Annoying and Pretentious Terms & Figures of Speech

Annoying and Pretentious Terms

[See also Favorite Pretentious Terms of the Slate Podcast Literati] [Althouse liked my list]

  • cutty sark
  • “speaks to”
  • “put paid to”
  • troops as plural for trooper (even though troop also means a group).
  • chowder (some Yankee wannabe-gumbo dish apparently)
  • sue for peace (negotiate, ask, for peace?)
  • hangdog (as in the “hangdog” looks (sad, dejected, sheepish) of Ross Geller’s character on Friends)
  • laureate (as in Nobel laureate)
  • hoi polloi (the general populace; the masses)
  • hoity-toity (marked by an air of assumed importance: HIGHFALUTIN)
  • beg to differ (“beg”? Isn’t that a little strong?)
  • “in the event”-as prepositional phrase, instead of “in any event” or “as it turned out”
  • must needs (as in, “I must needs do this”)
  • should instead of would (as in “I should think that you would want to go to the theater”)
  • mortar-board (as in the top part of a graduation cap, like I’m supposed to know that)
  • unawares (without warning: suddenly, unexpectedly. “It caught me unawares.”)
  • man of letters (“Edmund Wilson was a man of letters.” First, who the hell was Edmund Wilson? Second, what the hell is a man of letters?)
  • stay tuned (who even knows anymore that a TV has a tuner?)
  • gaol (the British English spelling of “jail”)
  • vouchsafe (to give by way of reply )
  • alarum (a call to arms
  • cohort (a group of individuals having a statistical factor (as age or class membership) in common in a demographic study )
  • pyjamas (instead of pajamas)
  • catsup (instead of ketchup)
  • waldo (as in a “doo-hickey” or “thingamabob”)
  • broker a deal/honest broker
  • ballyhooed; much-ballyhooed; long-ballyhooed
  • vaunted or much-vaunted
  • wag (noun: as in a commentator or pundit or gossip: “As one wag put it recently, …”)
  • writ large
  • nod (as in, give a nod to…)
  • shuffle off this mortal coil (i.e., die)
  • worry a bone (a dog chewing/playing with a bone)
  • let slip the dogs of war (“slip”?)
  • familiar (noun: as in, companion, or member of household of a high official)
  • own, used to mean “acknowledge”, as in, “I own I did not know that”
  • in fine, meaning, “in short”
  • weapon for gun
  • trope
  • re-furbish
  • bids fair (“seems likely”, as in, “Kenneth Starr’s report bids fair to become a classic, bawdy epic.”)
  • “It is meet that…”
  • apparatchik (a member of a Communist apparat; an official blindly devoted to superiors or to the organization. What the hell is an apparat? Why are we presumed to know Russian terms now?)
  • pleonastic (redundant; pleonasm: the use of more words than those necessary to denote mere sense (as in “the man he said”) : redundancy
  • antinomy (1: a contradiction between two apparently equally valid principles or between inferences correctly drawn from such principles; 2 : a fundamental and apparently unresolvable conflict or contradiction “antinomies of beauty and evil, freedom and slavery”)
  • photomicrograph (instead of: microphotograph)
  • piping hot
  • strapping (as in strapping young man)
  • jejune (whatever it means)
  • manque

