Pen Me No Missives

By popular request (well, one) and as I have nothing interesting to tell you about my dull writing life, today I’m going to deal with a couple of crimes against the English language.

First, the widespread confusion between ‘enormity’ and ‘enormousness.’ Actually, the confusion is now so prevalent that in thinking I can do anything to salvage the situation, I may be whistling Dixie. But here goes.

Enormity has nothing to do with physical size. Rather it’s a measure of moral offensiveness. There’s nothing neutral about enormity. It’s a strong word and always, always negative. You may speak of the enormity of a crime but not (no matter how much it appalls you) of your waist measurement. Enormousness is about size, but it’s an awkward word to write and to say, so let’s use something else instead. Vastness? Yes, that’ll do.

People may advise me to let this go. The ship has sailed. Languages shift and change. I know, I know. I play with language myself, though mainly with my inner circle. Why only this week I coined the word ‘floppitude’ which seemed perfectly to describe a friend’s state of exhaustion.

Much as they irritate me, language crimes committed by newspapers don’t qualify as enormities, but it’s Friday and I’ve got nothing much on for the next ten minutes so I may as well get it off my chest.  Regrettable news-speak fashions come and go. Last year ‘iconic’ got my award for the most overused and misused adjective in the British press. I don’t see it so much now. ‘Showcase’ is definitely the verb du jour, almost always applied to some gym-honed part of a celebrity’s anatomy.  Abs are showcased, as are pecs and post-baby bodies. When I see the word, I ‘showcase’ my disdain using my middle finger.

And finally (for today) there is the verb ‘to pen’. No normal person uses it. Missives are penned, and so are tomes, but only in the minds of journalists desperately trying to elevate their language with fancy flourishes. If I were a newspaper sub, ‘pen’ would get the blue pencil treatment every time. Oh, and so would ‘abode’ but I’ll save that for another day.

What are your bugbears? Don’t pen me a missive. Just write and tell me.


  1. Jane on June 4, 2021 at 8:31 am

    A few years ago I took the New York Times to task for “The queen was coronated…” and was gratified to see them change it online very quickly!

  2. Helen on June 5, 2021 at 3:16 am

    So many niggles, and I expect not everyone will agree with me:

    * Myself and yourself: it’s I, you and me. Learn the rules and stop being pompous.

    * Wonder and wander. They are totally different words. Learn their meanings and pronounce them accordingly.

    * Uninterested and Disinterested. The latter is NOT a posher form of the former. Learn the difference.

    I could go on, but suspect I have annoyed everyone enough!

  3. JillywithaJay on June 7, 2021 at 12:09 pm

    You haven’t annoyed me Helen; you’ve just encouraged me!

    Here goes: I simply cannot bide someone saying they can’t abide something.

    Anyone describing someone unfortunate enough to have prostrate trouble, anyone with chronic toothache because it’s really painful even though they’ve only been suffering an hour or two.

    My absolute ‘favourite’, the star of the show, the first prize in thickosity (yes, I made that up – I think it’s perfect) goes to anyone (most people these days actually) saying ‘HAITCH’. Aaaargh! Oh, and sickth as in between fifth and seventh. But as you say Laurie, language is allowed to evolve. (Has anyone read ‘Don’t Believe a Word’ by David Shariatmadari (spell check, please). Just stunning.

    • Wendy Chappell on June 8, 2021 at 11:30 am

      Just been reminded of another pet hate….

      The use of “literally”, when it isn’t.

  4. Wendy Chappell on June 7, 2021 at 12:29 pm

    When did people start “parking up” instead of just “parking”?
    Or “swapping out” light bulbs instead of “changing” them?
    Sports commentators seem unable to use adverbs – “he did magnificent”.
    A fiend dislikes the misuse of lay and lie – she always said that that hens lie down to lay eggs.
    And the late, great Terry Wogan got quite cross when people said “I’m just sat here” instead of “sitting”.
    I also hate “going forward”, “axe” instead of “ask” and “of” instead of “have”.
    Our favourite family word du jour is “malarkey”.

  5. Maureen McKay (Australia) on June 9, 2021 at 8:20 pm

    I find the common misspelling of three words in particular, very vex-making.
    One is Stationary not Stationery, for the shop section of paper and pencils – “those pens are going nowhere!
    Another is Practice instead of Practise – “someone needs to write that out many times!”
    One more – Strickly no Parking not Strictly. I’ll stop there!
    I’ve loved your books since the Meringues and am now awaiting the next Dr Dan.

  6. Helen on June 10, 2021 at 5:37 pm

    HAITCH! What a ghastly version! I get the feeling it is being forced on us by the BBC as a way of levelling us down as its use on the BBC seems to be more and more frequent.

  7. Anne Rhead on June 22, 2021 at 6:35 am

    I’m a bit late to this party, but my most detested phrase at the moment is ‘reaching out.’ No I will not reach out to you, I might strain myself or fall over. Also people (mainly students or young people) who begin phone conversations or sentences with ‘basically.’

  8. Helen on June 23, 2021 at 8:44 am

    How about people who start every sentence with “So”.
    BTW Maureen in Australia: Practice is a noun, Practise is a verb. Both versions are correct in their context, unless you are American who have different ideas!

  9. Julia on June 24, 2021 at 2:20 pm

    As ever, I am also late to this party but I’ve seen something today I just had to share.. ‘anyways’.. Sorry, why?
    And ‘stationary’ pens also infuriate me, Maureen

  10. Mary White on September 8, 2021 at 3:55 am

    “ We are constantly reviewing and applying new learnings”. Learning is so on trend. What does it mean except mindless latest jargon.

    • Mary White on September 8, 2021 at 3:57 am

      Sorry I meant LearningS is so on trend

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