Friday, 2 April 2010

What words or phrases do you hate? (1)

These I have hated

Most people have words or verbal habits they dislike intensely, or even hate. I'm no exception! So here I am going to begin what may become the first of many threads as I pour out my invective against these hapless linguistic tics.

1. Attendee

Pre-eminent among them (for me) is this sorry abortion of a word. I wish I had a time machine, so I could go back and have strong words with the twonk who first coined it. Or perhaps hit them over the head with a saucepan to prevent them polluting the gene pool :-) 

I would say to him (or her) "Weren't you taught the rules at school? Were you asleep that day? Do you REALLY want to bequeath your ignorance to the future in perpetuity? It's quite straight-forward : "

EmployER : the one who DOES THE EMPLOYING (active)

EmployEE : the one who IS EMPLOYED (passive)

And so with InterviewER / InterviewEE, ExaminER / ExaminEE, and so on.

With "attendEE", who or what IS BEING ATTENDED (passive)? Why, surely, the event itself! So the conference, seminar, workshop, meeting, or whatever, is the only "attendEE" here. The people actually ATTENDING (active) must be "attendERs". Was it too difficult in Twonk Land to see that? Sigh.

I suspect I know how it happened, or can guess. There was a confusion between being "invited" to an event (INVITEE - quite correct), with actually "attending" it. And now it's too late to correct, and we are sadly stuck with it.

2. Going forward 

I have never actually met a "normal" person (i.e. one who doesn't use this horrible phrase) who doesn't wince at the very least when they hear it. The perpetrators are nearly always company spokespeople, and maybe the occasional politician.

Sometimes it is partnered with "in the future", so we end up with the abysmal tautology "in the future going forward".

Please, people - STOP IT!! It's just NewSpeak, an Orwellian-sounding piece of pseudo-professional nonsense. It means nothing, or rather it means "in the future", or "from now on", two perfectly good English phrases which could and should be used instead.

3. Electrocution

This is a perfectly good word. When properly used. Which it isn't, often.

Its origins are quite clearly defined by the Oxford English Dictionary :


Folks, you can't survive being electrocuted! It means you're dead dead dead. It does NOT mean the same as "getting an electric shock". It means "getting an electric shock which kills you".  Clear now?


  1. I think I'm guilty and have used attendee in some of my work (but that's only because it's in general parlance) she says in her defence.

    This is one of my gripes - second guessing. What is first guessing, pray?

  2. Good point, bub :-) I've racked my brains (and what does THAT mean!? I've been brainwashed and now it's drying on the rack?) but cannot come up with a reason for 'second guessing'. Unless it's a combination of 'guess' and 'second sight', i.e. you're trying to mind-read someone before they act?

  3. Thanks for an eminent grammatical explanation of why Attendee is bad English.

    I fear I may be guilty of having misused electrocute in the past. But NEVER AGAIN!

    When you rack your brains, you are torturing them to extract information - it's a reference to stretching on the rack. Now, of course, you want more than just my word on that ... the paper edn of the SOED gives meaning 3b of Rack (v) as: to strain, task severly (the mind, brain etc.) and has it recorded in this sense from 1558. (Though it doesn't seem that Shakespeare used it.)

    I'm not sure about second guess. It seem that it ought to mean (as you suggest) predict what someone is going to say before they say it. But I can't find it in the SOED. Could be originally American usage and/or developed since 1922. (My SOED is not the most up to date.)

    Cheers, fellow lexicomaniacs.