Pet Peeve
Style Manual

Gale Rhodes
Contact Information

Rhodes reacts to ugly words.

Don't say that!!!


The Pet Peeve
Style Manual

Improve your writing. Search your documents and eliminate all instances of these words and phrases.
Send me your liguistic
pet peeves.
Avoid this:
Here's why:
Use this instead:
=> at this point in time
-- needless words.
What's wrong with now?
=> begs the question -- self-defeating attempt to sound as erudite as your local philosopher. Justifying the answer to a question by making the assumption that the answer is true is called (by philosophers, logicians, debaters) "begging the question". In other words, the answer leaves the question begging for an answer. Any circular argument begs the question. In recent years, scientists have picked up this impressive sounding phrase, but misused it to mean "raises the question", as in "Discovery of one catalytic RNA begs the question of whether RNA catalysis is widespread." Use raises the question, as in "Discovery of one catalytic RNA raises the question of whether RNA catalysis is widespread."(Be erudite, while your colleagues are merely sounding erudite.)
=> concomitant -- vague word implying accompaniment, but things can accompany each other in many ways. Pick the word that describes the situation precisely: associated, connected, consequent, related, resultant.
=> copious quantities
-- antiquated chemistry jargon. Try plenty, or specify the amount.
=> due to the fact that
-- more needless words. Use because.
=> in close proximity
-- redundant and unnecessarily complex. Ever heard of distant proximity? Use near.
=> instantiate
-- philosophy and education jargon, meaning "to be an instance (or example) of.. ." Made by turning the nice little word instance into an ugly verb. I call this atrocious act "verbing", an ugly word that is an example of itself. Use exemplify.
=> instantiation -- an instance, what else! Made by turning the ugly verb "instantiate" (see above) into an even uglier noun. Nothing makes for more opaque writing than taking a verb and making it into a noun by giving it a -tion ending.

But we already have a noun; we made the ugly verb from it. Use the nice noun.
Use instance.

For a hilarious example of horrid writing (and not very clear thinking, either) featuring the instantiate family of words, see Science 25 April 2008:
Vol. 320. no. 5875, pp. 454 - 455, LEARNING THEORY:
The Advantage of Abstract Examples in Learning Math.

=> orientate -- one extra syllable turns a lovely word into something grating. Use orient.
=> problematic -- vague jargon, usually. Another example of borrowing from the usually unsavory jargon of philosophy and education in order to sound erudite. Perhaps justifiable when you mean "of uncertain outcome". If that's not what you mean, then pick the word that describes the problem precisely: ambiguous, arduous, arguable, challenging, complex, confusing, debatable, difficult, disputed, doubtful, dubious, equivocal, questionable, hard, knotty, moot, puzzling, uncertain. You probably mean one of these; tell your reader which one.
=> since (in place of because) -- since has several meanings, particularly pertaining to time (Since I met you, baby, ...). As a result, the word can start readers off in the wrong direction, then force them to stumble and reread the sentence when they realize what you meant. Use because, because it has just one meaning, and always starts the reader off in the right direction. Always prefer words of single meaning to words that can have several meanings (unless you are writing poetry).
=> utilize
-- one of the language's ugliest words, and the pet peeve that started this manual. The word means use. Use use.
=> the missing that

-- when the helpful little word that follows a verb, it alerts readers that the direct object of the verb will be a phrase, not a noun. Omitting that in such situations misleads readers, often forcing them to back up and reinterpret what they have read thus far.

Sound complicated? Try reading this sentence, spoken by Michael Wood in the PBS production The Story of India: "It's easy to forget the great voyages of Columbus and Vasco de Gama were to find India."

Did you stumble when you got to were? That's because you were expecting voyages to be the direct object of forget (it's easy to forget the voyages). Instead, the object of forget is the phrase the voyages... were to find... . If Michael had made proper use of the little word that, my wife and I would not have had to rewind the DVR in order to figure out what he said.

You won't stumble this time: "It's easy to forget that the great voyages of Columbus and Vasco de Gama were to find India."

That, preceding the great voyages , prevents you from reading voyages as the direct object of forget.

In your worthy quest to omit needless words, don't omit that if it will escort your readers more smoothly through the sentence. When in doubt, use that.
=> Sad to say, more to come...    

The Molecular Level