Word choices, word choices

I rarely blog about my personal peeves. I try to keep it all professional. So excuse me if I rant a little bit here. It’s about words that annoy me. I am sure you have your favorites, too.

More than a decade ago, the word “issue” moved from teen talk (“You got an issue with that?”) to my academic world. I first noticed it when called to serve on an ad hoc committee about an “issue” between a department chair and a faculty member. They had a problem, a big problem. But we all referred to it as an “issue.”

I have seen issue take over, since then. We, at least in my academic world, rarely talk about problems. Only issues. A student has an issue with her grade. A student has a health issue. In our curriculum, we teach about issues. Interpreting the meaning, and impact if any, of this circumlocution is outside my area of expertise. I have noted its existence for many years and, may I say, its robustness.

Ballistic Missile Lockheed Martin
Trident II D5 Fleet ballistic missile (FBM). Source: Lockheed Martin

So let’s talk about the word “robust.” This word seems to have had a surge a few years ago, in my experience at least, as related to annual reporting on such matters as my blog readership and twitter following: robust. Robust is still with us; it conveys muscularity, strength, and growth, everything capitalism loves.

Well, I want my social media impact to continue to grow in numbers and quality, don’t I? So, I want my social media numbers to be robust. Indeed, I want my textbook sales to be more robust. But “robust” has a limited use, for me. … I want my teaching to be engaging, not robust … and in terms of my own body weight, something less robust would be welcome (but that’s another issue).

And now, we have “boost,” as in “boost phase” which comes from rocketry and refers to a particular stage of a ballistic missile, a missile that carries a warhead. I am no rocket scientist so I could be wrong on this — I just checked Wikipedia on “boost phase.” Boost phase may also apply to non-weapon bearing rockets. And, more benignly, having been around little kids, I do know about “booster chairs” which allow small children to enjoy adult company at the dining table.

Nor am I a linguist, but note the similarity between robust and boost … consonant “b” followed by a vowel or vowels, then ending with “st.” Perhaps that combination in English conveys a sense of positive force, strength, growth, and optimism — all dearly held values of capitalist culture (and maybe that’s why “sustainability” has proved to be so robust in the language of green approaches to our future).

Wires at the Hotel
Wires, including Internet, at a Beirut hotel. Flickr/Markus Hündgen

This essay is prompted by my seeing, this morning, the use of “boost” in a World Bank statement about a new project in Lebanon. The report begins with this description: “A new World Bank Group project will boost Lebanon’s mobile Internet systems and create quality jobs for a high-skilled labor force to help reverse the spiraling trend of unemployment especially among youth and women.”

On a positive note, I end this commentary by arguing that the phrase “to boost” is preferable, in spite of its likely origins in the world of war, to the extremely awkward phrase “to grow” — prevalent during the Clinton era when “to grow the economy” was a sacred mantra. If “to grow” replaced “to boost” in the World Bank statement, it would read:

“A new World Bank Group project will grow Lebanon’s mobile Internet systems and create quality jobs for a high-skilled labor force to help reverse the spiraling trend of unemployment especially among youth and women.”

Things could always be worse.

One thought on “Word choices, word choices

  1. Pingback: Mind your language. | Jess Erhart

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