John Drescher

More reader pet peeves: Returned back, advocates for, impactful

A few years ago, I collected some of your emailed complaints to me about grammar and word choice and put them in a column. I was sure there would be a collective yawn. Does anybody care any more about lay or lie, about me or I?

The answer was an emphatic: YES! You responded with passion about the words and expressions that drive you crazy.

You also unburdened yourself. “Thanks for letting me vent,” several readers wrote. “Rest assured that I shall not tire in this effort,” wrote another. “Now I can sleep easily tonight,” wrote one agitated defender of the language.

Since February, when I last wrote about your language pet peeves, you’ve emailed me with more of your pet peeves. Here is a sampling:

▪ “Your story on the religious meeting says so and so ‘advocates for’ something. This is a wretched, silly redundancy. By definition, advocate as a verb is to support, recommend or propose. Saying someone ‘advocates for’ something is like saying they ‘recommend for’ it.”

▪ “Has anyone mentioned ‘returned back’? Where else can a person return but ‘back’?”

▪ “My language pet peeve right now is the use of the superlative ‘best’ when the word ‘well’ is meant. I am often reading, ‘He did it as best as he could.’ We don't say, ‘He ran as fastest as he could.’ We say, ‘He ran as fast as he could.’ The superlative form of the adverb is not needed there.”

▪ “Mine is double negatives in a sentence. My English teacher (over six decades ago) would take a lot of points off if we wrote: ‘I can’t help but notice how great you look today.’”

▪ “‘Three times less’: Three times what? Less than what? I was taught that ‘times’ is a mathematical used in multiplication resulting in a larger number. Yet this phrase is used to denote a smaller number.”

▪ My peeve is people who think they sound extra smart when they say ‘impactful.’ Not actually a word. As an aside, I think the whole ‘grow this’ and ‘grow that’ thing first got off kilter when Bill Clinton started talking about ‘growing the economy.’”

▪ “One that bothers me but obviously does not bother almost every author, journalist or human being in America is the use of ‘anxious’ when a much more powerfully descriptive and accurate word would be ‘eager.’ The word ‘anxious’ implies anxiety, which is appropriate when one is actually anxious about something, but there is seldom any anxiety involved when one is merely wanting to do something. So they are ‘eager’ to do it.”

▪ “In addition to phrases that bug me, here are some words that are antonyms of themselves: Sanction, to give approval or to punish. Refrain, to do again (in song or poetry) or to stop from doing. Cleave, to cut apart or to unite closely (as in the Bible). Inflammable, can be/cannot be burned. See more at ‘auto-antonym’ in Wikipedia.”

Thus concludes another column on word choice. Thanks for your vents and rants. Keep them coming. To paraphrase Marc Antony in “Julius Caesar”: Friends, Raleighites, countrymen, lend me your peeves; I come to bury the misused word, not to praise it.

Drescher: 919-829-4515 or jdrescher@newsobserver.com.

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