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Words We Don’t Say; The Tao of Travel

May 27, 2011 | by

Kurt Andersen had his list of “Words We Don’t Say.” As the editor of The Paris Review, what are some of yours? —Tom Michaels

Usage snobbery is a poor man’s snobbery. It has no place at The Paris Review. When Kurt Andersen compiled his list of peeves, he had the excuse of working at New York—a magazine that pretty much exists to market snootiness on a budget. You will notice that most of his verbotens come from the tabloids, the trades, or lifestyle magazines. (There is something, not just ironic, but deep about a lifestyle magazine banning the word lifestyle.) Which is to say, Andersen was doing his job. He was maintaining a tone.

Here at the Review we have no such excuse. All we’ve got are hang-ups. I blame mine on The Worth of Words, a late-Victorian usage manual that I picked up at a yard sale during high school and subsequently destroyed. It was too late. The Worth of Words had singed it onto my brain that the phrase due to should be used only in instances of someone actually incurring a debt of gratitude, that aggravate must never be used except in the sense of adding to, and that partially means only “with bias.” (Google Books has now reunited me with this manual and its insane author, Ralcy Halsted Bell. Entry one: “ABORTIVE means of untimely birth ... To speak of an abortive attempt or act is hardly short of the ridiculous.”

I do not recommend The Worth of Words, and I offer this tiny (partial) list of my own in a spirit of confession and contrition. Recently our managing editor, Nicole Rudick, cured me of an aversion to forthcoming (in the sense of “soon to be published”) with the help of the OED. Here, off the top of my head, are some more:

Home (for house)
Hopefully (for “I hope”)
Disinterest (for “lack of interest”—yes, even though I know it’s totally correct)
Delicious, Spicy, Tangy (used metaphorically)
Tasty (ever, but especially in reference to a “lick”)
Pleasantry (except in the sense of “joke”)
Following (to introduce a list: as in “the following”)
Contact (as a verb)
Relationship (ever, ever, even when it’s the mot juste)
Impact (unless we’re talking about, e.g., a car crash)

I could go on. (Couldn’t you?)

Mr. Stein,

In his new book, The Tao of Travel, Paul Theroux suggests ten essential rules for budding globe-trotters. Rule number eight is “Read a novel that has no relation to the place you’re in.” This seems counterintuitive, so I would like a second opinion, lest my summer holiday be ruined by inadequate reading material. I am making my first trip to the United States in a few weeks (to Los Angeles and San Francisco). Should I be foolish enough to think that reading Bukowski in L.A. will enhance my experience there? Or should I do a complete one-eighty, as Theroux suggests?
Darren Colquhoun
Bristol, England

I’m with Theroux. To read about a city is always to read about a place that no longer exists. If you go searching for Bukowski’s downtown, you’ll only be disappointed—or will make yourself feel and see things that aren’t there. And so much is there. Rent a convertible in Los Angeles, walk all over San Francisco, keep your eyes peeled, and save Bukowski for when you get back to Bristol: let the influence go the other way.

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  1. Mike Philpott | May 27, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Disinterest does not mean “lack of interest”. It means “unbiased”.

  2. Lorin Stein | May 27, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    Well, yes, “disinterested” does usually mean unbiased, and “disinterest” *can* mean lack of bias … but “disinterest” can also mean indifference. Alas.

  3. Rose Gowen | May 27, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    Of course one has to be careful not to get too into it, and turn into a crank, but– I admit it!– I like a good list of stupid words! I like how excited people get about the words they hate! A couple of mine are: tome, garner, that said…

  4. CS | May 27, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    C’mon. Everybody knows which “disinterest” senor has in mind.

  5. Nicole Rudick | May 27, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    I’ll admit to being an occasional poor man. The food-lit revolution has killed the word “sourced,” along with “artisanal,” “comfort food,” and “foodie” (which was never not annoying).

  6. Mary Lee | May 27, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    I’ve always been glad that I was reading HAWAII the first time I went to Hawaii…and, it was great to have read CHESAPEAKE

  7. C.A. Jaramillo | May 28, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    “To read about a city is always to read about a place that no longer exists. If you go searching for Bukowski’s downtown, you’ll only be disappointed—or will make yourself feel and see things that aren’t there.”

    Indeed. I am reminded of the young Brit who told me, in the early ’90’s, he was convinced L.A. was precisely as depicted in Brett Easton Ellis’ _Less Than Zero_. We were on the S.F. Bay Peninsula, at the time, so I phoned an actress friend in L.A., and told her what the young man believed. She laughed, and told me, “Bring him down here: we’ll show him Less Than Zero.”

    After a night of artistic replication of the “hard zones” of L.A., the young Brit was happy to awaken to the shining escalators of Universal Studios.

    As a native Southern Californian, I submit: the “literary present” is not intended as a tour guide, and some aspects of tourism never change.

  8. Stephanie | May 28, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    “Foodie” just peeves me. And I hate the word “peeves.”

  9. Mary Campbell Gallagher, J.D., Ph.D. | May 29, 2011 at 9:13 am

    “Totally correct”? Sorry, but isn’t “correct” enough? Is there a place where using the word “disinterest” is partly correct?

  10. Lorin Stein | May 29, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Dear Dr Gallagher,

    See “spark disinterest,” above. Thanks to all–proscriptions duly noted!


  11. Lee | May 30, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    Just like clichés, overused words should be viewed as a challenge, not a verboten. To paraphrase David Mitchell, there is gold in them there hang-ups.

  12. Bryan Whalen | June 1, 2011 at 8:28 am

    When traveling in Bangladesh, I read Rabindranath Tagore; when in Indonesia, Pramoedya Ananta Toer. In both cases these authors works helped me interact with the countries in ways that would otherwise have been unlikely. As a tourist, I was mostly ignorant regarding the respective Independence movements in Bangladesh and Indonesia and the authors helped inform me without the tediousness of wading through a history text or the blandness of a guide book. Also, reading these authors while in their homeland helped me engage with the locals in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise thought possible, especially in Bangladesh, where Tagore holds godlike status.

  13. Ali | June 2, 2011 at 5:59 am

    What’s wrong with “home”?

  14. Mary Jo Reilly | June 3, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    Home is fine, as long as it doesn’t mean house.

  15. Lorin Stein | June 5, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    Dear Ali,

    As Chris Roberts and Mary Jo Reilly suggest, we all use “home” in its more abstract sense (“Are we almost home yet?” “This world is not my home,” “Make yourself at home,” etc.). That’s the older meaning of the word.

    But roughly a century ago, as “house” gradually became a middle-class euphemism for “house of ill repute” (“There is a house in New Orleans …”), some people — especially real estate agents — began to shun “house” altogether and started using “home” to mean a residential building: a “three-bedroom home,” “a spacious home,” “a summer home,” etc.

  16. Ian Coventry | July 20, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    Snobbery is lovely when it is in the right. Far too often, however, it is in the wrong.

    Home meaning a building used as a residence is absolutely synonymous with house and vice versa.

    Let us be more diligent in being correct rather than being a foolish faux snob.

    Shame shame shame.

  17. Lorin Stein | July 21, 2011 at 10:37 am

    Dear Mr Coventry,

    Do you not hear a shade of difference between the words? I do. In any case, I’m glad the snobbery sounds faux!


  18. William | December 6, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    I dislike the incorrect usage of the word “decimate”. “The storm decimated the town.”

  19. Burt Smiley | October 30, 2014 at 2:16 am

    Realators sell houses; realtors sell domiciles; soon-to-be divorced sell homes.

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