"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

And Curse Sir Walter Raleigh, He Was Such a Stupid Git

Geoff Dyer goes all word nerd in the Times and I love it:

It started with the jacket copy for the British hardback of Richard Holmes’s wonderful “Age of Wonder.” We learn there of the astronomer William Herschel’s “tireless dedication to the stars” (the actual stars, that is, the ones out there in space, before they were superseded — and possibly even outnumbered — by those in the realm of film, pop and sport). This connection between an adjective and the stars made me curious about the extent to which a word can continue to shine after the life has gone out of it. Thereafter I started to notice that “tireless” and “tirelessly” were cropping up all over the place, often in works of considerable literary merit. In Jonathan Coe’s biography of the experimental novelist, for example, I read that B. S. Johnson “worked tirelessly for the trade union movement.” There was nothing particularly wrong with this particular instance, but the cumulative effect of encountering tirelesslys made me — taking my cue from Holmes again — wonder. Like a tired person trying to get to sleep who is kept awake by sounds from the street that he or she has for years scarcely noticed, I found that the word had become suddenly unignorable.

It intruded, if only in a pea-under-a-mattress way, on my enjoyment of two of the best books I read last year. Wade Davis’s “Into the Silence” is a brilliantly thorough narrative of the first attempts to conquer Everest, starting with the climbers who had fought in the First World War and climaxing with the disappearance of Mallory in 1924. It would be churlish when considering such a long book to make too much of the “tireless efforts” of one member of the team on behalf of the Everest project, or the description of another member as “tireless.” But one can, I think, question the accuracy of this shared appellation. I mean, were these people never tired? (Yes, yes, I understand, this is a context in which people are not just tired; they’re depleted beyond the limits of human comprehension — but keep going anyway.)

What words bother you? “Literally” is literally killing me these days because I literally hear people using it literally all the time.

Categories:  1: Featured  Arts and Culture  Creative Process

Tags:  geoff dyer  tireless

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1 Jon DeRosa   ~  Feb 21, 2012 1:42 pm

I hate "untracked." As in a player who is doing poorly needs to get "untracked." No. The player needs to get "on track." "Untracked" is bad. "On track" is good. For "untracked" to work, the train the player was on would have to be going someplace icky, like Slumpsville, and then he would have to get that train "untracked" and then he would have to have the train "retracked" to somewhere good, like Pizza City.

2 rbj   ~  Feb 21, 2012 1:49 pm

Misplaced apostrophes. They really bug me. Plurals do not get them. Its as a possessive does not get one.

3 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 21, 2012 1:50 pm

1) Oh, good one.

What's interesting about Tireless is not that it's misused necessarily just that it is used so often--and lazily--that it has become a cliche.

4 Jon DeRosa   ~  Feb 21, 2012 2:02 pm

My wife, who watches some program called House Hunters International, wants to chuck a fit every time she hears "functional." Hates the way it sounds, hates the dumbness of the thinking usually behind it. The door needs to "functional" really? No shit? It can't just be painted on?

5 Fuller R   ~  Feb 21, 2012 2:02 pm

Amazing. To some people everything good is "amazing." I shudder evertime I hear it - [3] even when it is not necessarily misused.

6 ColoYank   ~  Feb 21, 2012 2:02 pm

"Grow" as a verb. I'm fine with the concept of growing wheat or corn, but I've heard "grow his business" and "grow their department" way, WAY too often. Please stop.

7 ColoYank   ~  Feb 21, 2012 2:04 pm

I guess I should say "grow as a transitive verb."

8 Bronx Boy in NC   ~  Feb 21, 2012 2:21 pm

Hyphens where they don't belong, and missing hyphens where they do.

Sports writing is a particular hot spot for that peeve.

There is no reason to hyphenate "He went 0 for 4," for example. But you do hyphenate it when it's a compound adjective phrase ("The bright spot was Jeter's 5-for-5 day"), and no one knows the difference anymore.

Or in ages, for example. A kid is nine years old, not "nine-years-old." But he is a "nine-year-old kid."

Hyphens. Bunting. Get off my lawn.

9 RIYank   ~  Feb 21, 2012 2:29 pm

I always thought it was "stupid git". What is a stupid get?

[6] [7] I know what you mean -- isn't that politician-speak? Growing the economy. But growing crops, no problem, right?

[1] I'm pretty sure 'untracked' is mis-analysis. People hear it and think it means approximately the same thing as "getting out of a rut", and getting untracked seems analogous. A bit like "for all intensive purposes".

One I really don't like: "going forward". Yuck.

10 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 21, 2012 2:41 pm

9) Oh, I could have gotten that wrong. But the lyrics on line stuff I looked up said "get." But you are right, it doesn't make much sense.

As Howard Bryant mentioned a few weeks ago the use of the word "legacy" in sports is terrible. I'll add this. NOBODY "shocks the world" when their team wins a game.

11 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 21, 2012 2:46 pm

[9] You're right, it is "git"...