Cool Terms

  • hapless (also: witless, and half-wit)
  • shrapnel
  • morsel
  • cellar door
  • scatterbrained
  • copasetic
  • epistemology
  • orangutan
  • What up?
  • ergonomic
  • “walking papers”–as in when your wife tells you if you screw up again she will sign your walking papers
  • dint, as in by dint of his effort he succeeded
  • high dudgeon (this is a really cool one!)
  • red-ass; I’ve got a case of the red-ass; open up a can of whup-ass (as in, “If you don’t stop it I’m gonna open up a can of whup-ass on ya’”).
  • screed
  • frenetic
  • nodule
  • laconic; bucolic
  • epiphany; sublime; sanguine; sensual
  • anvil; mortar & pestle; cordite (i.e., smell of gunpowder)
  • apocalyptic; ragnarok; armageddon; gotterdammerung (all synonyms for the apocolypse)
  • abomination; doppelganger (double, twin); atavistic (primal, primitive)
  • spreadable; splayed; splendid; scrumptious; resplendant
  • stolid
  • plug; lump
  • vainglory
  • idiot savant
  • hirsute (hairy)
  • truth be told; in truth
  • upshot
  • stillborn/stillbirth (it’s just so descriptive!)
  • malevolent (you got your “mal” in there for “evil”, you got your “vol” in there for voluntary action or intentionality, you got it all!)
  • baleful (mean, yellow eyes), doleful (sad doelike eyes)
  • putter (as in puttering around the house)
  • slake, quench (slake or quench your thirst)
  • nit pick
  • sabre-rattling
  • well-nigh (The grass needed mowing as it was well-nigh up to my knees.)
  • swash-buckling (but what is a swash, and why would you buckle it?)
  • cunning (as in, you’re a cunning linguist; or, better yet, Hegel’s “the cunning of reason”)
  • brisance (the shattering effect of an explosion)
  • frisson (a brief moment of emotional excitement; shudder, thrill)
  • cavil (“beyond cavil”; cavil = a trivial and frivolous objection, or to raise a trivial objection)
  • purport, purportedly
  • terra cotta. Terra firma.
  • cul-de-sac
  • wainscoting (wood or stuff on bottom part of walls)
  • crimson; scarlet
  • nudge
  • hustle & bustle
  • cogitate
  • ennui (noun: a feeling of weariness and dissatisfaction; boredom)
  • Molten
  • smelted
  • clack
  • clamber
  • trenchant
  • toddle
  • toddy


  • You can re-group, but can you group?
  • Re-furbish, and re-vamp; but furbish? vamp?
  • Nonplussed; plussed
  • ruthless; ruth…ful?
  • commonplace: noun or adjective?
  • You can be disgruntled, but can you be gruntled?

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Warner DeLaune June 26, 2009 at 4:07 pm

Thank you, and please add “methinks”. And I vote for retiring “not so much”.


Katherine K. Olsen June 26, 2009 at 4:14 pm

Interesting list, but What up and copasetic need to go on the annoying and pretentious list, not the cool list!


Mark Fee August 9, 2009 at 6:39 am

Thank you for posting this list! I’m very surprised not to see the word “dint” not represented anywhere at all.


Stephan Kinsella August 9, 2009 at 8:46 am

yes, maybe it should be. It is quite annoying, isn’t it? Also, “perfervid.”


Bill Sharpe August 17, 2009 at 1:15 pm

As to the miscellaneous entries, certainly one could vamp, at least back in vaudeville days.


Faldone January 25, 2010 at 7:07 am

Shakes head and slowly backs away.


Mark D. Fee January 25, 2010 at 1:48 pm

I didn’t think you were allowed to do that on Stephan’s blog!

Out of curiosity, do you wipe your feet before coming inside?


scott January 31, 2010 at 8:37 pm

“ruthless; ruth…ful?”

I’ve always wondered about that .

apparently so ,

or underwear but there’s no inderwear or innerwear ?

can unjust also be injust ?

What about this for a cool word: Idiosyncrasy meaning a quirk,an eccentricity,a strange habit.


dumbhick May 10, 2010 at 9:26 pm

Dont the prefixes in and un have different meaning? such that: (write that one down Kinsella, i dont care which column, start a new one: “misplaced scientific and mathematical jargon perhaps) in connotes a deforming and un connotes and complete absence? maybe not.


James McInnis April 28, 2010 at 9:17 pm

An odd list of words and phrases to find annoying. Why do you keep saying “whatever that means” in reference to words? Why the pride in ignorance? Why not look them up? A blog about words that liberally uses the pathetically exhausted adjectives “cool” and “nice” so freely doesn’t strike me as particularly good.

