Banning ‘Experience’: Words That Annoy

Reading & Writing


I’ve finally become my parents; they were sticklers for grammatical exactitude. I knew it would happen, but I think it’s largely because I read so much. Books, posters – this poster.

As noted in the previous post, there’s a Sherlock Holmes ‘experience’ currently at Madame Tussauds. It’s a word routinely added to any activity which involves more than one of the senses, like the ‘Imax experience’. But is it an experience if you just see and hear something without taking part or being changed? If you go through something completely preplanned as an observer, can you be said to have experienced it at all? Or is it simply overused because we value the purchasing of experiences over material things now, items with which we can fill our bucket lists?

While we’re on the subject of overselling, can we have a moratorium on ‘legendary’ for a while, especially in Hollywood trailers? Very few things are legendary, especially not a few CGI films from deliverers of summer popcorn movies.

‘Muslims are fed up of blame’ says the Independent. Shouldn’t that be ‘with blame’? Even if it’s not wrong, it looks and sounds awkward.

And the passive voice in writing, while we’re on it,  seems to be everywhere. As it was just then. In other (better) words, more people are using  the passive voice. Why are we reducing our own authority? That’s probably down to internet etiquette, where (polite people that we are) we try to soften demands because they look rather cold in print, and we often add a ! for extra friendliness. In fact, enough with the exclamation marks!!!

Don’t get me started on dangling participles, either. ‘Wishing I could paint, the bright colours seemed incomprehensible to me.’ From a book I was reading. It got thrown across the room. Agh.

Everywhere you look there’s peculiar grammar. Not in SF magazines, though, where the ever-extraordinary Nick Lowe gives us; ‘rescuing Hollywood plotting from the sclerotic orthodoxies of protagonistic solipsism opening out the narrative canvas into deep megatextual expanses’. There’s such a thing as too clever.

Which (I know, never start a sentence this way) is why I have trouble with so many short story collections. To jump into a series of short tales you need to climb out and get back in every time, so it’s quite nice when an author allows you to acclimatise via the steps as opposed to diving from into the deep end. Try forgotten suspense writer Charlotte Armstrong if you like being hooked from the first line. Exclamation mark.

26 comments on “Banning ‘Experience’: Words That Annoy”

  1. Steve says:

    Don’t get me started… especially not on would of, could of and the like.
    Grammar is also an important support system for language learning. It doesn’t get you speaking fluently, but it definitely helps a lot in the early stages.
    Hey Chris finally we agree on something 😉
    I have to add an old family story – about my aunt, my father’s little sister. (It has a point…)
    As a girl of about 8, she went for a walk on the moors with her father and brothers. It stated to pour with rain and they were all soaking wet and cold. She wasn’t happy and said so. Her father said, in the hardy way of british families back then, “Bear up – it’s an experience.” The little girl replied: “I don’t like experiences!”
    Well, thank you and goodnight…

  2. Rh says:

    As an ex headline writer I have to confess many headlines are written to fit the space not the context fullstop

  3. Roger says:

    The Sherlock Holmes ‘experience’ is currently at the Madame Tussauds ‘situation’.

  4. Matt2 says:

    I once posted a short story off to a magazine and had it returned with quite a brusk letter attached. It was a critical analysis of my Story and there were many mentions of grammatical mistakes and over used punctuation. It wasn’t that helpful to me as none of the story was highlighted to point out these mistakes. As a school age boy it would have been helpful, I wonder even today (as an adult) if I still make the same mistakes.

    I totally agree with Admin on the over use of terms like those mentioned in his post. I feel an experience is something you have to go through much like Steve’s Aunt.

  5. DC says:

    I don’t object to the use of ‘experience’, other than it is entirely meaningless. e.g.
    The doing nothing in particular experience. (A personal favourite, but would drive some others to distraction – has the same effect on the ‘other half’, when I attempt said experience!)

    The word needs to be clarified, as in:
    The Sherlock Holmes, we grab your money and take part of your life you’ll never get back, experience.

    I did visit that establishment was a kid, but the memories, beyond the entrance, resides in part of my brain that has long since atrophied.

  6. Alan says:

    The use of the word ‘So’ at the beginning of any sentence where it is not intented to mean ‘therefore’ or ‘to such an extent’ must be made illegal immediately. Especially in broadcast media.