Not apologizing for or acknowledging misinformation purposely stated as fact or put forth as a strong opinion after that "fact" or opinion has been refuted with hard evidence kinda ticks me off... (I dunno, too broad?) Also "PC" as in "political correctness" when used to assail someone as being "oversensitive" about words or comments that clearly insult a person or group of people. E@#$'s recent action to punish certain people for headlines and comments that were deemed derogatory was met with as much skepticism as supporters for being "overly-pc"; which is hilarious when the ones making that particular accusation most likely never query the offended parties to begin with.

12 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 21, 2012 2:48 pm

[11] Bleah. Sorry, I see we were supposed to limit this to sports :'

13 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 21, 2012 2:55 pm

How about when someone starts a sentence with, "To be honest with you..." No, lie.

I have to admit I say this one. Trying to break the habit.

14 Start Spreading the News   ~  Feb 21, 2012 3:02 pm

The misuse of quotations would annoy me all the time. For example, signs that say: No "standing" here.

But the new thing I see now is when people say "should of" instead of "should have." That is really a break down in grammar.

15 ColoYank   ~  Feb 21, 2012 4:02 pm

Okay, going to jump in again: this misuse is almost unique to sportswriting. When someone played for a team some years ago, or had something in common with someone or something else, writers employ "ironically" when they mean "coincidentally." For example, "He was traded to the Orioles, who, ironically, first drafted him so many years ago."

16 Jon DeRosa   ~  Feb 21, 2012 4:23 pm

[11] I don't think it's supposed to be limited to sportswriting...?

17 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 21, 2012 4:30 pm

Another bad one that I'm guilty of using on occasion is "Interestingly" to start a sentence. Which is easier than explaining why something is interesting.

18 The Hawk   ~  Feb 21, 2012 4:38 pm

The "literally" thing is especially bad because very often it's not even true. "He literally blew his top" ... stuff like that.

I'll nitpick a bit myself and say some of you guys are citing mistakes or misuse, and the piece is just talking about words that are annoying in their proper usage.

[15] Giving them the benefit of the doubt, sometimes coincidence and irony can both be at work.

Also, I saw Modern Times recently and it was cracking me up. I love the nonsense song part so much.

19 monkeypants   ~  Feb 21, 2012 4:39 pm

[9] Yes..."going forward" is awful, as is "moving forward" (i.e., "we need to move forward").


"bottom line" -- invariably used to introduce a long description that is not the bottom line.

"xxx situation" -- typically misused by sports announcers when applied to a specific rather than a general situation. e.g.: "this is a passing situation" = good use; "this is a third an 14, with your starting quarterback injured, going against the wind situation" = bad. No, that is not a generic situation, that is *the* situation.

"partner" --- call me old fashioned, but I say husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, and maybe even fiancé(e). Hearing the term partner causes me to grind my teeth.

20 rbs   ~  Feb 21, 2012 4:49 pm

"Literally" is a bad one, but use of "decimate" when one means "destroy", "wipe out" or "massacre" drives me nuts.

In a baseball context, I find "bases-clearing" double unintelligible. Dude, if the bases were cleared, why is there a guy standing on second after the play?

And one that I find particularly stupid, especially if uttered by a self-labeled stathead, is to compare extremely close batting averages or win percentages -- for example, 0.313 to 0.316 -- and say "separated by percentage points". Ahem, that's less than a percentage point. That would be "permil-age" points, if there is such a term.

21 monkeypants   ~  Feb 21, 2012 4:55 pm

[20] In its original meaning, "decimate" meant to kill every tenth person, but now it means "to kill a lot of." I take it you object because it does not reflect the totality of "destroy" or "wipe out"?

22 RIYank   ~  Feb 21, 2012 5:08 pm

[21] [22] I think some people just like the older meaning and find the newer one grating. I don't feel that way about 'decimate', but I do about 'beg the question'. I'm sure monkeypants knows petitio principii, but most people now use 'beg the question' to mean 'raise the question'. I don't care. I still only like the old meaning.

23 RIYank   ~  Feb 21, 2012 5:09 pm

Please subtract one from each of my comment number references above.

24 monkeypants   ~  Feb 21, 2012 5:26 pm

[22] or [23]

Along the lines of logical fallacies, I despise how the phrase "the exception that proves the rule" is commonly misapplied.

25 rbs   ~  Feb 21, 2012 5:28 pm

[21] Perhaps it's because I had a 9th grade English teacher who spent a good deal of the year showing us how many words derive from particular Greek or Latin roots, and when I see a "deci-" I immediately start thinking of something involving 10. (Let's just leave talking about December aside for the moment.) So when someone says "Custer's cavalry was decimated at the Little Big Horn," my immediate reaction is, no, it was a heck of a lot worse than that.

[22] "Beg the question" is not one I encounter much.

[14] For another break down in grammar that comes up a lot, how about, "I could care less"?

26 monkeypants   ~  Feb 21, 2012 5:33 pm

[25] Let's just leave talking about December aside for the moment.

No need to: it used to be the 10th month in the archaic Roman calendar, before a series of reforms.

27 thelarmis   ~  Feb 21, 2012 5:34 pm

[23] i was told there'd be no math.

