Words And Expressions I Won’t Use Even If It Costs Me Business

Words to avoid. The headline is, of course, nonsense. There are no words and no expressions I won’t use if the customer wants them. The customer is always right, even when the customer is totally wrong. There’s no way around that. I just want to record, for the sake of my own soul, the words and expressions I hate using.

Words to avoid: Reaching out

Words to avoid. Reaching outMore than 50% of my work is for American blogs and websites, and if you work for American customers you’re going to have to come to terms with “reaching out.”

I had a problem today with some software downloaded from Envato. I notified their helpdesk and received an email that began, “Lei here from Envato Market Help, thanks for reaching out to us.” In fact, Lei, I didn’t reach out to you; I sent you a request for assistance. “Reaching out” is an intimate act. I reach out to people who are close to me, and they reach out to me. Using this expression to describe a normal business process devalues the act of reaching out.

Where are your customers?

There’s no avoiding it, though, as long as that’s what the customer wants. I have one customer for whom I write two versions of every blog post: one for their American site and one for the British subsidiary’s site. You can get some idea of how I go about this here; its relevance is that, on the British site, the words “reach out” – which the American parent loves – do not appear. They are selling to businesses, the person who writes the check is going to be reasonably senior, and the chances are that she or he, being British, will not appreciate being reached out to any more than I do.

Words to avoid. Deprecated

This is a simple illiteracy, but it’s more and more common. To deprecate something is to wish that it were not. Ezra Pound translated a Latin verse by Propertius – actually, he interpreted rather than translated it; the translation is loose to say the least; in any case, Pound produced this:

Words to avoid: Deprecate


She was not renowned for fidelity;
But to jab a knife in my vitals, to have passed on a swig of poison,
Preferable, my dear boy, my dear Lynceus,
Comrade, comrade of my life, of my purse, of my person;
But in one bed, in one bed alone, my dear Lynceus
I deprecate your attendance;
I would ask a like boon of Jove.

So Pound is saying that he would prefer Lynceus to stay out of his lover’s bed; he deprecates his attendance there. (Given that Lynceus was the man who honoured the wish of Hypermenstra to spare her virginity when she was forced to marry him, this seems a trifle harsh).

That, in any case, is what deprecate means

And the meaning was carried into IT when software companies began to deprecate software or features of software. Deprecation in that sense and at that point meant, “We’ve replaced this feature with something new and so we’d rather you didn’t use it – but if you must, you must and so we’re leaving it in place.” But there’s some form of Gresham’s Law that says that ignorance will always triumph and now “deprecate” is often used to mean that the software has been discontinued completely. I deprecate this development.

Words to avoid. Toxic

Words to avoid. ToxicI am sick to death of reading that something that isn’t actually poisonous (which is what toxic means) is toxic. Brexit is toxic. Immigration is toxic. Dispute between members of the Shadow Cabinet is toxic. No, actually, they aren’t. You’re either in favour of them or you’re not, but grade the language you use according to the severity of the case. Those mambas to the right – they are toxic.

This is a first set of three unacceptable words. There will be more.