I wonder whether there’s a word for people, like me, who take extreme exception to words and phrases that suddenly become fashionable. There are lots of us. We get pleasurably enraged whenever someone utters a new cant phrase.
Three that I love to hate at the moment are:
back in the day, to be honest with you and above all any form of the word curate, as in “Sophie curated the flowers for this evening” or “ Ben curated the music for the party”. Another used to be passionate about, but people seem to be less passionate about it these days.
It’s mildly entertaining to watch these expressions appearing and disappearing, often quickly, and to wonder how it happens. Who are the cliché makers, those people whose words are unconsciously mimicked by nearly everyone else? And why do the clichés disappear? Nobody really says a whole raft of any more, or at the end of the day. Some survive unfortunately. I don’t think a big ask will be disappearing anytime soon – that’s another one.
Pedantry can be fun. I’ve always enjoyed it, even though I admit that the concerns of pedants are usually of no importance at all. Split infinitives don’t matter , for instance, though I do dislike them. But there are occasions when pedants are right, and a new common usage is wrong – wrong because it makes something unclear, or less clear it could be or used to be.
I’m thinking of may and might. They’re being abused. Using them the old- fashioned way is clearly better than using them as people increasingly do now. Increasingly, may is used where might would be clearer, and where sometimes may is actually misleading. At the same time the word might is disappearing.
This is almost self evident. Compare “If Hitler hadn’t shot himself in the bunker, he might still be alive” to “If Hitler hadn’t shot himself in the bunker he may still be alive”. The word may suggests an open ended, on-going possibility. Here its use suggests that Hitler may still be alive, which is clearly wrong. What’s more, if we didn’t actually know that he is long dead, its use would be misleading as well. The word might, as used here with if, suggests a possibility that has been cut short by what actually happened. To say might in this sentence is the only way to make one’s meaning clear.
That’s why for once pedants are right.