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The Language Rant Thread


The Hersch
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Awfully confrontational regarding someone who had perfectly reasonable gripe. Stipulating that ad.mich is perfectly wonderful in all other respects, I, too -- like The Hersch -- find jargon-y writing (particularly when the jargon is arguably mis-used) annoying. Food writers/aficionados are terrible offenders as a group. We do call these things "discussions," right? Let's discuss grammar and usage.

I mean, jeez, can't we all just not get along every now and then, and maybe have a little fun and enlightenment while not doing so?

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I, too -- like The Hersch -- find jargon-y writing (particularly when the jargon is arguably mis-used) annoying. Food writers/aficionados are terrible offenders as a group. We do call these things "discussions," right? Let's discuss grammar and usage.

Yes! There's a thread on 'Trite Foods,' why not one on 'trite/misused words or phrases used in food writing, reviewing, blogging.' My two top candidates for trite/annoying that I would like to never read or hear again, are 'spot on' and 'on point.' These two seem to be used interchangeably. What the hell is a dish that is 'on point'?

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For me the biggest is something that I am guilty of using in spoken dialogue and that is the use of the weaselly-ass phrase "I don't disagree".

What do you have against weasel language? Some of us get paid by making sure we "utiliized" the proper weasel language. Besides, "I don't disagree" isn't the same as "I agree." It may be a subtle way of saying "I think you're a moron."

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OK, what sends me running for cover is the rhetorical device of a series of questions which the writer answers, followed by the "punchline" of what he was trying to say in the first place, along the lines of an old credit card commercial, e.g.: "Was he educated at a good university? Of course! Is he intelligent and amiable? You bet! Does he read and appreciate good writing? Totally! But does he constantly pepper his speech with inane and hackneyed bullshit? Absolutely!" You know who you are.

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My two top candidates for trite/annoying that I would like to never read or hear again, are 'spot on' and 'on point.' These two seem to be used interchangeably. What the hell is a dish that is 'on point'?

A gorgeous ballerina in toe-shoes?

But seriously, the problem for me with "spot on" isn't that it's trite and annoying, although it's both those things, it's that it's one of a growing number of Briticisms that have been infiltrating American English over the last couple of decades. Full stop. At the end of the day. Kerfuffle (often stupidly given as kerfluffle, which only makes it worse). One-off. But I think I hate "spot on" more than all the rest.

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Maybe some of the people using these Briticisms are, you know, British.

I wonder what linguists think about this. American English, as the name implies, seems to me to be more of an English dialect than a language in its own right, so the entire thing is a Briticism. Or am I being toffee nosed?

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Maybe some of the people using these Briticisms are, you know, British.

I'm not talking about British people using their Briticisms. Tom Sietsema is not British. I don't read him much any more, but he used to use "spot on" constantly.

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I'm not talking about British people using their Briticisms. Tom Sietsema is not British. I don't read him much any more, but he used to use "spot on" constantly.

In the chef community, "spot on" is surpassed in overuse by "money."

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deuce

revelation (with apologies to Phyllis Richman)

pillowy (usually for gnocchi)

cooked to perfection

homemade (when they mean house made)

culinary wasteland

crack (with apologies to no one; what an awful metaphor)

good, not great

soulful (with apologies to Todd Kliman)

toothsome (with apologies to Tom Sietsema)

drink the kool-aid (what an awful reference)

"The pillowy homemade gnocchi were a revelation, cooked to perfection. They were crack on a plate! I didn't expect to find such soulful food in that culinary wasteland. Everything else we tried was good, not great."

There are tons more hiding in my brain. They'll probably come out and laugh at me at 2 am.

I know, I'm guilty of at least one of these myself.

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But seriously, the problem for me with "spot on" isn't that it's trite and annoying, although it's both those things, it's that it's one of a growing number of Briticisms that have been infiltrating American English over the last couple of decades. Full stop. At the end of the day. Kerfuffle (often stupidly given as kerfluffle, which only makes it worse). One-off. But I think I hate "spot on" more than all the rest.

Oh, my God, yes. While 'spot on' is one of my top 2 annoyances related to food writing, my greatest single annoyance is the phrase: "At the end of the day." It's been many years now since this odious phrase began being used in the popular media and it has spread like a virulent pest. Is there a talking head who doesn't use this phrase multiple times during an interview? In the very beginning it might have been charming, but it has become such a cliché that it has soared way beyond trite. It is the lazy person's 'go-to.'** And for me, the listener, it's the equivalent of finger nails scratching on an antiquated blackboard.

