Service of Words II

August 14th, 2014

Categories: Education, Interior Design, Words


In an article, “The Friendliest Place in the House,” Amy Gamerman advised Wall Street Journal readers not to call a porch a deck. She wrote: “As porches have grown in popularity, ‘deck’ has become the new four-letter word of high-end home design. ‘We never use the word deck, it’s a pejorative term; we always use the word porch. It could be any covered outdoor space,’ said Stephen Vanze, a partner in Barnes Vanze Architects in Washington, D.C.”

deckArrogance aside, what puzzled me was that to me a porch doesn’t resemble a deck, a covered deck is just that, so why use the wrong word for the sake of fashion or to confuse?

I take words literally. I was studying the online catalog of a prominent NYC continuing education venue to promote appropriate classes to members of New York Women in Communications. I noticed that the prices were listed “From $385” or adult education class“From $485,” or “From $Something” so I called customer service. In that context, “from” meant that the prices started at $385 or $485 and I wanted to learn what might cause them to fluctuate upwards. The customer service person confirmed that these were the prices. I suggested he ask someone to delete the confusing word in every course description and he giggled and asked why—“if they have a question they can call customer service,” he said.

Do you change terminology after reading an article like the one about porches/decks? Have you questioned a word in instructions, regarding prices or a procedure enough to have to call someone about it?


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7 Responses to “Service of Words II”

  1. RCF Said:

    The “buzzword” I most dislike is “transparent” which means “can be seen through”. But it is used to mean “that which can be clearly seen.” People say “We must be transparent in our dealings with so and so, or such and such” meaning that they want to be sure everyone knows what is done. My response is always “if you are transparent, nobody will know what you are doing. Is that what you want?” It is almost as bad as “give the papers to Betty or I.”

    Of course, reading instructions, making sense of jargon is impossible using context since the context is unfamiliar. Calling a hot-line for help usually gets a response from someone in the know: “Well, of course, you just…” But there is not a place for “just.” You have to go to “advanced settings” then to a menu and a submenu, and all the categories are not at all obvious.

    Sigh – we need more English majors taking care of instructions and descriptions of technical things. Perhaps this coming generation will include that mix of skills as valuable.

    Thank you for your question! It clearly opened the gates!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I empathize. When I access customer service I like online chat better than alphabet soup. Drives me nuts to negotiate alphabet soup while trying to find a live voice. Eight out of 10 times what I want to speak about has nothing to do with the options. So I hit any old option and eight times out of 10 the person doesn’t know the answer–natch.

    When I get someone I can’t understand because they have an unfamiliar accent or they speak at warp speed and swallow their words, I’m sunk.

    I’m not an English major [government/history] but my goal is to write simply and clearly. I once knew a lawyer who was a superb writer. He didn’t try to fuzz-up what he meant, which I think is the goal of some lawyers so they can slip out of an interpretation of their words if necessary.

  3. Martha Takayama Said:

    It is amazing to note how prevalent malapropisms, jargon, double speak or what I think Vice-President Biden called “malarkey” appears in oral and written form in beautifully printed catalogues, magazines, major newspapers, on the air and online!

    The other day I poured over a catalogue with reasonable photography printed tastefully on high quality paper wondering if I was confused. I kept trying to understand why I was seeing a plaid pattern on a textile referred to as “herringbone.”

    The popularity of “Between you and I”, seems to have reached epidemic proportions. It seems that the standards for working with language are extremely flexible at present. Will they ever improve?
    Lastly I welcome sharp editing suggestions, but am not seduced by distorted language. I think clarity is of the essence.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Funny that nobody caught the plaid/herringbone error. These days it takes one second to check the two online should the writer or editor pull a blank. Geepers.

    Clarity is the point which is one of the main reasons for a company to hire outside counsel whether legal, advertising, public relations or what a good consultant might provide. People become too close to their product or organization. An outsider often can catch in seconds something that those who focus night and day so easily miss.

  5. Hester Craddock Said:

    Decks and porches are just about one and the same to me now, but I’ll admit that I had thought, up until a few years ago, that porches were attached to houses and decks to ships. It reminds me of bedrooms and chambers. I used to think you slept in one and got tortured in other. May be you still do?

    A couple of my favorite annoyances are the politically correct but confusing “Madam Chairman,” and the use of the noun “actor” when referring to an actress, a perfectly good word which I guess now goes on the verbal dump heap. This makes even less sense. Thank goodness English is not a language which uses male and female articles. If it were, the chaos that the inevitable mismatches would cause would soon send each of us off to our own special chamber.

    Language is always going to change, but the question is whether ours is becoming richer or poorer as a consequence. I believe the answer can be found by comparing the Latin of Cicero and Virgil to that of St. Augustine and then to medieval texts. Likewise, compare Shakespeare’s sonnets or the King James version of the Bible, to James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” or T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” and then to “rap.”

    What is even more interesting is how technology has made it increasingly unimportant to know how to read and write. As long as you have the manual dexterity to push the right buttons, you’ll be O.K.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    People are increasingly communicating via emoticons–smiley/sad/worried faces. Soon most won’t write a word.

    I am fine with language changing, but calling a plaid a herringbone pattern as Martha noticed, or a deck a porch because porch sounds more elegant, isn’t exactly the same.

    I’m also flummoxed by calling an actress an actor. I missed the explanation for that change. I like being specific when there’s a word for something. And it always sounds funny writing “chairs,” for women who chair committees etc….as I can’t help thinking “arm or upholstered?”

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    Most instructions are poorly written, and I would cheerfully deck the writer if given the opportunity!

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