Pet Peeves

Here listed are words and phrases that I hear and see too frequently for my peace of mind: one to which I always wish to give a piece of my mind!

A. Individual unnecessary words: ones whose frequency of usage has become all to apparent in recent years, but which have become favourites to replace already-existing words. To show how recently they have become “favourite” (which means excessively-used) I illustrate with clips from Ngrams ( Note that this source gives frequency of use in written sources — but I think that, for these excessively-used words, these under-illustrate their use in spoken English.

synergy. In the UK, this word (very suddenly!) became popular around 1980; this followed a short time after it (gradually) became popular in the USA.  Another faddish borrowing “across the pond” — I would be happy if the Brits could give it back! Note that it hardly ever appeared in print (and, I imagine, in speech) in the USA before about 1950, in the UK before about 1960.
                                               SYNERGY American English                               
SYNERGY NAM 1970s.png

                                                    SYNERGY British English

SYNERGY UK 1970s.png
Merriam-Webster (USA) defines this word as meaning “combined action or operation”; Collins (UK) as “the potential ability of individual organizations or groups to be more … productive as a result of a merger”.  I suggest that the M-W definition is sufficient in itself; before the dates given above, that is what people write or said…

I look now at the word “wellness” in British and then American English. The word was virtually (though not absolutely) unknown before 1960, when it burst onto the scene, because of the 1961 book Concept of Wellness by Halbert Dunn, see It is clear from the on-line descriptions by various “Wellness Institutes” (this is now a billion-dollar business!), it is used for a way of life that comprises both physical health and mental health, in randomly selected combinations . See, e.g., As far as I can tell, wellness is therefore, semantically, both broader and narrower than health.  Given this vagueness of usage, I suggest that it is preferable to avoid the neologism and write or speak with more precision. When I see it, I do feel peeved.
There is a building a few miles from my home called “The Synergy Wellness Centre”. I feel slightly doubly peeved when I see it as we pass!

Among TV cooking programmes that my wife and I watched in the 1990s—not only for its recipes but also for the personalities and quirks of the two individuals—was “Two Fat Ladies”. I enjoyed the weekly show, but, being a linguist, could not but listen to the form of the ladies’ speech as well as the content. And I noticed, every time, that they avoided the word crisp and instead used what I considered the children’s preferred variant crispy. Ngram graphs show that both existed since the early 19thC., but that crispy suddenly became quite frequent in the 1970s. Interestingly enough, on the TV show “The Great British Bakeoff” (show since 2010), two of the judges, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, vary in age by over 30 years (born 1935 and 1966 respectively) and the older of the two always used crisp and the younger, crispy.
The history of the use of the two words is complicated by (1) the probable preference by younger speakers for the diminutive form crispy, cf. in the UK sweetie instead of sweet; (2) the relatively recent onslaught of published children’s literature, which increased the appearance  of diminutive words. I have a personal dislike of crispy, not because of the two fat ladies, but because it sounds to my ears like a child’s word.  It is a pet peeve, if only a minor one.

B. Individual Pronunciations: There are many pronunciations of English words that are, because of time’s chariot or vagaries of space, different from my own. Some have always seemed, to my ears, as bordering on egregious, but the older I get the more tolerant. There are some spelling pronunciations which threaten to disturb my calm. (For meaning and examples of the term, see and c Fore-head  for “forrid” and off-ten for off’n are instances which I now put up with. But—mainly, I suppose, because I watch North American hockey games on the TV — one  always jars: pronouncing hurricane as hurry-cane and not hurry-c’n. The latter is the usual pronunciation in the UK, and is actually closer to the original word, which was either the Mayan hurakan “God of the weather” or the Carib huracn “God of evil”. Spanish sailors brought the word home as hurakán and most European words are clearly derived from this—French ouragan, German Hurrikan, Italian uragano, Russian uragán. (Why does Slovenian have the word orkan which is unlike the words used in neighbouring countries, and closer to Dutch and the Scandinavian languages?)

C. Phrases: these mostly consist of a word that conveys what the speaker/writer wishes, but that is, apparently invariably, accompanied by a totally superfluous synonym.

pushing and shoving: hockey (ice hockey) TV commentators appear pathologically unable to avoid this phrase when players get together, usually in front of the goal, and energetically jostle each other— without actually fighting. “This is followed by some pushing and shoving,” yes; “This is followed by some jostling/bumping/ shouldering and elbowing“: never! It is now a cliché, but not just a tired cliché, but a cliché that is so exhausted that it should be on its last legs. If only this were true!

rules and regulations:  as for the last entry, English-speakers seem pathologically incapable of saying rules without adding and regulations. Personally, I make a deliberate point of saying one of them, or the other, but never ever ever both together. That would be a waste of breath, a waste of energy, a waste of time; not much on one occasion, but over a lifetime a “whole bunch” of breath, of energy, and of time.