‘Homophobia’ and 10 Other Words the Media (and Everyone Else) Abuses

We TV viewers have recently been treated to Jenny McCarthy vaping on her eCigarette, talking about (her betrothed) Donnie Wahlberg’s behind, and trying to resurrect her career during fun-and-yuks on “The View.” For the most part, adding her has been a positive move for the “jumped the shark” all-girl broadcast.

And then came this week.

On the show, she attempted to joke about the rumors that Jennifer Lopez’s boyfriend Casper Smart had been accused of cheating on her with a transgender bikini model. And then she tweeted this…

jenny mccarthy tweet

While the humor was obviously in poor taste, the word used to attack her made the AP-Nazi in me freak out completely: Transphobic. Why? It reveals a systemic media tendency to misuse and abuse certain words. Repeatedly.

More for my fellow grammarians and logophiles after the jump…

pho·bi·a (ˈfōbēə/) noun

An extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something. As in: “he had a phobia about being under water”

synonyms: irrational or obsessive fear, dread, horror, terror, hatred, loathing, aversion, antipathy

Any arachnophobics out there in PRNewser land? What about ophidiophobics or acrophobics? Spiders and snakes and heights, oh my! They’re three of the most common, clinically diagnosed “phobias” out there. These are conditions that cause one to freeze, pee the pants and run like an Olympic track star on PEDs.

That’s a phobia.

Seeing one of those things, pointing at it, tweeting it, and calling it vitriolic names out of sheer ignorance is not a phobia; that’s nothing but hatred and, in most cases, stupidity. Jenny McCarthy was not a fearful “transphobic”, she was and is an idiot. Why do we call people “-phobes”? It’s not due to accuracy. The phrase just felt right to our media friends.

Inigo MontoyaAlthough they didn’t create the word “homophobia” (that claim to fame goes to Dr. George Weinberg in 1972), they embraced it as if it were a G.I. Joe with the Kung-Fu action grip sitting under a Christmas tree. Someone — an editor, preferably — should have said, “Um, no. That’s not phobia on the West Coast. That’s white people hating gay people. They’re not scared; they’re just dumb.”

They didn’t, and so we are stuck with a word that doesn’t mean what I think they think it means. There are so many more. For fun, ask yourself: “How many people in your agency, company, or local media market butcher these words?”

  1. Disinterested. Don’t care? Actually, you’re closer than most. Many say they are “disinterested” in discussing religion or politics. “Dis” is not a prefix for “not.” Technically, this word means “neutral” or “unbiased.” Now, you’re not interested in that, right?
  2. Literally. In actuality, this used to mean what many consider to be opposite — figuratively. All you PR pros who talk in text lingo, you “didn’t just literally die when you heard that.” If you did, you would be dead and causing no more noise pollution (that last part was figurative. Or was it?)
  3. Myriad. I know, <insert your favorite talk show host here>, you have used this word a myriad of times. You know how many words you utter when clamoring about politics are Latin or Greek? Yeah, so is this one. It meant “10,000” and not the countless eons you give it. The numeral M according to Greek mathematicians was clear about that. Stick with “many.”
  4. Matrix. This one is great because Morpheus was actually more than a sentinel of this computerworld; he was a prophet. The “matrix” has an etymology to the word “womb.” So yeah, we have all lived in the Matrix. How do you like those apples?
  5. Nauseous. I know, I know. You call in sick to work but you still need to use a big word. There’s a report of another cruise going bad and they need a big word. This one fits, only it has nothing to do with how you feel. Actually, it means “to cause nausea.” Like using all these words wrong.
  6. Enormity. I have heard this word on all those weight loss reality shows: every trainer, contestant and even doctor says it. If not “obesity,” it’s this flashy word, which means “huge.” The only huge thing is how wrong that is. This word originally meant “extreme evil.” Blame the French–it’s all theirs.
  7. Peruse. This word is heard in every conference room at every agency and newsroom on the planet. And 99.9 percent of highfalutin directors and editor types use this word incorrectly. You are asked to “peruse this document in the next five minutes.” That is impossible, boss, because the word means “to review something meticulously.” You’re thinking at the wrong speed; try something like “Hurry the #$%& up!”
  8. Notorious. Blame Biggie Smalls for this one if you must, but hacks and flacks alike use it all the time to describe someone’s ill-willed influence on whatever. Lance Armstrong was “notorious” for cheating. Hitler was “notorious” during WWII. Nope. I’m notorious in my family, agency, and in mediabistro–I’m simply “known.”  The word they are going for is “infamous.” These are not synonyms, just as I am not Lance Armstrong or that other mustachioed idiot.
  9. Unique. This is right up there with <anything sociopolitically charged> -phobia. This word does not ever mean “rare”, because there’s more than one of even the rarest gem, and that fact negates the word’s true meaning “one-of-a-kind.” So, there are no “very unique” talking heads at a certain roundtable in national news.
  10. Bemused. There is a certain blowhard on a national network who loves to use this word when discussing how tickled he is about a certain president. This is not the word he’s looking for. Sure, certain stories may tickle him enough to make him smile, but they do not and cannot “bemuse” anyone. This word means “confuse,” which may be a little closer to the truth anyway.

Now send us your additions to the list.