Ashley Davies: Words and phrases that need to go

Emojis are jolly useful if you can't be bothered to use those bothersome word thingies.
Emojis are jolly useful if you can't be bothered to use those bothersome word thingies.
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A pictograph as “word of the year”? The news has Ashley Davies dying to ban terms she finds annoying and offensive

Earlier this week the internet – like my husband when he’s forced to play Scrabble with me – got clammy with disappointment, rage and confusion when it emerged that Oxford Dictionaries had named an emoji as its word of the year. In what looks like a reasonably effective, extremely cost-effective publicity stunt, the Oxford University Press-owned book o’words announced that the “Face with Tears of Joy” – that’s the one at the top, opposite – symbol most represented the “ethos, mood and preoccupations of 2015”, representing the “playfulness and intimacy” of emoji culture.

I was among those who tutted loudly when I heard the news, particularly as an emoji is not even a bloomin’ word, it’s a pictograph, and if you go around calling things words when they aren’t, well, we might as well just give in and stop caring about punctuation and spelling.

And besides, it shows a profound ignorance of what’s really been on people’s minds this year. The other words on Oxford Dictionaries’ shortlist were far more worthy of acknowledgement in capturing the zeitgeist of 2015. They included “Brexit”, the possibility of the UK leaving the European Union, “ad blocker” (something that keeps many of us up at night), and “sharing economy”, which sums up the practice of sharing goods and services among peers, usually through community-based organisations.

(Incidentally, this is not the first time that particular reference book publisher has wound newspaper people up: I inherited an Oxford Popular English Dictionary from a long-since-departed sub-editor, who had scratched the words “The Oxford Rubbish Dictionary” on its papery derriere in red ink.”

My irritation with an emoji getting the word of the year accolade is compounded by the fact that there are several words and phrases that I would like to throw on the fire, either because the sentiment needs complete rebranding, because they’re too frequently misused or because they just give me the boak.

Top of my list of terms that need to be torn up and rewritten is “revenge porn”, the ghastly modern practice of men (usually, sorry) getting homemade films or images of sexual acts they’ve made while in a relationship and, after those relationships end, putting the material online for all the world to see.

Leaving aside our personal or moral opinions about what consenting adults get up to in the digital age, it makes me spit feathers that the word “revenge” is used in this context because it suggests that by leaving a relationship, these women have done something that deserves to be avenged. (Hats off, by the way, to Detective Chief Superintendent Lesley Boal for showing obvious discomfort with the term earlier this week at a Scottish parliament justice committee session).

Maybe it should be called “spite porn”. I don’t know. Just don’t give the perpetrators currency by playing along with the idea that they are seeking revenge because somebody doesn’t want to be with them any more.

The term “child porn” also needs to be banned, in my view. Most newspapers, tabloids in particular, are hamstrung by the amount of space available for headlines, which is why writing “child porn” is easier than “child abuse images”. It’s snappier. But the horrific material is emphatically not the former – it is the latter. Stamp it out.

“Pro-life” is another expression we need to be careful about unless we’re speaking specifically about an organisation or movement with those words in its title. Saying “pro-life” when you actually mean “anti-abortion” removes all neutrality, suggesting you believe abortion to be a “pro-death” practice.

I would also like anyone who is about to misuse the word “schizophrenia” to be given a little tap with the taser. I can’t tell you how furious it makes me – and hundreds of thousands of others affected by mental health issues – to hear the word used to describe duality in a person or concept. A person with schizophrenia does not suffer from multiple personality disorder – or “split personality”, as some like to call it. It is a complex disorder that has a range of different psychological symptoms, and it’s deeply offensive when misused.

Another term that I’d like to toss in the sea is “honour killing” – murdering a woman because she has done something (usually something unbelievably inoffensive, like falling in love with the wrong boy) that impacts on her family’s “honour”. There is no honour in these crimes. Stop using it. Please. Think of something else.

On a lighter note, there are plenty of words that just irritate me and I wouldn’t mind a moratorium. The evolving definition of “curator” has been grinding my gears of late but I think I have to accept that it no longer applies solely to an academic who has studied for many years to become an expert in their field, and carefully put together representative items to exhibit to an intellectually curious visiting public. Increasingly, it means to throw together a bunch of stuff in order to generate online traffic. I’ll just have to suck it up (another expression that I would like put out of its misery).

Nobody should be permitted to use the word “passionate” unless actual passion is involved. I recently heard somebody saying they were passionate about pashmina and I wanted to cut my ears off. Oh, you’re passionate about insurance, are you? Passionate about providing quality roofing? I’d like to see that. Actually, no, I wouldn’t.

If we’ve got the bonfire roaring and I’m allowed to pop a couple of others on there, please can I get rid of “fascinator”, the word to describe a (usually) feathery adornment that some women pin to their heads for special occasions. The only creatures fascinated by them are puppies, kittens and wasps.

There are plenty of words that just sound horrible or creepy. It’s not just me – “word aversion” is a thing, a recognised negative response to certain combinations of letters. “Moist”, “slacks”, “yolk”, “gurgle” and are among the most reviled, all over the English-speaking world. I hate the word “panties”. Throw it on the fire.