  7. Alan says:

    Also, please note that ‘data’ is plural. The singular is ‘datum’.

    Thank you.

  8. Brooke says:

    “Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way…”, George Orwell.
    I live in Philadelphia, USA, the home of annoying words and vulgar speech. If you eliminated the initial “so,” the word “like,” and the “f” word, the city would fall silent. Join us next week to experience the Democrats’ national convention.

  9. Anne Fernie says:

    I don’t know where to start from Blair popularising the American usage of ‘guys’ (especially bad when used by teachers re. their pupils); ‘iconic’; ‘journey’ and my pet hate: ‘devastated’ – used for everything from a murdered child to a lost cat. Recently the dreaded ‘moving forward (instead of’ progress’)’ has become the ‘earworm’ (as the Germans would say) of the airwaves & imagine my joy when I heard: ‘… the end of the day at this point in time…’ trotted out by a politician recently. I notice a lot of these horrors are instigated then picked up on by journalists thus entering idiomatic usage and becoming clanging cliches. I suppose language is mutable but a lot of this is pure laziness as there are fantastic, underused words that are well deserving of a revival (my favourite = ‘having a swagger time’……)

  10. Jo W says:

    To Alan,
    I agree with you on the use of ‘so’ to introduce a sentence, be it conversational, a speech or an answer to an interviewer on the box. ‘Im indoors often has to remonstrate when I shout at the TV -“they can’t hear you”.
    Another pet hate is the pronounciation of the word secretary as sekkatry.This even from politicians and television journalists.
    Hey Chris, I managed all that without the punctuation mark you hate. 😉

  11. admin says:

    I don’t hate exclamation marks so much as their overuse and multiple appearance. I have a female friend who texts stuff like Lets go fr Drinx wood-hooo!!!!!! Ya!!!! a lot and it can be quite tiring on a hot day.

  12. John says:

    Brooke’s comment made me laugh out loud. I think it’s like that in every huge American city. I live in Chicago where I think swearing has become an art form. Not just with the F word. It’s Bitch this, bitch that, and every other swear word of four letters or more, especially the C insult and the A insult.

    I love Annie’s list above. Covers many of my language mangling pet peeves. But the one I truly loathe is “awesome” used as an auto-response from everything to my ordering a turkey sandwich to the fact that I’m (for a change) in a good mood.

  13. admin says:

    Ack – I just had a company ask me for details of my ‘recent purchasing experience’.

  14. Helen Martin says:

    The “would of”, “could of” construction results from the contraction of “would have” and “could have” by people who don’t want to use an apostrophe and think that blurry semi-V sound is an F; hence “could of”.
    On the other hand, I heard an ESL teacher spending a fair amount of time teaching some boys the difference between “shall” and “will”, including the way those words shift meaning in declining. We mostly shifted to We’ll and he’ll to avoid the necessity for remembering how it works. I’m just thinking that I should sit down with a serious grammar and learn it again, except that I’m not sure it would make any difference.
    I recommended a fun grammar book here the other day, one which does not deal with shall and will, but with a large number of other things. It’s “Between You and Me” by Mary Norris, an editor at The New Yorker.

  15. Brian Evans says:

    Please add “different to” instead of “different from”….”I beg your pardon” instead of “what?”….Level playing field…..upspeak- ie ending a statement with a question mark….”lounge” to describe the main room in the house….the apostrophe-even when it should be used-ie “men’s room” or “mens’ room” when we know what it means without the confusing punctuation…..”tasked with” -which is a particularly gruesome one….”train station” instead of “railway station” or just “station”….the complete disappearance of the letter “T” in the middle of a word (I believe it is called a “glottal stop”)…..the gratuitous use of the “dash”-to show my displeasure I have used one only 5 times in this tome….and can we bring back “lavatory” instead of “toilet”?
    Please feel free to comment on the lot’s of mistakes I have made in this rant
    If anyone spotted my deliberate mistake in the above sentence then well done you! (I hope you will allow the use of the explanation mark. I resort to this to point out that I am trying to be funny in case anyone needs to have it sign-posted)

  16. Helen Martin says:

    Exclamation mark, I think, Brian. Dashes are difficult for me. I think it’s because I write as I speak and it’s hard to deal with the breaks.
    Lavatory doesn’t go over well here. It certainly marks the writer as British, for good or ill, and has a slightly posh feel to it. Toilet may be unnecessarily clear, but the chief use of the room is not either washing or bathing, those other alternatives. I just came across “little room” in one of Laurie King’s Russell books and can remember hearing “smallest room” somewhere.
    We were always taught to say “excuse me?” or “pardon me?” when we didn’t hear someone and never to say “what?” Or was that what you meant?
    I talk back to radios and televisions, too, and one error that is definitely creeping in is fewer than rather than less than. If you can count it, it’s fewer, if not, it’s less.
    We all have our favourites.

