John S. McClenahen retired from IndustryWeek in 2006 and remains an interested observer of global manufacturing.

No Virtual English, Please

June 9, 2013
Fast, fun(ny)--and memorable--fixes to the most egregious English-language errors ever made.  

I begin with two buzz-phrases and three buzzwords that deserve, well, to be buzzed off:

“Virtual server.” I have had this unreal experience in a few restaurants, and it is reason enough for never going back.

“The Cloud.” Apparently this is where the virtual server hangs out once the server has decided that waiting on me is not part of the job description.

“Architecture.” Does this mean your computer system comes in a choice of Colonial, Federalist, Craftsman, or Prairie Modern?

“Cohort.” Perfectly all right if you’re identifying several people with the same characteristics to another statistician or demographer. But otherwise, why not use “group”? What’s more, cohort also is an abbreviation for agriculture. Do you really want to be referring to your colleagues as a bunch of carrots?

“Paradigm.” Overused. Time to shift to another word.

To be sure (another overused phrase), I am not advocating junking all jargon. It has its place, for example, among manufacturing executives and medical doctors. CEOs are free to compare EBITDAs. And I expect physicians to speak to one another of myocardial infarcts. But when speaking with me, please talk of earnings before interest, taxes and depreciation and— particularly if EBITDA is awful—of a heart attack.

Here are eight more of my current language gripes:

"Data" is a word plural. Saying “data is” is the ungrammatical equivalent of “they is.” Similarly, criteria is a word plural.

"Criterion" is the singular. “My criteria is” is just as wrong as “they is.”

“Like, you know.” I don’t like “like, you know,” especially when this phrase dominates the content of a conversation.

“Only focus on the bottom line” implies you could do something else to the bottom line. “Focus only on the bottom line” is probably what you mean—even if the wisdom of this imperative is debatable.

“Less” does not mean fewer. Those signs above supermarket check-out lanes “10 Items Or Less” are always wrong, including when you have only a single bottle of Less.

“Who do you trust?” I don’t trust who; I trust whom.

“Backstory.” A pretentious word used instead of “background,” by even network television newscasters and people who should know better.

“At the end of the day.” At the end of the day, I expect to be going to sleep—not summing up a pretentious and perhaps irrelevant argument.

This is another of a series of occasional essays by John S. McClenahen, who retired from IndustryWeek in 2006 and remains an interested observer of global manufacturing.

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