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Linguistic Mistakes Everyone Has to Stop Making in 2014

Words are everywhere, and many are strung together recklessly. People tend to pick up errant usages as easily as black velvet picks up lint. Next thing you know, someone sees that verbal atrocity as a viable expression, and the cycle continues.
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Perhaps more than others, writers can fall into bad habits. (By writers, in this case, I mean anyone who puts his or her thoughts down in words.)

Words are everywhere, and many are strung together recklessly. People tend to pick up errant usages as easily as black velvet picks up lint.

The latest industry shorthand might meander out of an oral conversation in a conference room and into a blog post. Next thing you know, someone sees that verbal atrocity as a viable expression, and the cycle continues.

Such is the hazard of "writing like you talk."

Here are a few of the more prevalent linguistic mutations that sentient beings should scrap in 2014:


These occur when humans' (or other animals') powers are attributed to inanimate objects or, worse, to concepts. Such constructions are everywhere -- an outgrowth of attempts to make businesses more people-friendly.

This happens most often when a company is referred to, on a second or subsequent reference, as "they." Regardless of whether you believe politically that "Corporations are people, my friend," grammatically it just isn't so.

Wrong: In April, XYZ Amalgamated had their biggest monthly loss since 2006.

Right: In April, XYZ Amalgamated had its biggest monthly loss since 2006.

This practice goes beyond just pronouns and antecedents, though.

I recently read this:

After all, who will have a better idea of what'll appeal to the client's sales demographic than the demographic itself?

A demographic doesn't have ideas, but people within a demographic can.

Suddenly, too, everything has "needs." For example, many people write:

Your social media strategy "needs to" align with your campaign.

No. No, no, no.

Here are three better options:

Your social media strategy should align with your campaign.

Your social media strategy has to align with your campaign.

Your social media strategy must align with your campaign.

A social media strategy does not feel "need." Children and pets are needy; many adults are needy, too. (There's nothing wrong with that.)

We all need a hug sometimes. We need water and food and oxygen. Plants need water and, in most cases, sufficient light.

That office chair, however, does not need to be reupholstered. You might feel a need for that to happen, but the chair has no emotional pull either way. Even if you've named it. ("Mr. Snuggles?" Really?)

Then we have the opposite tendency: turning people into mere things.

If you're a restaurant, you...

As a brand, you...

As a Twitter account, you...

You might be a restaurant owner, or a brand representative, or a Twitter account manager, but you are not those senseless entities themselves.

To that point, when you speak of journalists, please do not refer to them as "media." Journalists are reporters, editors, columnists, graphic artists, designers, photographers-all of whom have lives and families, and most of whom work really crappy hours, including evenings, weekends, and most holidays. Do not do them the further disservice of calling them "media."

'Media' is the message

Media, incidentally, is the plural of medium. (More on that later.) An artist's medium can be clay or oil paint, papyrus or marble, pastels or bronze, and so on.

A communication medium can be telegraph or postcard or smoke signal or tom-tom or cave painting. "The media" has become shorthand for the news media -- primarily radio, TV, or print publications.

Again, journalists might be contributors to the news media, but using the terms interchangeably is linguistically inaccurate -- and professionally unwise.

Following up on media as a plural form, I recently saw one writer pluralize media by adding a final s--"medias"; I was appalled.

Social media has been, from its earliest days, a monolithic entity. There are social platforms, social sites, and social networks, but social media is a single thing, comprising different components but dispersed through one Internet, a single "series of tubes," as it were.

(The coinage social media has become so pervasive that it defies correction, even if one were to attempt such a feat.)

Another thing, please: Stop truncating "social media" to just "social." It's neither cute nor clever; it's simply an example of...

Hideous jargon

I applaud people who use imagery to convey ideas -- for the first time and shortly thereafter. Phrases like "thinking outside the box," "pushing the envelope," "taking the 10,000-foot view" are all valid ideas. They've simply become overused.

Then there's jargon that should have been nipped in the bud: groovy shorthand that hepcats tossed out to sound oh, so gnarly.

"Let's look into some ad buys."

"What's the projected spend on that."

These awful things were probably introduced by people of influence, and that's why those speakers weren't immediately and raucously derided into taking a lifelong vow of silence. That's a pity.

If you've been uttering these things, or similar abominations, stop. If you hear someone use them, ask for a clarification:

"Ad buys? You mean buying advertising?"

"Projected spend? You mean projected costs?"

Next time around, the speaker will, with any luck at all, think before offering these monstrosities. Soon, it will stop altogether. The verbal virus will be contained. And we'll all be able to communicate without stifling a horrified scream.

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