The Six Stages of Word Grief


I’ve posted before about the stages that a word goes through on the road from being considered incorrect to being considered above reproach.

You know, at first it’s totally wrong, then time goes by, etc. etc., and you really should read the other post.

Words like transpire (now meaning “happen,” if you’re trying to look smart); oxymoron (now meaning “contradiction in terms,” except in Lit class); penultimate (more and more meaning “ultimate”); bemused (more and more meaning “amused”); literally (more and more being used as some sort of intensifier, whether speaking metaphorically or literally), and everyone’s favorite, irregardless (more and more replacing “regardless”).

But what about the stages of the people hearing the words? That is, the sort of grief felt by people who care about language and its precision. I figure there are six stages.

The Six Stages of Word Grief

1. Confusion. “Did that guy say the weather is “smarmy”? What does that mean? Is he being poetic?”

2. Amusement. “It’s hilarious how some people say that the weather is smarmy, when they mean humid. What a bunch of bozos.”

3. Annoyance. “No, that’s not the right word. What is UP with people using that word?”

4. Exasperation. “Oh my God, if one more person tells me the weather is smarmy, I’m gonna explode.”

5. Acceptance when OTHER people do it. “I wouldn’t use “smarmy” that way, but I barely notice when other people do.”

6. Complete Acceptance or death. Whichever comes first, but my money is on death.

So, now I can place a word in two stages: The stage of the word’s acceptance in the world and my personal stage of grief that the word is becoming accepted.

It’s so nice to quantify these things.


A. Please don’t tell me how many stages there are really supposed to be.

B. My friend Tom did actually say that the weather was smarmy. My reaction was swift, just, and uncompromising.

C. I called them “phases,” not “stages,” in my earlier post. I’m switching it up to cash in on the “five stages” comic beat. Now you know how it works here at Save the Semicolon.

D. I will die before I use irregardless.

E. The traditional meanings of the words mentioned above:

Transpire: to leak out, or become known. “She told us about her ordeal, but it later transpired that she had made the whole thing up.”

Oxymoron: a literary technique in which incongruous terms are used together for effect. “Deafening silence” (As opposed to a contradiction in terms, which can be accidental and not interesting.)

Penultimate: The second-to-last. “Spanish words are usually pronounced with the emphasis on the penultimate syllable.”

Bemused: Confused. “She was bemused by his word choice and didn’t understand his meaning.”

Literally: If you don’t know this one, then go read another blog.

Irregardless: You know the meaning, but interestingly, although it’s been attacked for about a hundred years, it still keeps chugging along. Weird.


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