Chowder is terrific when properly made with good ingredients.


Stephan Kinsella April 28, 2010 at 10:25 pm

James, loosen up, bud. You must be either a yankee, or a liberal arts major. Or both. Am I right? Amiright?

Chill, man, all in good fun. :)


dumbhick May 10, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Im all with Mcginnis. Why the censorship? Also,”whatup” is not “cool” its all trope, writ large. very hangdog of you.


Mark Fee May 11, 2010 at 11:29 am

An odd list of words and phrases to find annoying. Why do you keep saying “whatever that means” in reference to words? Why the pride in ignorance? Why not look them up? A blog about words that liberally uses the pathetically exhausted adjectives “cool” and “nice” so freely doesn’t strike me as particularly good.

A reasonable person would say “whatever that means” because it depends entirely on what the author intends by it. Language changes faster and faster and there is no longer one dictionary to ensure that a word (as a vessel of meaning) carries only one definition. The meaning of words changes with lightning-like quickness. If you’re going to have any sort of meaningful discussion at all, it pays to define your terms.


Todd S. May 15, 2010 at 9:06 am

I think “gestalt” needs to be there somewhere. It’s a cool word, but pretentious at the same time.


Omar M June 17, 2010 at 11:37 pm

Happenstance is a cool word


Fiona M June 18, 2010 at 6:44 am

Gaol is the historical old English spelling of the word jail. It isn’t in common use any more, except perhaps in certain street names.


micheal September 9, 2010 at 2:08 pm

all this was crap i was looking for y speeches are annoying not 4 bloody crap words


twv September 8, 2011 at 8:47 pm

must needs (used it)
unawares (often use it)
man of letters (my heroes)
cohort (if one can use “modal,” one can use “cohort”)
waldo (this is a Heinlein term for a specific type of remote-controlled robot/machine)
ballyhooed; much-ballyhooed; long-ballyhooed (use it all the time)
vaunted or much-vaunted (use it)
wag (have used it)
writ large (have used it, often try to avoid it)
shuffle off this mortal coil (it’s from Shakespeare!)
in fine, meaning, “in short” (I use it because my favorite poets and novelists use it, if in times past)
trope (it has a precise meaning in rhetoric)
re-furbish (why not this? use it all the time)
pleonastic (it’s a figure of speech – you need to read about rhetoric!)
antinomy (using this is better than witlesly misuing “irony”)
piping hot (a tea kettle “pipes” when hot – this makes perfect sense)
jejune (hilarious use in “Annie Hall”)


J2 January 30, 2012 at 5:25 pm

Annoying and Pretentious:
myself (me)
yourself (you)

Just annoying:
anyways (local dialect for “anyway”)
alls (local dialect for “all”)


Thom Simmons May 22, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Love it. Forty years at the chalk face, never get tired of being a pretentious, smug know-it-all


CINDY SMITH August 1, 2012 at 3:19 am

If a person is uncouth, can they become…couth?


biff bam April 13, 2013 at 12:55 am

excellent accounting of painfully obnoxious pretentious words and articulations. bazalon says ‘bona fides’ with a most annoying vocalization of “feedays” when ‘sincere’ or ‘genuine’ would work better.

NPR does it too and worse.


jinglebts September 29, 2013 at 7:05 pm

Zeitgeist — can’t decide whether it’s cool or pretentious, but whenever it’s used, I have to look it up.


waftycrank February 4, 2014 at 12:46 pm

“◾gaol (the British English spelling of “jail”)” since being of mediaeval origins Gaol, is the correct original unbastardised spelling of Jail. Jail has been in general use in England for several hundred years now, in fact, the ‘bastardised’ word Jail has been in use since before America was ‘discovered’.
And its Pyjama not Pajama, sweet baby jesus how the fuck did I end up here 0_O


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