**(And, yes, I use 'go-to' ironically. It's definitely a candidate for the trite list.)

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it's one of a growing number of Briticisms that have been infiltrating American English over the last couple of decades.

Speaking of British slang, you know what pisses me off? Using "pissed" when you mean "pissed off". "Pissed" is Brit slang for really messed up drunk. "We went down the pub last night and got pissed. Hope you're not pissed off at me."

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"The pillowy homemade gnocchi were a revelation, cooked to perfection. They were crack on a plate! I didn't expect to find such soulful food in that culinary wasteland. Everything else we tried was good, not great."

Is that an actual quotation? It certainly could be, and it's appalling. I hope I didn't write it. (Actually, I know I could never have written that second sentence.)

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"At the end of the day." It's been many years now since this odious phrase began being used in the popular media and it has spread like a virulent pest.

Perhaps it would be just as annoying if it weren't a British import, but I doubt it. When I was a young fellow, British imports were so cool: The Beatles, the Kinks, the TR4, E.P. Thompson. Now we get "full stop" and "at the end of the day". Watch and listen to this, and see if "at the end of the day" will ever seem like a good thing to say for the rest of eternity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tr36XDC6hmA

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Speaking of British slang, you know what pisses me off? Using "pissed" when you mean "pissed off". "Pissed" is Brit slang for really messed up drunk. "We went down the pub last night and got pissed. Hope you're not pissed off at me."

I don't think I can go along with you on this. "Pissed" meaning angry is good American idiom going back a long time (the earliest attestation in the OED is 1950). That it fails to conform to British usage would be a feature, to use another worn-out cliché, not a bug. An American using "pissed" to mean drunk would be an example of the very sort of Briticism in American English that I'm railing against, ineffectually as is my wont.

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Speaking of British slang, you know what pisses me off? Using "pissed" when you mean "pissed off". "Pissed" is Brit slang for really messed up drunk. "We went down the pub last night and got pissed. Hope you're not pissed off at me."

I had a mentor/roommate/landlord for years who is now a dear friend of the family, an Oxonian, now in his late seventies, a living "Briticism." Quite (quite!) without intending to, I learned many forms of speech from my friend in my formative years that I now, reading this enlightening thread, have learned are "Briticisms." "At the end of the day,"? "Spot on"? I had no idea. But "pissed" instead of "pissed off" I think is an abbreviation of the English original in the nominative, not a misuse of the English form for "drunk." The litmus test is perhaps the transitive form: We say "Her post pissed me off," not "Her post pissed me." I'm sure many Brits do the same, which would be an example of a much more prevalent phenomenon than Briticism: Americanism.

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I can't stand the word bespoke. In American English, we say custom. I saw a cupcake shop use the term bespoke cupcake. Seriously? If someone is actually from the UK, it makes sense. When an American says it, it's just pretentious.

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I can't stand the word bespoke. This seemed to pop up after the William & Kate royal wedding. During the coverage, it was reported that William wore a bespoke suit.

In American English, we say custom. I saw a cupcake shop use the term bespoke cupcake. Seriously? If someone is actually from the UK, it makes sense. When an American says it, it's just pretentious.

In men's tailoring, bespoke and custom actually have distinct meanings, and American usage in the garment trade follows the British, as it does the French in the realm of cuisine, the Italian and the French in the realm of art, the German in the realm of philosophy, etc. And all these categories overlap, with many other languages mixed in. American culture is a conglomerate of derivatives. "Bespoke cupcake" is of course ridiculous, as are cupcakes generally.

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But "pissed" instead of "pissed off" I think is an abbreviation of the English original in the nominative, not a misuse of the English form for "drunk."

I think that's exactly right. But if someone says, for example, "I can't believe I just dropped a hundred bucks on that meal. I'm really pissed", what I hear is "...I'm really drunk."

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How else can you say at the end of the day? The bottom line doesn't sound any better. When it's all said and done? It's another subtle way to say you're an idiot.

Apparently even the British got along okay without "at the end of the day" before 1974, when the modern sense is first attested, and we got along without it over here even longer. The OED quotations for this go up to 1986, without any American examples. I find that I go through life doing an awful lot of talking and writing without ever using it, except as here to deprecate its use.

(The OED, by the way, defines this phrase under end thus: d. In hackneyed phr. at the end of the day, eventually; when all's said and done.)

