Accidental Activist

Six More Words Ben Hates

Ben Bull hates many, many things. Here are another six of those things.

By Ben Bull
Published October 01, 2010

Before I start this latest diatribe, let me first make a confession: I complain too much.

When I'm basking in the summer sun, swinging in the cottage hammock with my super-hot, negligee-clad wife, I trace the streams of light across her shimmering silk folds and remark: "How much did this cost again?"

When one of my kiddies rushes all the way from school, bounds up the front steps of the house and thrusts their latest Spanish test into my palm, I look at the score and snap: "El ochenta y siete por ciento? Qué sucedió al otro trece por ciento?"

Well, OK - I'm not bad. But I am a whiner. I'm British! It's in the genes. It's the northern upbringing for sure. The working class parentage - that's a part of it too.

If it's not that, then that oppressive Catholic school system must factor in somehow. All those busty, buttoned-down nuns with their large bendy canes... Eh, what? Oh, sorry - where was I?

Whatever my excuse - it doesn't matter. This is who I am and it's not going to change. So let's just get on with it shall we? OK great, so here we go - Another Accidental Activist grumblefest: six more words I hate!

I wrote, a couple of years ago, about ten words I hate, but well - that was sooo 2006. It's high time I brought the topic up to date. So, for no other reason than to get this off my chest so I can move on to the next moan and groan, allow me to relate - Another Six Words I Hate!

1. Zeitgeist

According to, or Webster's, or some such source way more intelligent than myself, Zeitgeist means: "The spirit of the time; general trend of thought or feeling characteristic of a particular period."

How nice. Not for me. I have two big problems with this word: Firstly, it's German. Now I'm not German, I don't speak German and I don't live in Germany. So why would I start randomly spouting German words over here? Exactly - I wouldn't! This would be like me saying to my mate Dave during our Tim Horton's coffee break:

"Hey Dave, how was your weekend?"

"Fine thanks."

"Passten Sie das Manchester United-Spiel auf Fernsehen auf?"

"What? Sind Sie wütend?"

My second problem with this word is that it's used way too often by noobs like Jian Ghomeshi. Jian Ghomeshi is a CBC presenter and zeitgeist is very definitely a 'CBC word'. Now, don't get me wrong, I like the CBC. I'm a big supporter of local radio and high-brow entertainment in general, but come on - why do so many of their presenters have to be so...inarticulately intelligent?

I read books as a kid. I went to school. I worked my way through college. But I never came across a word like zeitgeist! And then oity-toity-OMG-worst-band-in-the-world-Moxy Fruvous-alumni Jian Ghomeshi comes along, starts winding up some movie-star-wanna-be-pop-star and just, you know - slips it in there:

"Hi movie star who's films I'm not supposed to mention, what were your musical inspirations growing up (because I don't know what else to ask), blah, blah, blah, zeitgeist?"

"Zeit what?"


"Holy crap! What does that mean?"

It doesn't matter. It's German. And we're not German!

Just a thought, Jian Ghomeshi: the Germans never gave us permission to use their words. And there are plenty of other pretentious words in the CBC English language you can use. So why don't we keep with the spirit of the times and stick to our mother tongue? Great! Thanks.

2. Normalcy

Normalcy is another word that seems to have crept up on us, well - me at least. Where did it come from? I don't recall hearing it for the previous 40 years of my life, and yet, here it is - all the time!

"The family is slowly healing at this difficult period and they want to get back to normalcy," the newspaper will say.

Normalcy? What the hell is that? Why can't they just get back to 'normal' like everyone else? And how does the added 'cy' help them? When did that suddenly get tacked on? It's not cool to go randomly adding letters to the end of perfectly adequate words and then start using them like they were always there.

"I thought your RTH article was abominalinal young Ben, well done."


Enough is enough. I demand that we put an end this abnormalcy immediately!

3. Any words used by the Rosie DiManno

In one of her recent columns, the Star's Rosie DiManno used the following words: effluvium, bilious, palaver, snitcom (not even a word), erudite, repartee, obfuscation, polemical, snark, acrimonious, blather, oratorical, blogosphere, ninjas, badinage, discursive, lippy, and flayed.