(had to get a "there'd" in on this thread! ; )

28 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 21, 2012 5:34 pm

I'm surprised nobody said nuthin' about double negatives >;)

29 thelarmis   ~  Feb 21, 2012 5:36 pm

[25] yeah, the "i could care" less bothers me.

i hate the: "...as good as anybody (in the game...)". that's just awful.

btw, the rbs tag is super similar to our regular commenter rbj. see [2]. very confusing!

30 thelarmis   ~  Feb 21, 2012 5:37 pm

[28] "double-plus un-good" is all kindsa ruling!

(might have been rbj that brought that to the banter...)

31 rbs   ~  Feb 21, 2012 5:39 pm

[28] Double negative just means extra negative, right? Or at least that's what a Russian told me.

[29] Sorry for the confusion. I've been following Banter since the Olden Days, back when Cliff was still doing the Big Red Blog. I just don't comment very often.

32 thelarmis   ~  Feb 21, 2012 5:48 pm

[31] oh, ok. me, too! i've been around since alex was still at all-baseball. i vaguely remember! guess we just haven't seen you around much and rbj one of us daily posters. : )

33 Normando   ~  Feb 21, 2012 6:00 pm

"Spend." As in, "the average spend per customer is _____."

"Ticket" once bothered me nearly as much, as in, "the average ticket per customer is _____," but since "ticket" has been nearly eclipsed by "spend," I find myself almost nostalgic for "ticket."

34 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 21, 2012 6:08 pm

[31] "If you're blue and you don't know where to go to why don't you go where fashion sits..."

35 ColoYank   ~  Feb 21, 2012 6:10 pm

24: A common misconception about the "exception that proves the rule": the word 'proves' here, as used originally by Shakespeare, means "tests." It's the exception that "tests" the rule. It's not as conclusive as commonly thought. Nowadays, it's used poorly, too often, and frequently nonsensically.

36 rbs   ~  Feb 21, 2012 6:32 pm

[33] Has "spendy" reached the big city yet, as an adjective meaning expensive.

37 Ara Just Fair   ~  Feb 21, 2012 7:57 pm

Phenomenal. My neighbors use that one to describe every thing in their world. The fact that the husband sounds like Super Dave Osborne makes it especially grating. And another thing, the last 2 weeks in class I have been not allowing my students to answer questions when they begin with "Um...." It was driving me nuts. I have seen immediate positive results.

38 Evil Empire   ~  Feb 21, 2012 8:08 pm

Hawk already hit this but I hate it when people use "literally" to describe something that's not literal. E.g. "It was literally raining cats and dogs."

I also hate it when people say they're going to "peruse" something when they actually mean "skim."

39 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Feb 21, 2012 8:56 pm

[19] Can I call you old-fashioned? :)

Like Larry David said in CYE "Having said that.." is very annoying, just completely contradicts what you said first.

Also cannot stand the current trend of baseball analysts using "value" too much. As in "there's good value there.." makes me think of the stock market.

[36] Just reading "spendy" made me shiver. Yuck!

40 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Feb 21, 2012 9:06 pm

Maybe this is already finished but for awhile I kept hearing sports commentators say "Oh, by the way.." for some reason I found it excruciating. Lesson: stop listening to sports shows and just stick with the Banter.

41 monkeypants   ~  Feb 22, 2012 4:04 am

[35] Perhaps, but the phrase is originally much older and is (was) used in a legal sense. It meant that an exception to a general rule or law proved the existence of the general rule or law. For example, a sign that says "No parking here on Sundays" implies necessarily that there exists a general rule that "Parking is allowed here at all times except Sundays."

In this sense, it nothing to do with a contradicting example somehow "proving" the validity of a general rule (e.g.: Jeter striking out in a clutch situation somehow proving that he always comes through in clutch situations), or even that such contradictory evidence "tests" a general claim.

42 RIYank   ~  Feb 22, 2012 8:11 am

[41] I must cry Fowler!

43 Boatzilla   ~  Feb 22, 2012 8:33 am

Sorry to chime in late. Been busy. The worst phrase to garner regular usage in the English language in the past 20 year is "actively...." as an adverb.

Every verb is active. The Yanks are actively seeking a DH. The Yanks are seeking a DH. Exactly the same meaning. "I'm actively looking for a job" Does that mean you are looking for a job? Yes.

It's awful, bloated, ugly English. Please don't use it.

One more. "For good or bad." "For better or worse." All these constructions are a push. No need to cover your bases when you cover them all. It doesn't add any meaning to the message.

Thanks for letting me rant.

44 RIYank   ~  Feb 22, 2012 8:47 am

Every verb is active.

Hmm, are you sure?

"During the game, Josh was actively sleeping in the clubhouse."
"Carl languishes actively on the DL."
"Joe is actively comatose in the dugout."
"Mourning actively becomes Electra."

Maybe it works better in Japanese.

45 Normando   ~  Feb 22, 2012 10:05 am

[36] [39] "Spendy." There is nothing OK about that.

46 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 22, 2012 10:54 am

[45] But "thrifty" is okay. Damned cheap rental car services... >;)

47 Normando   ~  Feb 22, 2012 11:52 am

[46] Absolutely. I am thrifty, not cheap! "Spendy" I will never be.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
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