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No, but postwar (i.e., post WWII ) history might get you off to a good start.

I'd think that analysis of actual British and American usage would be required, and that generalizing from vague notions of postwar history is not only unproductive but a barrier to understanding and in effect anti-intellectual.

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I'd think that analysis of actual British and American usage would be required, and that generalizing from vague notions of postwar history is not only unproductive but a barrier to understanding and in effect anti-intellectual.

That's an interesting viewpoint (to use a French-ism). Linguists, sociologists, historians, political scientists and all their brothers and sisters have been writing about the Americanization of European cultures for decades, not only after WWII. As with any subject that so many have studied, not all the scholarship is good, but all who study it recognize its existence. There is a point where an argument must rely on shared general education and experience in a certain topic in order to be understood, What is a barrier to understanding and anti-intellectual is the naive need for "data" to demonstrate secular intellectual trends that people versed in this particular topic have debated and disagreed about, but have recognized, for a long, long time.

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That's an interesting viewpoint (to use a French-ism). Linguists, sociologists, historians, political scientists and all their brothers and sisters have been writing about the Americanization of European cultures for decades, not only after WWII. As with any subject that so many have studied, not all the scholarship is good, but all who study it recognize its existence. There is a point where an argument must rely on shared general education and experience in a certain topic in order to be understood, What is a barrier to understanding and anti-intellectual is the naive need for "data" to demonstrate secular intellectual trends that people versed in this particular topic have debated and disagreed about, but have recognized, for a long, long time.

Oh dear, this won't do. If you were merely alluding to the hegemony of American culture after the war, the point is uncontroversial but also by now uninteresting and in this discussion beside the point, which wasn't the (obviously absurd) question of which is more pervasive, American or British culture, but the presence of Briticisms in American English and Americanisms in British English. To assert that one is more common than the other requires more than general gestures toward American cultural hegemony to be taken seriously; it requires data, and substituting an "everyone knows" argument for data is indeed anti-intellectual, and I suspect you will probably agree if you accept my understanding of what point is at issue.

But even in continental Europe, by the way, to the extent that English is spoken it is by and large much more closely attuned to British than to American idiom, despite the ubiquity of American cultural artifacts. When speaking English, a Frenchman or a German will call a place where automobiles are parked a carpark, not a parking lot, and will call an elevator a lift. (My data here are entirely anecdotal personal observations, but I can point out that "elevator" in German is "der Lift" and "streetcar"is "die Tram". And also that I have yet to find a bilingual dictionary of English and another European language that uses American English rather than British as the default standard on the English side, and that's true for dictionaries from both British and American publishers.)

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Oh, my God, yes. While 'spot on' is one of my top 2 annoyances related to food writing, my greatest single annoyance is the phrase: "At the end of the day." It's been many years now since this odious phrase began being used in the popular media and it has spread like a virulent pest. Is there a talking head who doesn't use this phrase multiple times during an interview? In the very beginning it might have been charming, but it has become such a cliché that it has soared way beyond trite. It is the lazy person's 'go-to.'** And for me, the listener, it's the equivalent of finger nails scratching on an antiquated blackboard.

**(And, yes, I use 'go-to' ironically. It's definitely a candidate for the trite list.)

At the end of the day it's dark and so it is what it is (as if it could be anything else).

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Oh dear, this won't do...

I can see we were talking at cross purposes, and some of your points are well taken. I was indeed referring to the general prevalence of American cultural influence in postwar Europe because I think that is really the only practical (if imperfect) way of determining influence in one particular aspect of culture, namely language. In other words, although I agree an empirical, data-based analysis of both languages would be the better route to answering the question, I doubt such an analysis is practical or even possible. That's why most analysts of this question, whatever their discipline, take a more holistic approach and look at language within a broader cultural context. That's not anti-intellectual. Quite the opposite, it's an honest recognition of the limited tools at one's disposal to address a complex issue. (The article by Heidrun Kämper in this book gives a good overview of this topic in the German context.)

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Another choice: 'Ultimately,'

Or even "but". Check out the redundancy in this quote from a Jalopnik article:

"We can work to improve the courses we race upon, the cars we race in, and the gear we wear while racing, but at the end of the day, we still require a dose of good fortune to survive a big crash." [italics mine]

However, ultimately, but... any of these three, perhaps with careful use of a semicolon, and the hated phrase is unnecessary.

