Junk Englishby Ken Smith
In Junk English, Ken Smith takes on the misuse, abuse, and downright decay of the English language. His weapons? A sharp wit and an almost frightening grasp of the depths of the decline. Written so that the ordinary writer and speaker of English can readily see how the manipulation of words keeps the culture in a haze of misunderstandings and vagueness, Junk
In Junk English, Ken Smith takes on the misuse, abuse, and downright decay of the English language. His weapons? A sharp wit and an almost frightening grasp of the depths of the decline. Written so that the ordinary writer and speaker of English can readily see how the manipulation of words keeps the culture in a haze of misunderstandings and vagueness, Junk English covers the whole spectrum of the problem. In short sections such as “Butt-Covering,” “Feeble Beginnings,” “God Is on Our Team,” “Sports Talk,” and “Touchy-Feely Therapy Talk,” Smith shows how everyone from Madison Avenue to middle America has succumbed to euphemisms, mindless jargon, and weasel words. The book’s inclusion of basic advice on how to avoid lazy language shows there’s at least some hope for the future.
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Junk English excerpts
All of the examples in Junk English (quoted without correction of typographical or grammatical error) were taken from life: newspaper and magazine articles; radio and television commentators; advertisements and editorials; minimum-wage workers and millionaire executives; the underclass and the ruling elite. None came from internal business or political memoranda; all were intended to be understood by ordinary people.
Abstract Adjectives. Adjectives are not frivolous. Their job is to describe the noun to which they are attached more fully and definitely: desperate author, crazy decision, unread book. Adjectives that are not definite are detrimental; if they do not make nouns clearer, they do not help others to understand what is being expressed.
Abstract adjectives in vogue are major, positive, quality, and serious, with alternative, feasible, and impact not far behind in popularity. Some of these are actually abstract nouns, and when paired as adjectives with other abstract nouns, e.g., positive impact, serious alternative, they make a great show but say little.
Our product was specifically developed as a safe alternative for men who prefer an all-natural approach to address [treat] impotence.
I will address [confront] these policy issues.
Let me address [answer] that question.
"Any worthy energy policy must address [stop] the price gouging of consumers by greedy energy suppliers," Davis said.
Affordable is a word often used by advertisers who want to persuade buyers that a car or washing machine or bedroom set is inexpensive when it is not. An affordable product, sometimes inflated to very affordable, is one that a customer can fit within his or her budget, usually on the installment plan, with interest. Strictly speaking, the product is thus affordable, but affordable is not a synonym for cheap.
The results of the cancer screening test were positive.
Most Silicon Valley insiders agree that the offering price is outrageous.
Should the recipient of the test results feel relieved or heartbroken? Is the stock being sold for a pittance or a fortune?
Anonymous Acronyms. Organizations engaged in politically or socially controversial activities sometimes compress their names, or the names of things within their domain, into a series of letters, in an attempt to mask the nature of their work. Thus the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada becomes COMINCO, the Conservative News Service becomes CNS News, and Multi-Level Marketing itself a euphemism for pyramid scams becomes MLM. Sometimes this deception works and sometimes it doesn't.
Acronyms are meant to be easy to recall, the intent being that no one will need to refer to the lengthier phrase they stand for. The Geheime Staatspolizei (secret state police), for instance, reduced its name to the acronym GESTAPO, which was perhaps easier to recall than this organization ultimately wanted.
Some modern acronym makers have learned to make their acronyms unpronounceable and innocuous. There is no chance that DWPF (Defense Waste Processing Facility) will ever roll lightly off the tongue or that MRM (Mechanically Recovered Meat) will ever call to mind a disagreeable image. Both are anonymous and easy to skip over, never even briefly tempting a reader to linger and think.
Apology words are special, earnest-sounding parasitic intensifiers, among them genuinely, honestly, 100%, really, seriously, sincerely, and truly. Their appearance tacitly concedes that the word or phrase that immediately follows has been stretched thin in current usage really free, sincerely moved, genuinely shocked, 100% legal but that this time, honestly, what we are about to read is the truth.
Would you seriously like to make $2,000 - $5,000 per week starting right away?
Take this opportunity to learn risk free the most effective way to truly meet that someone special.
If you request removal we really will remove you immediately.
This is honestly the most effective weight-reduction program I have ever tried.
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Irrespective of its cultural foundation and legacy, English has been and continues to be the de facto international language. Its cross cultural dominance is near absolute. A case in point is that English is the lingua franca for all international air traffic from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. While scholars like Crystal, Phillipson, and Pennycook have put forth academic constructs on the politics of the English language and its influences on other cultures, Ken Smith's goal in writing 'Junk English' is more concrete, immediate, and urgent. Like Philip Howard and R.W. Holder who'd preceded him, Smith is the latest voice wandering the wilderness of newspeak and euphemisms, decrying: 'Junk English is much more than sloppy grammar. It is a hash of human frailties and cultural license: spurning the language of the educated yet spawning its own pretentious words and phrases, favoring appearance over substance, broadness over precision, and loudness above all. It is sometimes innocent, sometimes lazy, sometimes well intended, but most often it is a trick we play on ourselves to make the unremarkable seem important.' (p.15) Among the witty illustrious examples of 'Junk English' usage, Smith has many times alluded to a category of words known as 'parasitic intensifiers.' He has asseverated that these intensifiers are used by those who feel uneasy when words are left to pull their own weight. What were 'formerly strong words are being reduced to lightweights that need to be bulked up with intensifiers to regain their punch...The intensifier drains the vigor from its host.' (p.98). If one were 'to offer insight' or to 'oppose a position', he doesn't get much noticed if not entirely ignored in the these days unless his insight is 'valuable' and the opposition 'diametrical'. Parasitic words are insidiously putative. Smith himself is not immuned to them. He has spoken to gatherings of a blunder he'd made on page 16 of the book - after the book has been published. (As a teaser to prospective readers, this reviewer will keep the author's finding to himself. Hint: This parasitic word to which the author has confessed can be found on page 98. *grin*) Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Oscar Hijuelos has heaped praises on the English language. He sees English as a robust and efficient language upon which the brick-by-brick world is built. He and the Ken Smiths are in the minority, however. The brick foundation has already cracked. The task to contain the strangling fig* of the English language is Sisyphean. A final thought. This book should appeal to those who won't accept word-pairs like 'further' and 'farther', or 'who' and 'whom' as grammatical equivalents. For some others their reaction would probably be: ¿what¿s grandma got to do with junk English?¿ *Strangler fig is a common name for a number of tropical vines that grow on healthy trees, strangling them and eventually becoming trees themselves.