A Popular History of Language Peeves
In a piece for the most recent Atlantic, language writer Jen Doll takes on the phenomenon of linguistic peeving and collects a list of "classics." Look for your favorites below, but first check out what she has to say about the concept of peeving in general.
Peeving (whose name itself might cause peevery), or complaining about the way words are used, seems to have been around as long as language itself.…As long as language is changing, people will peeve, and as long as people can communicate, language will change. History suggests that even the most vociferous peevery is unlikely to result in a word or usage being eradicated from a dictionary, but “contrary to predictions of decline going back centuries,” says [language expert and Harvard psychology professor Steven] Pinker, “we’re not grunting like Tarzan.”
Doll goes on to collect a list of peeves through time.
A Popular History of Peeves
Irregardless Merriam-Webster may admit that irregardless is a word, but the dictionary still instructs readers to “use regardless instead.”
Myriad Peevers insist that myriad should be used only as an adjective—“myriad reasons” rather than “a myriad of reasons”—but Merriam-Webster approves of both usages.
Awful Formerly used to convey actual awe, of the majestic-waterfall or wrath-of-God variety; now a synonym for bad.
Hopefully Peevers recoil from the use of hopefully to mean “it is hoped” rather than “in a hopeful manner”—“hopefully we make it in time” versus “she sighed hopefully”—despite the fact that Merriam-Webster describes this use as “entirely standard” for the adverb.
Could care less If you have no caring left in your being, then you technically could not care less.
Decimate Because the word’s Latin root means “tenth,” peevers insist that when you say “the Sox decimated the Tigers” you mean “the Sox reduced the Tigers by 10 percent.”
Momentarily Will the plane be landing for just a moment, or is it merely time to stow our tray tables?
Doll also discusses the literally-figuratively peeve, which received attention in 2013, when a Reddit post announced Google's inclusion of a secondary definition of literally: “Used to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling." (Check out our archives for "'Literally': A Tempest in a Teapot?," "Really! Truly! Literally!," and "A Peever's Perspective on 'Literally'.")
Any of these peeves look familiar? Want to add one your own peeve to the list? Leave a comment below!