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Column - Words can be huge

It may be true that words can't physically hurt us, but sometimes they feel just as painful as sticks and stones.

Maybe I'm just being overly picky or intolerant, but I cringe every time I hear certain words and phrases. For example: Does it ever bother you when someone talks about "growing" her business? It may be trendy and make someone sound like they're real smart - yet how smart is it to water and feed a building and its workers in hopes that it will somehow increase profits and get bigger? You can grow tomatoes, chickens or mold, but you can't grow a business.

Listening to TV news is also painful. The worn out, clichéd words that the news writers often use make me feel like I'm being stoned. How many times do we have to hear snow referred to as "that white stuff," or listen to accounts of deals being "hammered out?'' Don't newscasters realize how much they sound like teenagers using the latest fad words such as "neato" or "totally rad" or whatever kids say nowadays?

However, of all the improperly used words, the one that makes me feel the most like I'm being beaten with a stick is the politically-correct but improper use of the word "her." As a matter of fact, anyone who uses this word improperly in an attempt to be fair should have her words severely edited by someone who believes in clear communication.

Even though many people cringe at the thought of using only the word "his" when referring to someone of unspecified sex, it is actually correct and proper. Look it up in the dictionary and you'll see. It may not be fashionable, but it is correct.

If you're not brave enough to use "his," there is another option - in addition to the common tactic of simply rewriting the sentence - just use the phrase "his or her." I'm not sure why this sounds so awkward to some people: If it's the correct phrase to use, then it sounds no worse than the annoying repetition of the word "the" in nearly every sentence.

Another word I'm beginning to hate, is the word "huge." It's fine if it's used correctly, such as when referring to something really big (like an elephant), but not when it is used to mean something that is really important or has a significant effect on something else. The constant repetition of the phrase "that's huge" soon becomes meaningless and downright painful to listen to.

And speaking of redefining words until they're practically meaningless, one of the most serious violations is in the use of the words "bigot," "prejudice" and "intolerance." The trend in using the words bigot and prejudice is now to use them as a way to cut down and belittle anyone who has different beliefs and convictions - sort of like kids calling each other names in the playground. This usage travels a long way from what the words have traditionally meant, which was to describe someone who was offensively or violently racist. The word tolerance has also been hijacked to mean roughly the same thing, instead of what it actually means, which is being able to respect the beliefs or actions of others. As a result, anyone who calls someone else a bigot or prejudiced is actually himself being intolerant.

It's ironic that these words when strictly defined actually could be applied to anyone who makes a judgment without gathering all the facts - which includes almost everyone - or anyone who is strongly partial to his own group, religion or political views. I guess we're all prejudiced about something or another, and similarly we are all bigots in that we all believe we are right.

So if we apply these words to anyone who doesn't agree with us (sort of like the ultimate schoolyard put-down), they soon become meaningless. Are you a bigot if you don't like peanut butter and think that anyone who eats it is crazy? Are you intolerant if you don't let people sleep at their desks when they're supposed to be working? Are you prejudiced if you always buy Fords instead of Chevys and have never really compared them side-by-side?

Yet all of these misused words pale in comparison to the awful conglomeration of words used by well-meaning business people and consultants who try to make what they do sound important and complex. You can just about hear bones breaking when they say things like, "Our objective is to craft and operationalize resources to create mission-critical outcomes that proactively utilize and leverage system-wide best practices."

Ouch! Now that's huge!