Someday I will find a video of George Carlin's brilliant airline-talk routine.

Kinda wish I'd stayed awake and made some popcorn to follow the Banco-Hersch debate.

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Kinda wish I'd stayed awake and made some popcorn to follow the Banco-Hersch debate.

Ha. As you can see you didn't miss much. Maybe we should get back to restaurant talk. How do people feel about server as opposed to waiter/waitress? I still sometimes say waiter and always feel like an old fart for doing so, then I wonder why I should feel that way. If getting rid of waiter is meant to assuage feelings of servitude for those that hold this job, I don't see how the related server is any better.

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"Sourcing," when all you're doing is shopping. If you get into a pickup truck and drive to a bunch of farms, you may say you've "sourced" your peaches. If you went on the internet, you shopped.

If you get out of your pickup truck and go into the woods to find mushrooms, you may say you "foraged." Otherwise, avoid the temptation to do so.

Almost all uses of the word "artisanal" are now suspect; artisanal products should involve no more than three people in their making and should rely on pre-industrial technology. Nothing made in a stainless steel and tile kitchen environment, especially if it involves commercially available ingredients, should be called artisanal.

You either "frequent" a restaurant or you do not. You cannot "often frequent" a restaurant or "sometimes frequent" one.

Use of the word "program" to describe a restaurants offerings in some elitist subset of dining (wine, cheese, coffee, cocktails) suggests that the offerings in question were determined by a group of marketers in a windowless hotel meeting room during a PowerPoint presentation.

Use of the term "mixologist" used to be considered a poke at the pretense of some in the business, and the sort of bartending academy that advertised on late-night pre-cable UHF TV. It still is by the right sort of people.

People who use the terms "evoo," "veggie," or "foodie" should be slapped.

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Okay, who was the wag who decided to befuddle Tom Sietsema by quoting ad.mich today in the Washington Post chat?

Just when I thought I'd seen it all....

I can't quite tell what you're trying to convey, but the use of "price point" when "price" is all that's meant really bugs the shit out of me.

Guilty.

I don't know what "ad.mich" means but I was the one who objected to "price point" to Tom S. It makes no rational sense, but I'm driven mildly insane whenever I hear or see those words.

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To me, "price point" means the level of the pricing, which is distinct from the prices themselves. I guess if I saw it used in a way where it clearly meant a specific price, it might get to bug me, but usually when I see it, it seems to be referring to the peg on which prices are set, establishing a range.

As I understood ad.mich's original comment, he was saying there was a disproportionate difference between the price point for food at Bearnaise and the price point for alcohol, which was considerably lower. That made me wonder if they were keeping alcohol prices lower to get people in the door.

Edit after looking at the original post: He was writing specifically about draft beer, so they could just be serving thimblefuls <_<

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How do people feel about server as opposed to waiter/waitress? I still sometimes say waiter and always feel like an old fart for doing so, then I wonder why I should feel that way. If getting rid of waiter is meant to assuage feelings of servitude for those that hold this job, I don't see how the related server is any better.

Server isn't meant to avoid waiter; its purpose is to avoid waitress.

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In other words, although I agree an empirical, data-based analysis of both languages would be the better route to answering the question, I doubt such an analysis is practical or even possible.

Oh, I'm pretty sure the OED people have the data, at least for British and American English, and in electronic form that could be analyzed by computer programs. Whether they're interested in doing such a study or making the data available to others who are, I have no idea.

In one instance, though, I will grant you that American English has one linguistic export that has conquered the world, eclipsing anything from any other language: "OK". I've had a Portuguese fellow swear up and down to me that "OK" is originally Portuguese, it's that ingrained in European languages.

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To me, "price point" means the level of the pricing, which is distinct from the prices themselves. I guess if I saw it used in a way where it clearly meant a specific price, it might get to bug me....

It's quite often so used, and bugs me. But why not just "price level", if that's what you mean? Because it's not insider-ish enough.

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People who use the terms "evoo," "veggie," or "foodie" should be slapped.

Oooh, Waitman is gonna slap me. I use "foodie" often. To me, it's a great shorthand to describe someone very interested in a wide range of cooking, eating and producing food.

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I don't mean to be naive, but what is it?

"The overnight," occasionally seen as "the overnight hours," appears to be simply overnight, in news-speak.

So, "as we head into the overnight, we expect rain."

So not restaurant-speak. Just English abuse.

(Also, I hate "reach out.")

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