Now why did she use all these words, you may ask? Because she felt like it? Maybe Rosie has shares in a dictionary company. Maybe she just wants to piss everybody off. Who knows?

What I do know is that Rosie's pseudo-eloquence does not add anything to her pitch. If anything, it dilutes the effectiveness of her message. I don't know about you but I'll be damned if I'm going to set aside my morning newspaper, flip open my Webster's and leaf through the flaps to look up 'effluvium' while my cornflakes go soggy.

I have a couple of words for Rosie:

  1. Brevity
  2. Succinctness

The dictionary is not there to be pilfered and abused. Words should not be cast like arrows, to pierce our ignorant minds with their wordiness! Here's a single word you might want to keep in mind Rosie, next time you patronize us with your 'art': Pretentious.

Now stop being so brazen and bombastic and keep it simple already!

4. Doppelganger

Apparently doppelganger means: "ghostly double or counterpart of a living person". It's a German word. Again. And it's annoying. Again. And it's being overused. Again!

What is going on here, I wonder. Are we being invaded? By German...words? Doppelganger is a word used by people like Rosie DiManno and Jian Ghomeshi because they are tired of using ordinary people words like 'double' and 'counterpart' and want to sound more intelligent.

I hate 'doppelganger'. Why?

  1. Because it's used by people like Rosie DiManno and Jian Ghomeshi; and
  2. Because it doesn't need to be used.

'Double' and 'counterpart' are perfectly good words. So why don't we use them?!

Please Jian, Rosie and anyone else who might be their ghostly double, "STOPPEN SIE, DIESES WORT SOFORT ZU VERWENDEN!"


5. Seminal

When Jane Jacobs died, everyone - and I mean everyone - described her most famous publication, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, as her "seminal" work.

Seminal... yuk.

All of a sudden the adjective was everywhere, gushing forth from every newspaper, website and radio station newscast: "Jacobs, whose seminal 1961 work The Death and Life of Great American Cities is only now sinking in with city planning departments, was always several decades ahead of her time." -- Ryan McGreal, RTH.

"She (Jacobs) was selected to be an officer of the Order of Canada in 1996 for her seminal writings." -- Everyone else.

'Seminal writings'... It just doesn't sound right. It's as if the word seminal has the opposite problem as Doppelganger, i.e. - there are no other words. But there are some other meanings of course...and they've got nothing to do with monumental literature.

Call me juvenile but come on, do we have to use sexual / bodily function type words when describing something completely unrelated? I wouldn't use 'shaft' when asking for directions to the elevator. I'm not 'erect' when standing for the national anthem (although I do sometimes get excited). Hell, I wouldn't even be so much as 'testy' when getting unzipped about words like 'seminal'.

I suggest we leave the icky medical words to the medical professionals and come up with some original words of our own.

6. "Thanks for this"

OK, now where is Jian...? "Thanks for this!" Ah, there he is. Every now and again someone comes along whose every look, utterance and sneer screams 'Phony!'Jian Gomeshi is that man. He makes me feel like Holden Caulfield skulking through the halls of his asylum.

One of Jian's interview traits is to pause at the end of the discussion - for effect I'm assuming - and then gush, ever-so-(in)sincerely: "Thanks for this!"

There then follows an awkward silence, during which I can only assume the interviewee is feeling the same way as me - i.e. nauseated - and then a hasty recovery: "Oh, er, you're welcome...hurr, hurr, puke."

The statement: "Thanks for this", the delivery, the mock sincerity of it all - it all makes me recoil. I'm forced to replay the previous ten minutes or so of pseudo-philosophical questions and resist the urge to vomit. The comment makes me feel unclean. It's as if the whole conversation has been smothered in treacle.

In an effort to reproduce a fuller transcript, the delivery usually goes something like this:

Interviewee: "So, yeah Jian, John whatever your name is, I don't want to talk about my movies. That's a really intelligent question, probably, but I don't speak German and I don't know what you're talking about."

Gomeshi: "Doppelganger?"

Interviewee: "Yeah, whatever. Canadians are like mashed potatoes without gravy, goodbye."

