Word peeves from the word nerd

Jason Smith


I’ve always been a bit of a word nerd.

All my life, I’ve done really well in that area of education known as language arts. While many of my peers, in my younger days, were more interested in science or math, I excelled at subjects like spelling, grammar and writing.

But, I’ve come to realize something lately. It’s not easy being a word nerd in today’s world. In fact, sometimes it’s downright painful to see how much communication in society has devolved over the years via the spoken or written word.

I suppose the impetus for this column comes from something my wife refers to as my “word peeves” – certain words or phrases that, when used incorrectly, make me cringe in frustration. Being a word nerd, I’ve held out on this as long as I can, but I simply cannot remain silent any longer.

For example, I absolutely hate, detest and abhor when people say they’re going to do something “sooner than later.” I’ve always been perplexed and annoyed by this inaccurate turn of phrase.

When I hear these words, it’s all I can do to refrain from correcting the speaker. I want to tell the person, “You mean you’re going to do it sooner rather than later. You’re going to take care of it shortly rather than waiting a while. This makes sense. ‘Sooner than later’ does not make sense. ‘Sooner’ is always sooner than ‘later!’”

Another word peeve of mine is when someone says he or she is stopping by the “ATM machine.” I want to say, “Do you realize you’re, in effect, saying the word ‘machine’ twice? Just call it what it is – an automated teller machine.”

Over the weekend, I enlisted the assistance of my fellow word nerds to come up with other word peeves that render us apoplectic when we hear them. These dear friends didn’t disappoint me, either, rewarding my search with non-word terms like “irregardless” – which people use when they mean “irrespective” or “regardless” – or “supposably” when they mean “supposedly.”

Then, of course, there’s the irritation that results when someone talks about taking something “for granite,” which has nothing to do with a rock. Word nerds like me take it for granted that people know this, but sadly, some do not.

I do have a theory that I believe, in part, explains how I became such a word nerd. To this day, I’m convinced that one of the reasons I’m good at spelling is because, having grown up with deaf parents, I’ve been accustomed to seeing the spellings of words on my TV screen via closed captioning. My brother, sister and I are all good spellers, and I can’t help thinking our upbringing has something to with it.

One of the benefits of technology is that, for the last two decades or so, all TVs are equipped with closed-captioning capability. Perhaps if more people used this feature more often, they’d learn when to write “there” instead of “their,” or “your” instead of “you’re.” I can only hope that such captions would also correct erroneous terms like “for all intensive purposes.”

Yes, being a word nerd can be a challenge. Doing so in the 21st century only makes it more difficult, with terms like “bae” and “fleek” creeping up in today’s vernacular – not that I have any idea what those terms mean. Maybe there will come a day when technology and common sense can meet in a way that enables us all to sound as smart as we think we are.

But I’m sure that, for all intents and purposes, that’s too much to ask.

Jason has worked in newspapers since 2005, spending the majority of that time in Henry County. He lives in Covington with his wife and daughter.