Bad words III

Meticulous readers will know that I have weighed in before, and before that, on language that confuses or annoys me. I’ve mused about the way that words I know to be real sometimes take on a perplexing foreignness.

I might, for example, picture in my mind’s eye a motorcycle, but when I say the corresponding word, it sounds weird. Sometimes when I say “motorcycle,” I sense that I might as well be uttering the Urdu word for a goat’s pancreas1.

Elsewhere in these pages I addressed the use in movies and television of ridiculously far-fetched terms like “padre” for a member of the clergy and “doc” for a physician. No one ever said these things, I have asserted, and in any case no one ever should. (Have you ever heard a nun referred to in a western or World War II movie as “madre” or “hermana”? I haven’t, and it seems to me that if people are going to insist on the “padre” business, then they ought to spread the silliness around.2)

Today we will consider some words that induce in me spasms of twitching such as you might see in college-comedy movies when people grab live electric wires, smoke comes from their ears and their hair stands on end. (Or maybe it’s Three Stooges movies I’m thinking of. My memory of comedy movies involving electrocution sequences is hazy.) Strictly speaking, we will look not only at words but words grouped with other words into so-called “phrases.”


When someone says, “All I know is,” then 99 percent of the time, what follows is idiocy.

“You do know, don’t you, that the news story you’re talking about was completely false, that it was proved factually wrong by dozens of legitimate news organizations and scientific experts?”
“Well, all I know is I read it on Facebook.” Or, alternately, “All I know is, that Alex Jones said it.”

“Do you really believe there is a connection between Vietnamese catfish imports and illiteracy?”
“All I know is my friend Gloria’s pastor said he has proof.”

No one in the history of the world and Puerto Rico has ever said, “All I know is that you’re right, and I appreciate your setting me straight. Thanks!”


The horror of these five words extends across the worlds of business, religion, government and Tupperware parties. In the corporate realm, a recent Rand study of Fortune 1000 companies showed that slightly more than two-thirds of all meeting time is taken by people’s introductions of themselves to other people who A) don’t care, B) are playing Words with Friends, or C) are not present at all, having sent their interns to the meeting on their behalf.

There is no value in “Let’s go around the table” that could not be achieved in a tenth the time with words on a sheet of paper. I have made it my life’s purpose to respond, if called upon ever again in a “Let’s go around the table” situation, with a smile and a firm, “No, thank you.” If pressed after that, I will, without guilt, grit my teeth and hiss through them, “I. Said. No.”

Note: Everything I say also applies to “Let’s go around the room,” but that scenario is so much worse that I can’t even. I can’t even. I would rather be tied down in multiple ant beds while being force-fed lima beans, surrounded by multiple TV screens showing “Little House on the Prairie” reruns, than “go around the room.”


“Let’s discuss” is the ne plus ultra of email fizz. It is pablum with a cyanide tip. In two words the sender conveys both, “No hurry, we can do this later,” and, “I know more about this issue than you and there WILL be a reckoning.”

“Let’s discuss” is the “Wait till your father gets home” of the 21st century. There was a period of my life — about seven years during which I received emails containing that dread phrase several times a day — when a psychotherapist’s Marina del Rey mooring fees were paid for with angst growing from my emails. The phrase still makes my gut tighten.


It is whoa, not woah. Enough with the woah. This means you, 99 percent of the people on Twitter.


1Yes, I looked up the Urdu word for a goat’s pancreas. Did you really think I wouldn’t? It is لبلبہ ایک بکری but I don’t know how it is supposed to be pronounced. My elementary Arabic — that which Mr. Nazih Naguib Saad taught me in Houston in the early 90s — is failing me at the moment. In any case, I don’t recall the words for goat innards appearing in my vocabulary handouts. Maybe if I had continued my studies we would have gotten around to that.

2It would be fair if you were to note that nuns tend not to appear in westerns and World War II movies at all, regardless of what other people in those movies might call them. But my point remains — if, against my advice, you’re going to have padres, then you have to have madres.

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