Service of Words That Should be Changed or that Need No Embellishment

July 5th, 2016

Categories: Building and Remodeling, Honesty, Lawyers, Medical Care, Words

Pick Another Word

The people who selected key words in the following examples didn’t think of their impact on others.

  • In this first instance, the name of a clinic was selected from the point of view of health professionals. It didn’t have patients in mind. A friend, I’ll call her Nora, received a call from out of the blue from the “Survivorship Center.” At first she thought it was a scam and that the person on the line was asking for funds. She’d been going for checkups to the prestigious Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. During the call she learned that the nurse practitioner she’d seen for years was leaving the Institute and that she was now assigned to the Survivorship Clinic. Nora told me: “I don’t like being categorized as a ‘survivor,’ and I don’t want to be a card-carrying member of such a group. I’m not ashamed of having had breast cancer, but that I had it shouldn’t be part of my identity.” She was infuriated when she received a letter in the mail with the clinic’s name on it. She hasn’t blasted the news of her previous illness and resented that the postal worker saw the name of the clinic. She felt it was an invasion of her privacy. In a second call to this clinic Nora told the person she spoke with that she thought that the name was dreadful—even tacky. Her response was that Nora was free to go elsewhere.
  • Then there was a word I’ve referenced before: Relocatable. That’s what the Air Force called a certain type of housing back in the day. The word focused on how the structure might be easily moved with no regard to how it sounded to people asked to live in it. It had no appeal to those assigned to the punishing North Dakota climate known for minus 60 degree temperatures and ferocious winter winds. The word implied flimsy and evoked images of belongings flying in the air should a Wizard of Oz-strong cyclone hit. Many of the relocatables remained empty in spite of a base housing shortage.

Redundant: You Are or You Aren’t

  • I sat up straight when I heard a supporter describe a political candidate as “very, very honest.” There are some words that need no embellishment. Honest is one of them.
  • With furniture, if a piece imitates an original, the word “style” clarifies what it is, as in “Victorian-style chest,” or “Queen Anne- style chair.” But a doctor, artist, PR person or bus driver is or isn’t.
  • In this context, early one morning last week Len Berman told his listeners about a UK-based company that is now set up to work in NYC to fight parking tickets. It bills itself as “the world’s first robot lawyer.” As the WOR-Radio co-host of “Len Berman and Todd Schnitt in the Morning” read copy about this service he hesitated after saying “A real lawyer” and repeated, “real lawyer?” then continued. I, too, would have paused. Is there an unreal lawyer?
  • Do certain words that name a service, organization or product rub you the wrong way or create a negative image? Do you think that let-it-all-hang-out TV programs, where people share the most intimate information about themselves, impacted the choice of the Survivorship Clinic’s name?

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” said  Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, which I thought when I heard “very” matched with “honest.” Other examples? What about the reference to a “real lawyer?”

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12 Responses to “Service of Words That Should be Changed or that Need No Embellishment”

  1. E Brown Said:

    When I was in college, an English instructor warned we were allowed one “very” for the semester and she would keep count! (and she did — a Vassar graduate!) To this day, I pause to find a better adjective. However, Hellmann’s mayonnaise is VERY VERY good!

  2. Donna Boyle Schwartz Said:

    Donna wrote on Facebook: Perhaps “human lawyer” would be the appropriate counterpoint?

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I prefer “canny lawyer,” or “smart lawyer” though in the context of robot lawyer, you are correct–human lawyer wins!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    E Brown,

    You used two VERY’s–I won’t tell the instructor–but I agree, Hellman’s is delish! I tried making my own mayo not long ago and it curdled. It was very, very bad!

  5. Donna Boyle Schwartz Said:

    Donna on Facebook: Shrewd lawyer?

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    The best kind!

  7. Judy Schuster Said:

    Personally, I vote for honest lawyer. Too many aren’t. (And since I have two brothers who are honest lawyers, I dislike the other kind.)

  8. jmbyington Said:


    I’m all for “honest lawyer.” My office was in a law firm for 10 years. All the lawyers there impressed me and were honest and were good to me–not a lawyer–though I have often noticed that lawyers and PR people think the same way when it comes to advising clients.

  9. RCF Said:

    The word I most hate is “transparent.” It is supposed to mean “easily seen,” but what it really means is “invisible.” If people mean to say “obvious” then they should say that. I do not know if that fits your criterion, but there is my gripe of the day.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    We seem to have trouble these days with the truth. I think that “transparent” has also come to mean “truthful.” It seems less confrontational if inaccurate.

    This morning I read that because of the fog the cameras couldn’t adequately capture the fireworks in Washington DC this 4th of July. So instead, PBS ran old footage of fireworks. Did they admit it at the time? No. They had a good reason but then, they should have told the truth off the bat: How hard would it have been to announce “We–and therefore you–can’t see much of the fireworks taking place here tonight so we will, instead, show you fabulous footage from past July 4th celebrations.”

  11. hb Said:

    I’ve always loved words, where they came from, their many meanings when used by different people in different ways, how they change over time and how wonderful they are to work with. Studying them is not only a delightful pastime, but also a good way to learn about and to judge the quality of any civilization. The sophistication, elegance and complexity of the vernacular of its participants is the only really reliable measuring stick by which to determine its true standing in relation to others, past and future. (Rome, where the feeble, corrupt Late Empire Latin of AD 500 had supplanted the marvelous language spoken by Virgil and Cicero of 500 years earlier, is, of course, the textbook example of this.)

    Four of my favorite English words are:

    “Bugs” as in “Beware of boys with bugs.” That word spoken by Petruchio in Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” was my introduction, at age 12, to syphilis and a whole lot more!

    “Enrichment” was the word my super elegant great aunt used for manure. She didn’t want to get her mouth dirty.

    “Moo,” as in cow, was my grandfather’s nickname for his profoundly intellectual and reserved suffragette wife. She bore him many children.

    “Contact” as a noun, verb or adjective is my forbidden word. It is just fine with electricity but not with people.

    Can you verify what I was recently told about the vocabulary now used in popular television—that it is smaller than that possessed by a typical American sixth grader fifty years ago?

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    In a quick search I wasn’t able to verify whether 6th graders in 1966 had larger vocabularies than what’s spoken by characters today on TV and I checked from all sorts of directions. There were fewer distractions in ’66 and kids had more time to read which would mean the contention makes sense.

    Of your four words, I liked enrichment best. Regarding “moo,” I wonder if your grandmother was deaf. While I’m sure gramps meant to be endearing, it jarred me as, I would imagine, a suffragette-equivalent might react to “moo” today.

    If your introduction is correct and your conclusion accurate, we are not moving in the right direction. In fact, given the repetitive, simplistic word choices of one of the presidential candidates such as “someone told me,” “something’s going on,” “tremendous,” “I have the best words,” and “our country is in trouble,”–and the fact that millions accept empty phrases without requiring verification–we may be in a worse place than you thought.

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