In this column from the 1960s, Larry Ragan took issue with the way some words and phrases are used. More than 30 years have passed, yet we can’t help but agree. What would you add to the list?—ed
Currently. Even if the word means, as I assume it does, right now, for the time being. Writers of news releases are especially prone to say in their last paragraphs that the person whose promotion is described above, currently resides (and why it is "resides" instead of "lives" is one of those mysteries without solutions), at such-and-such address.
The phrase suggests that he is now living on one side of the tracks but with his promotion he will waste no time in moving to the other side. Even worse, some writers will say that so-and-so is currently the manager of such-and-such department, clearly indicating that it is only a matter of time before the bosses catch up with him.
Eminent authorities. This phrase, which I find to my dismay in a classy pamphlet issued by The Conference Board, is a problem because it is hackneyed and raises more questions than it answers.
Can a person be an authority without being eminent? Your immediate reaction, I suspect, is that, yes, such a person is possible.
Indeed, most authorities, whether scientists, teachers, scholars, or consultants, are not known to the public, and therefore are not "eminent." Their eminence, however, is conferred upon them by their peers, their clients, their students and, therefore, they are "eminent" among the people who grant them their status.
The word is redundant. What's more, one can formulate the rule that when somebody is identified as an eminent authority it is safe to assume that he almost certainly is not. Eminent authorities don't have to be identified as such. ("That late eminent authority, Albert Einstein.")
New innovation. My argument (and I hope yours) is that innovations are always new. Of course, like the new-new detergent that seems forever to be part of our cultural landscape, this innovation, it might be argued, is added to last month's innovation.
You be the judge. From the lead in a news release: "David Kahn Inc., maker of Wearever writing instruments, has made writing easier than ever with a new innovation: the Roll-a-Long Liquid Ink Pen."
True facts. I don't share the almost universal put-down of this phrase. Some will argue that a fact is a fact and therefore must be true. Says who? A fact by itself is a dumb thing. It's only when we interpret it that the fact takes on life. So whether facts are true or not depends upon how we look at them, and conclude from them. It has been my experience that my facts are usually true and that yours, as you might have expected, are inaccurate, wrong, or false.
Frankly. It's probably best never to use the word in writing or conversation. It brands you as getting ready to deliver a blow; it suggests that perhaps you are not always frank and honest.
When McGraw Hill's chairman expressed in an open letter how upset, and bewildered he and his board were by a take-over proposal made by American Express, he attacked the company's "integrity, corporate morality, and sensitivity to professional responsibility," then began his next paragraph this way: "Frankly, this surprises us."
Ye gods, why be frank about it? "This surprises us" is good enough. But not quite. Careful writers never begin a paragraph with "this" without following the word with a word or phrase that will sum up the previously stated idea to which the pronoun refers. Much to be preferred: "This unprincipled corporate behavior surprises us."
And yet a final point: given the context of the argument, do you believe that McGraw-Hill was surprised? That's like one man saying to another, "You're a son-of-a-bitch. Frankly, this surprises me." Somehow, the thing doesn't quite come off.
The late Larry Ragan founded Ragan Communications in 1968 with the launch of The Ragan Report.