Weasel Words

My 13-year-old grandson’s Christmas presents included an obligatory selection of clothes and a couple of other sensible gifts, but Santa remembered he’s still a boy and so Guitar Hero (I didn’t know Eric Clapton came in a box) arrived under his Kansas tree, accompanied by other electronic wonderments. At that age I was still enthralled by baseball cards thrumming against bicycle spokes.

I don’t worry that he’ll become an Electronic Shut-in (“Just slip my dinner under the door, OK?”) because he’s becoming an avid fisherman and hunter: being outside is too important. In summer the local pool is the place to be, and there’s baseball, and more fishing.

He’s a patient kid, mostly, and works hard at understanding things. I’ve noticed that his letters and emails are longer now, and not as cryptic. In short, he’s learning how to express himself. So my gift to him at Christmas was The American Heritage® College Dictionary, Fourth Edition. I choose that volume because it’s slim: it looks like any other book on his shelf. English is intimidating enough without hinting at the enormity of the subject.

And it is an enormous undertaking, this study and usage of language. Lifetimes have been devoted to the correct placements of commas and semicolons, and to the music of well-formed paragraphs. Unfortunately, in our self-described busy lives too many of us have become cheap: we wear the same word clothing until the colors fade and buttons go missing.

Herewith I’ll devote a short blast of steam towards overused, washed-out words used by photographers, a small but tedious collection that appears again and again and again on Web forums in Comments to posted photos. There are certainly others I’ve forgotten, but these are the Worst: try to avoid them when you can.

1. Superb; save it for your next meal out. Splendid, anyone?
2. Stunning; a close second to the above, it insinuates stupefying…and wouldn’t you rather dazzle the audience?
3. Gorgeous; (must stifle yawn…must stifle yawn)
4. Compo; even my spell checker hates this one. If you’ve forgotten, it’s Composition…look it up!
5. Captured, and Capture; we aren’t talking about escaped prisoners or butterflies, we’re talking about PHOTOGRAPHS. And don’t give me that “it’s digital” excuse…put it on paper and it’s a photograph.
6. Dude; you don’t know my name, can’t tell my gender from the pseudonym, and you use this as a greeting? Don’t trip over your skateboard on your way out the darkroom door.
7. Clone, and Cloning; Now, I don’t dislike this word: what irks me is the casual way in which it’s bandied about, and more specifically the practice of cloning, e.g. “If it was my shot I’d clone out the shopping carts.” Instead of paying attention when you hit the shutter release…just zip out any distractions later with software. (My copy of the American Heritage asserts that cloning means duplication, not deletion, but I’m not going to get persnickety here.)

Next time: What Typos Say About Their Author!

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