Ghomeshi: Silence-pause - smirk. More silence-another pause, and then: "Thanks for this!"

Schlop... Hurr.. Aargh! Pour on the treacle.

OK, that's all the words I hate (for now) so - pause-smirk-pause - Thanks for this! I'll see you back here again in another couple of years for more angst ridden wordy-nonsense. Until then, RTH readers: Auf Wiedersehen!

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 01, 2010 at 10:52:50

Okay, that was random.

Yeah, Jian needs to go back to making funny music. I can't stand his show. And don't knock Fruvous - "kick in the ass" is funny.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2010-10-01 09:54:02

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted October 01, 2010 at 11:09:41

Wow, that Billy Bob Thornton guy seems like a real jerk.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted October 01, 2010 at 11:13:20

How jejune.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted October 01, 2010 at 11:20:24

Ben, you and Rosie DiManno deserve each other.

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By MattM (registered) | Posted October 01, 2010 at 11:53:29

Das wagenphone ist das nuisance phone.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 01, 2010 at 12:31:05

If we're going to complain about misappropriated German words, how about the nerd-spawned fashion trend of abusing the prefix "Uber"?

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By joejoe (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2010 at 12:36:08

Yes! How could I have forgotten 'Uber'?! We really ARE being invaded...:)


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By Henry and Joe (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2010 at 14:20:31

LMAO off at #5. That is ridonculously funny - speaking of annoying hybrid words that aren't words: gynormous, chillax, and ones that don't even make sense like "loafting".

Disagree strongly that Moxy Fruvous was the worst band ever - They were a little campy, but their live shows were fun. On their worst day, they were better than Billy Bob. I would take "My baby loves a bunch of authors" instead of any of Billy Bob's southern crap.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted October 01, 2010 at 14:35:51

It is funny how some word you've never heard used in your life all of a sudden catches on and everyone starts using it. A few years ago during the US election it was "gravitas".

One person says it and next thing you know every talking head on cable news is wondering if so-and-so politician has "the gravitas for the job".

"Gravitas"... UGH!

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted October 01, 2010 at 14:39:01

Moxy Fruvous may not have been "the worst band ever", that is subjective after all. But they're the only band to ever give me that feeling of being so embarrassed for somebody that you can't even watch.

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By sbwoodside (registered) - website | Posted October 01, 2010 at 14:45:27

Chill ben, "It's all good".

As I'm sure you're well aware, half of english is german anyway. Both the "angles" and the "saxons" from anglo-saxon were german(ic?). The other half is french/latin/romantic/whatever. Of course the best thing about English is that we steal words from other languages with wild abandon.

But the whole New Yorker I know bigger words than you style sucks rocks.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 01, 2010 at 15:16:42


iirc, there was an american political woman who was terribly confused when the word was applied to women because she thought the term "gravitas" meant "balls".

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted October 01, 2010 at 15:48:12

Too funny Pxtl! : )

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By The King of Spain (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2010 at 15:52:36

As another of working class, Northern Brit. heritage, I'd like to ask what wrong with 'palaver'?

That word cropped up in my Grandmother's Geordie vocab. along with "slumgullion", "awah",
"10 shillin' Gallowas", & "Mahock Maggandies".

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By joejoe (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2010 at 17:15:42

I quite like 'palaver' - when it's spoken. By a Brit. The thing about Rosie is she strings so many 4 sylable, coloquial, made up words her columns scream, 'Ooh Look at me aren't I clever?'. It's just bloody annoying.

My opinion. Obviously many people love her which is why we're stuck with her :)


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By highwater (registered) | Posted October 01, 2010 at 17:37:25

speaking of annoying hybrid words that aren't words...

Just as long as you leave 'fugly' alone.

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By JMorse (registered) | Posted October 02, 2010 at 08:56:15

While I agree these words annoy me beyond words, the people like Gian and Rosie that use them make the words even more annoying. Other than the most common words, like "and" or "the" if I listen to these people for long enough I'll start hating the whole language.