  17. Wayne Mook says:

    I like the word awesome, it can be used with such sarcastic intent. Windows 10, part Windows 7, part Windows 8, all awesome. Imagine how I say this.

    Admin was your experience enhanced by a fulfilment specialist?


  18. John Howard says:

    Or the new thing “going forward”. Did nobody teach these people “in the future”. Exclamation mark.

  19. Brian Evans says:

    Hi Helen. Fewer/less are mired in confusion. I dread to use either of them.

    When you say “over here” do you mean USA? If so, has “I was sat” crept in rather than “I was sitting?” I think this is an example of the passive voice that Chris is talking about. It’s an expression that came from the north of England and has spread across the UK.

    Then there is the “you and me” or “you and I” problem.

    My partner gets miffed at the use of “massive” rather than “huge”. It doesn’t bother me.

    The one I used to annoy people with was starting a sentence with “right” I was useless giving directions in a car to the driver, ie “Right, left here”….

  20. Jackie Hayles says:

    The use of the word “sat” as in “I was sat there listening”, instead of “sitting”. It implies that someone has positioned you, carefully placed you. There is often a complete ignorance of matters of tenses, so that I often hear “You was good when I left you at nursery” or “Was you going to come to the cinema?” It is becoming so common that it almost acceptable parlance here in sunny Hastings at least!

  21. Brian Evans says:

    Jackie, you must work for the Hastings tourist information. I lived there (Devonshire Rd, by the station) for 6 years, and seldom was it sunny! (am I allowed this one explanation mark?)

  22. Jackie Hayles says:

    Brian – my daughter also used to live in Devonshire Road – I work at the College which is just behind it.

    In my defence, it was sunny yesterday and still is today (I am struggling to resist using an exclamation mark).

  23. admin says:

    I think ‘sat’ instead of ‘was sitting’ is a specifically Midlands phrasing; I have a friend from Sheffield who uses it. I get bugged by ‘train station’ instead of the former ‘railway station’, but I think that’s just me.

  24. Helen Martin says:

    It was just suggested that one could put umbrellas on the exclamation marks and shove them up the user’s nose.

    Brian, no, “here” is Vancouver, B.C., Canada, where you can tell the difference between Us and Them in Seattle, only a few hours drive away. (Get them to say “mauve” or “lilac”, particularly the latter.) “There I was sat” isn’t particularly prevalent, at least not in my so-called circle, and I certainly hope it stays that way.
    There are some constructions from the American South (I know, I know, so many, so little time) which I would like to be able to track down, since they turn up in educated speech and appear to be inherited. One that I find particularly interesting is “might could” as in “I might could do that.” I’m not sure if it indicates a particular shade of possibility or is just a common construction. I think “might should” is in there, too.

    Experience. I was just listening to a repeat of Terry O’Reilly’s programme “Under the Influence” in which he discussed service companies as opposed to product companies. I company that will provide you with an alibi (not for criminal situations, though), a papparazzi (how do you spell it and what is the singular, all you Italianates?) crowding, or a hangover curing (two hours!) in Las Vegas, can certainly be said to be providing experiences, although not, I think, the one which rents wedding guests. Check out his programme on the CBC’s website.

  25. Brian Evans says:

    “Might could” sounds alright. It seems to have a certain logic behind it.

    Jackie, when I lived in Devonshire Road the college wasn’t even there, nor the shopping centre. It was still just the cricket field. The area is much more interesting and vibrant now.

  26. Anne Fernie says:

    Has anyone noticed how we in the UK have picked up the American (also wrong) confusion between the verbs ‘to lie’ and ‘to lay’ i.e. let’s go for a lay down’; ‘he was laying down’. This is a fairly recent development over here but even professional journalists are using it almost non-stop. I HATE IT (shouty caps instead of exclamation mark…)

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