scab, etc. (These are, however, necessary and aesthetically apposite to the circumstance.)
+Overly pretentious words and phrases, like “plethora,” “if you will,” “studentry.” These call to mind George Orwell’s famous little piece, Politics and the English Language, where he shares the following six rules of writing:
(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.
(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
I read Orwell’s piece in high school (woah, second shout-out to the excellent English faculty at Georgetown Visitation in a week!) and took it as Gospel. I’ve since committed a trillion and ten infractions, including in this post, which is — admittedly — written in a mildly sardonic tone channeling a know-it-all grammarian, purely for effect — though even Orwell allows, in his sixth rule, that there are times and places for errythang. (I do not agree, however, with his Hemingway-esque view that simple is always better. We have a beautiful language at our disposal: why not use le mot juste? [Ed. note: Infraction against rule v.] Why not travel the vast expanse of the vocabulary we have to keep things interesting? I recently read an article that left me feeling…smeh. In its aftermath, I was the emotional equivalent of dishwater blond: listless, uninspired, wishy-washy. I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on; the topic had been interesting enough. And that’s when I realized that the author’s writing was bland, drab, unornamented. The word choice (“w.c.” as Mrs. Mattingly used to write in the margins of my papers when I’d used a malapropism or exercised too much creativity) was overly generic. Snooze fest central. So, yah. I’ll strain for the more colorful wherever possible.)
What words do you hate?
Post-Script: Makeup I Love.
I realize this section makes for odd bedfellows with the previous linguistic jaunt, but…c’est la vie. I’ve already shared my all-time favorite cosmetics, but thought I’d share a few recent entrants into the daily regimen:
+Nars liquid blush. This took a minute to get the hang of — the first time I used it, I pumped out a nice-sized blob of product and immediately transformed myself into a clown heading to the big tent at Barnum + Bailey. You need only the teensiest weensiest amount of this stuff, and then you need to learn, through trial and error, exactly where to apply it on your cheek. But once you do, it’s pure magic. It looks natural — as though you’re lit from within. Love love love.
+Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench. I’m loyal to my peony perfecting cream for everyday hydration, but had a tub of this I’d picked up while temporarily homeless in the botched move to New York and decided to give it a try. It’s unlike any product I’ve ever used — it feels like what I imagine “lipids” feel like…sort of fatty/greasy to the touch but then it glides into the skin and really hydrates. I’m impressed with the results. My skin looks plumped, refreshed, alive with it. Worth a test drive during these drying winter months.
+Smashbox Limitless Liquid Liner Pen. WOW. This is my new go-to liner, and here’s why: it dries matte. How many black liners dry with a weird sheen, suggesting, ever so subtly, you may have been wearing it out clubbing the night before but forgotten to dry it off this morning? I love this for everyday wear because the felt tip point enables me to draw the slimmest little matte line to offer definition to my lash line without looking like I’m dressing up as Cleopatra at 9 a.m.
+Makeup Forever Ultra HD Concealer. Not a five-star product, but a solid one, and — as I’ve shared many times, I still cannot find a perfect concealer, so I’ll take it. I like that it is non-drying and non-cake-y. (<< Horrible writing, mais je ne regrette rien, Orwell.) It doesn’t have much lightness/reflection in it, though — v. matte — and I feel more comfortable with something that has a little bit of illumination to it.
+Bumble + Bumble Hairdresser’s Invisible Oil Primer. I love this spray! I put it on after toweling my hair dry a bit and then sleep in it. It leaves my hair super soft and malleable the next morning when I’m styling it. I also love the scent and love that it doesn’t add any stiffness/greasiness!
+Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser. I have been loathe to switch up my skincare routine because I’m prone to breakouts when I switch things up, but I LOVED the sample I received of this. It has little beads that exfoliate, smells organic-y (haha), and leaves the skin feeling super clean.
+This makeup shelf!!! I don’t own it but DAYUM. If I lived alone in a bachelorette pad, I’d totally install this on my wall. Love.
P.S. A chic-looking basket at a good price. I have so many baskets in my house to store books, toys, blankets, etc. Love this one.
P.P.S. I have recently heard so many people rave about this, and was then shocked at the rave reviews online — nearly 26,000 reviews and nearly five stars?! Will this change my life?!?!?!? What am I waiting for?! Tell me if you’ve used this!
P.P.P.S. I love this print. Would look great on my gallery wall…