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Ouch, I've Been Gutted



The English Language is special to me. 


Its care and proper use is a big part of who I am. 


Since beginning this blog, I have been told that I am a good writer. I think that reputation comes from being a good editor. Avoid falling in love with the first thing you put on that blank page. Be willing to go back and shorten what you’ve said. Always try to find a better word. 


When I talk about the English Language, I return to the rotunda of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. We are preparing for a ceremony and our special guest is William Safire. 


Safire was an author, New York Times columnist, journalist, and political speechwriter. He wrote the “On Language” column in the New York Times Magazine about the use and origins of our native tongue and was the unofficial arbiter of the English language for many years. I loved his work, until it was turned on me. 


We were doing the advance work for the ceremony, and I casually said to Mr. Safire, “at this point you will step to the podium...” 


That was as far as I got. 


He held up his hand like a language traffic cop and just said, “wait.” 


“Podium comes from the Latin, podos meaning foot and the Greek podion which means footstool. In the English language it refers to a raised platform, much like a conductor stands on when leading the orchestra. He places his music on a lectern, and I believe that is what you confused with a podium.” 


I was a bit embarrassed, but later thought how lucky I had been to receive instruction from the great William Safire. 


While not a lesson in etiquette, it does illustrate the use of language and the fact that there is a right word, and conversely a wrong word in most situations. Even the titles of Bill Safire’s three books allude to this fact: 


The Right Word in the Right Place at the Right Time 

No Uncertain Terms 

Take My Word for It 


So, channeling Mr. Safire today, I have a few nits to pick about four words that have sloppily fallen into common use in the United States and Great Britain. For those of you old enough to remember the weekly complaints of Andy Rooney at the close of CBS’s 60 Minutes, that is the lane into which I now merge. 


My biggest challenge is limiting my rant to just four words. I have prioritized my boundless list because there are words and expressions about which I have admitted defeat. 


Take for example, the adolescent construct that assiduously avoids the use of the word “said” when describing a conversation. 


“Well, he was like, ‘I can’t believe you did that’. And she was like, ‘why don’t you mind your own business.’ And he was like...etc.” Overhearing an exchange like that on the subway is enough to ruin my day. But it is now so common that I have had to move on. 


My current top four, however are as follows: 


Space 


When I was growing up in the 1960’s, space was that boundless expanse of the universe that we were beginning to explore. We had the space program and sometimes added the adjective “outer” when using science fiction to describe our quest. Webster even defines this period as the “Space Age” beginning with the Soviet launch of the first sputnik on October 4, 1957. 


What has recently crept into our lexicon is the misuse of this perfectly good word to divide and categorize the world. Listen for it and you’ll hear: 


“He’s become an expert in the IT space” or “have you thought of looking into a career in the fashion space” 


It was rather sudden as if while we were sleeping someone introduced this virus to the language and made it cool and acceptable. We are a nation of Myna birds and if someone says it, we repeat it no matter how utterly stupid it is. 


Remember “fake news?” 


So, what’s wrong with this innocent use of the word “space” as a means of categorizing the disciplines of the world? 


It’s sloppy and adds unnecessary words to a concept that we already understand. 

Remember when we’d say, “He’s become an expert in IT” or “Have you thought about a career in fashion?” The word itself defines the category and the use of the noun “space” is the equivalent of “quite frankly” “To be perfectly honest” or “If you ask me” as unnecessary, habit-forming crutches in our daily discourse. 


It sounds cool and trendy and gives us an Elon Musk vibe when we talk. Recently you’re better offer emulating Elon Gasper. 


My next target is “bandwidth.” 

 

 Bandwidth 


Now Webster tells us that the actual definition of this term is “the range of frequencies within a radiation band required to transmit a particular signal.” 


I am on the board of a non-profit that recently contracted to have a feasibility study done for an upcoming capital campaign. The report that was delivered was well researched but drifted into the jargon jungle in my humble opinion. 


When talking about the capacity (remember that word) of current staff to conduct the capital campaign while performing their current duties, the report writer felt the need to introduce the term “bandwidth”. Did the staff have the “bandwidth” to take on more responsibilities? 


Words like “capacity”, “time”, “ability”, would have all worked in this context, but time after time “bandwidth” was put in their place. 


Once again, we take the “cool” approach that seems modern, when, in addressing a broad audience a more routine word might just be better. 


On a recent trip to the UK, I was confronted with two terms of recent origin that while in common use, I find as troubling as the US examples. 


Sort 


While Webster has not caught up with this slang, it is listed in the Cambridge Dictionary as an informal verb meaning “dealing with something”. Can we sort the car by tomorrow? We need to sort the kids before we leave.  


The first place you hear it these days is over the public address system in Heathrow Airport when you arrive. Given the public safety nature of the message, I find it odd if not irresponsible to assume the listener will grasp the meaning. It is an anti-terrorism message that is the equivalent of the US version, “If you see something, say something.” But the lilting voice of the English woman tells us, “See it, Say it, Sorted”. 


While it essentially means the same thing, the use of the slang at the end sounds odd. However, it is a testament to how common the word “sort” has become in British usage. When you understand the meaning, it is comforting to think that all you must do is say something and the authorities will guarantee a resolution. “Sorted” is presented as though it is a contractual guarantee. 


I noticed on my recent trip to Wales just how frequently you hear the word and see it in common everyday speech. People are sorting this and sorting that and sorting damn near everything these days. They no longer even consider “handling something”, “dealing with something”, “fixing something” or “discussing something” anymore. All has been mashed into the same universal imprecise verb “sort”. 


That brings me to my final new word on the lips of Brits, “Gutted” 


Gutted 


After Wales lost their recent 6 Nations Rugby match to England, family, friends, and Welsh commentators were “gutted” by the loss. I heard or saw it once, twice, then multiple times on the airwaves and in the press. Seemingly the entire nation had been simultaneously gutted. That’s a lot to clean up. 


I will admit that heartbroken is not as masculine and devastated sounds a bit melodramatic. With the bloodshed and war-like atmosphere of rugby, you might even say that the visceral connotation of gutted is appropriate in this context. 


But I have a suspicion that the term has drifted into many other places, like a failed souffle, a bad blind date, or a Wordle defeat. Places where guts are not an appropriate metaphor. 


My first thought when I heard a person say that they had been gutted by Wales defeat, was my experience with the word and the process. I have gutted a deer. I have gutted a rabbit. I have gutted a bass. 


And believe me, what happened in each of those cases is way worse and more permanent than your team being defeated. 

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