Also, Moxy Fruvos is the stupidest band name ever. I hate it so much I decided their music sucked without caring what it sounded like.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted October 02, 2010 at 09:26:16

SO nice to discover I am not alone in being bored by Jian and Rosie.

Thanks for this.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted October 02, 2010 at 13:40:39

I like to take the standard "teacher" approach - use whatever "big words" you want, and it may gain you points, but if you don't know what they mean, just don't. Real brainpower is the ability to put complex ideas in simple terms, not the other way around.

Trying to sound smart usually doesn't.

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By HamiltonSeen (anonymous) | Posted October 02, 2010 at 20:26:58


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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted October 02, 2010 at 23:49:59

In defense of Jian & "Q"; he does interview people on the book & film plugging circuit, but he also gets people on the show whom I would like to hear from, but they seldom do interviews. (This makes a nice change from people that you can't escape from.)

I'm willing to overlook his sometimes awkward way of describing things, in exchange for an interview with Van Morrison, Phyllis Diller, or some of the other great 'finds' that Jian & his staff have managed to land. Jian also does his homework, & know what questions to ask.

Better Jian than Letterman, any day of the week.

(Didn't Jian spend time in England, before coming to Canada as a young person?)

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted October 04, 2010 at 12:00:15


Loved the piece. Genuinely lol.

So, tell me, as a Brit (ex or otherwise) how do you feel about their use of the words homely (where we would say homey) and pressurized (when we would say pressured)?

I was born in the UK and moved to Hamilton when I was 5, but heard these two words my whole life at home. I guess it was a charming but stressful household.

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted October 06, 2010 at 09:34:55

"So, tell me, as a Brit (ex or otherwise) how do you feel about their use of the words homely (where we would say homey) and pressurized (when we would say pressured)?"

Yeah, I guess when we say "Homey" over here it means something entirely different... :) I've gotten used to words like pressurized though (I guess I've been here too long).

The N American pronunciations still irk me. 'Tune' pronounced 'toon' instead of 'tuoon'. 'Rowter' instead of 'rooter'. And telling the time! "The time is a quarter after 5" No it's not! It's quarter PAST five!

And the way numbers are read: "That makes a hundred twenty two" No! It's a hundred AND twenty two!

My wife (a Canadian) can never get over our word, 'whilst'. "What the hell is a 'whilst'? What does it mean?!"

As Rosie would say, it's all quite a palaver... :)

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By cmc (anonymous) | Posted October 06, 2010 at 14:07:06

Rosie di Manno is a great reporter who appears to carry a couple of chips on her shoulder. I don't like her as much when she is writing a column. It's her point of view and her assumptions about those who do not agree with her that often annoy me. I have no problem with her use of language. I think she might say that her vocabulary was acquired the hard way and I don't begrudge her choice to put it to use. (Is use of the word "begrudge" within bounds?) It appears that her newspaper holds the opinion that Ms. DiManno attracts enough readers to keep her job. You are not obligated to be one of her readers. There are certainly times when she strains for effect and challenges the reader's patience but I find that I admire her for taking chances.

As to the word "normalcy", I believe it's one of those words that lurked in the background for years and caught a wind and entered the mainstream of bureaucratic and journalistic expression. There certainly are a lot of invented words about but I don't think normalcy is one of them.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted October 06, 2010 at 14:08:51

Pretty sure every word was invented at some point. Just sayin'.

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted October 08, 2010 at 03:00:27

Along with 'normalcy' is 'authentic'. Everything/person/place that is called authentic should have to undergo a test for it's authenticity.

My most hated word ever?
"Awesome". (It makes me grind my teeth just typing it.)

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted October 08, 2010 at 08:10:17

Along with 'normalcy' is 'authentic'. Everything/person/place that is called authentic should have to undergo a test for it's authenticity.

"If you seek authenticity for authenticity's sake, then you are no longer authentic." -- Sartre

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By joejoe (anonymous) | Posted October 08, 2010 at 12:32:21

A friend of mine told me recently he thought Jian Ghomeshi was originally called John. I didn't believe it. Who the hell would change their name from John to Jian?

Well, God Help us it looks like it might be true:


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