Look-At-Me Pet Peeve: Cost Prohibitive

Look at Me!

I’ve discovered a trend in my pet peeves. They’re generally not about “misuse” of English, or even punctuation (like unnecessary apostrophes), but about a writer suffering from “look-at-me.”

The writing is about the writer trying to sound intelligent (or clever) rather than trying to communicate.


Today’s edition: “Cost prohibitive” and its even worse cousin, “too cost prohibitive.”

For those playing at home, “cost prohibitive” means “too expensive.” The cost is so high that you cannot pay it.

This is a fun little phrase that has a place in articles where the writer is playing around and having fun. It’s fun to use it when you’re purposely enjoying being formal in a military-speak kind of way.

And, while I’m speaking of virtues, I think there are occasionally times when the phrase “too expensive” doesn’t imply the same thing as “so expensive that I’m prohibited from buying it.” Sometimes you find something too expensive, but after thinking about it, you decide to buy it anyway.

So I can see a time and place to say “cost prohibitive.” Your audience and you are enjoying the ride, and nothing very important is being said.

“Option B was cost prohibitive.”

But most of the time, if you must show the strong role that the cost is playing, you’re probably safer saying, “option B was more than we could afford.”

Or really, you can almost always go back to the slightly weaker implications of: “Option B was too expensive.”

And even worse…

We’ve just established that “cost prohibitive” means that the cost prohibits you from buying the thing. So reading that something is “too cost prohibitive,” lets me know that the writer has a bad case of “look-at-me.”

When a phrase with three words means exactly the same thing as a phrase with two words, then something’s probably wrong. In this case, what’s wrong is that the two-word phrase isn’t clear even to the writer.

And since the bloated and showy phrase wasn’t clear, the writer felt the need to augment it rather than delete it. Bad call.

And the mac-daddy

This morning, searching around to see how people use “cost prohibitive,” I found this gem as the header of a conversation thread:

Powerline finally non-cost prohibitive.

Yes. “Non-cost prohibitive” must be better than, “affordable.” (Let’s forgive the wacky hyphen. I sometimes use hyphens in a wacky way myself, so I won’t throw stones.)


Do you have any “look-at-me” pet peeves?


My earlier post: Words can say a lot about you, but don’t let them

5 Responses to “Look-At-Me Pet Peeve: Cost Prohibitive”

  1. December 21, 2010 at 1:55 pm #

    Some of my pet peeves:

    “Impact” as a synonym for “affect” or “influence.”

    “Interface” as a verb.

    Empty phrases like “in order to” or “in order that” or “to the extent that.” They remind me of a student who’s been assigned to write a 300-word essay.

    Substituting abstract names for real ones, for example “The service provider will interface with the client organization to the extent that the client’s experience is impacted in a non-cost prohibitive manner.” Oof!

  2. February 22, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    This is not a pet peeve, but worth correcting anyway.

    You said, “Non-cost prohibitive” must be better than, “affordable”, as if they mean the same thing, which they do not.

    The definition of “affordable” indicates that you intend to charge for something, and that the amount will presumably be less than a competing product, service, thing, etc. While “Non-cost prohibitive” can include any price range from infant to free depending on your target buyer. What may be cost prohibitive to one person may not be so to another. Non-cost prohibitive also hints at the notion that your competitor is intentionally making said service, product, thing, etc. unaffordable.

    A great example of this in action would be higher education. A lot of people would love to see higher education become more affordable, as where I would love to see it become non-cost prohibitive.

  3. February 22, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    EntrepreNerd: Thanks for your comment.

    If I read you correctly, then I disagree with you.

    To me, the term “affordable” doesn’t imply anything about how much a competitor charges for the same item, or even that there’s a competitor at all.

    It just means that the person using the term considers it a reasonable price, or one that he or she can afford.

    And, as you say is the case for “cost-prohibitive,” what’s affordable to one person may not be affordable to another.

    I also disagree that there’s any hint of purpose behind “cost prohibitive.” It just means that it’s too expensive to afford.

    Yes, some ways of using “affordable” are different from “non-cost prohibitive.” You used “more affordable,” which just means “cheaper.” If you had said that people want “affordable higher education” (without saying “more”), then it would just mean the same as “non-cost prohibitive,” but without the syllables and faux precision.

    So I can’t accept your correction, but I do understand that people use these terms differently, and I appreciate your letting me know how you use them. I’m sure you’re not alone!

  4. August 28, 2017 at 2:36 pm #

    Cost prohibitive is not synonymous with too expensive. Cost prohibitive is actually a very useful term. It means that the cost of something prohibits an action (typically used in business). For example, you are going to sell lemonade, and research shows that buyers will pay up to 1$/glass for your lemonade, but no more. You are paying 10 cents for a lemon and 10 cents for sugar per glass of lemonade sold. You are rolling along making 80 cent profit per glass until a lemon-destroying bug ruins lemon crops everywhere and the cost of lemons go up to 1$/lemon. Now it doesn’t make sense to sell your lemonade anymore, as the cost of lemons is “cost prohibitive” to your business. You would be paying $1.10 to make something that you could only sell for $1.

    Too expensive is subjective – what might too expensive for one person may be affordable for the next. But cost prohibitive tells us that the numbers don’t work out – for anyone with common sense.

    If fixing a house will cost $100,000 but the house is only worth $80,000 after repairs, the repair cost is “cost prohibitive.” If you can rent a tuxedo for $500, but you can buy the same tuxedo at a shop next door for $500, the rental is “cost prohibitive.” It costs too much by any reasonable person’s standards. The math will not work out.

    • September 10, 2018 at 12:56 am #

      There’s no point saying that a term doesn’t mean “too expensive” when millions of people use it to mean exactly that!

Leave a Reply