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Professor Spear's F-Words

Note: This page was created by Professor Mike Spear for his copy-editing class. Thus, the loss of grade resulting from the use of these words is only applicable to his class(es). But it is included here both as a resource for those in his classes as well as a reference guide
to other students who would like to improve their writing.

Commonly Misspelled Words

There will be at least one of these in every homework editing assignment throughout the semester in Professor Spear's copy editing class. According to him, the quickest way to fail an assignment is to avoid learning the spelling of these words.

Sergeant (note the first "e")
Teenage (no hyphen)
Occasion (two "c"s and one "s")
Embarrass (two "r"s and two "s"s)
All right (two words)
Site (not sight or cite - for crime site)
Protester ("er" never "or")
Accommodate (two "c"s and two "m"s)
Receive ("i" before "e" except after "c")
Occurred (two "c"s and two "r"s)

Banned Words

In Professor Spear's class, these words are banned for the semester. If they appear in copy, you must dump them or suffer the ignominy of an F. Keep this list by your computer. Look at it often.

Experience: According to William Zinsser, this word is one of the ultimate clutterers. He says: "Even your dentist will ask you if you are experiencing pain. If he had his own kid in the chair he would say, 'Does it hurt?' He would, in short, be himself. By using a more pompous phrase in his professional role he not only sounds more important, he blunts the painful edge of truth. It's the language of the flight attendant demonstrating the oxygen mask that will drop down if the plane should run out of air. 'In the unlikely event that the aircraft should experience such an eventuality,' she begins--a phrase so oxygen deprived in itself that we are prepared for any disaster."

Individual: The story attributed new developments in a banking scandal to "individuals who have direct knowledge of the investigation." Why "individuals"? Why not "people"? The answer is that bureaucratese is infectious. At times it's necessary to distinguish between individuals and groups, so "individual," singular and plural, has its uses as a noun. Otherwise, such solid old English words as "man," "woman," and "people" are just fine. (And "people" is almost always preferable to the stilted "persons," excepts on signs about restaurant occupancy, where the bureaucrats rule. --From CJR's Language Corner)

Upcoming: "Coming" is enough. Don't clutter.

Facilitate: Winston Churchill said, "Short words are best and the old words when short are best of all." You rarely go through a day without hearing "facilitate." What does it mean? Help? Lead? Coordinate? Troubleshoot? Say what you mean. --From CJR Language Corner

Utilize: Of all the bad habits American speakers and writers have, this one seems hardest to break. Too many people who should know better still write and say "utilize" in place of good old "use." One worthwhile definition for utilize is: to turn to profitable account or use. But usually all people gain by using it is the two syllables and the joy of feeling superior when in fact it sounds ridiculous ("Utilization" is even more abominable.) Let's not let our language make us look foolish. That's what car phones are for. --From CJR Language Corner

Impactful: This has come into wide use by those who I suspect lack a fine-tuned feel and respect for the sound of good English words. It has been called a buzzword, and is used widely now in the business world, particularly in bad business writing, and by mainstream publishers. Impactful first appeared in print in 1968, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. The language does change but does impactful sound better than powerful or influential? Bryan Garner, the American H.W. Fowler, writes this in his “Garner’s Modern American Usage,” Impactful “is barbarous jargon … a word to be scorned.”


These words are clichés because they are so overused, so threadbare that they are beyond trite.
Unfortunately, you will see these regularly in the New York Times now because of poor editing.
Every time you find one of these in the Times and point it out to Professor Spear, he will add a
half point to the last grade you earned in his class.
Connect the dots
Ratchet up
Ramp up
Raise the bar
It goes without saying
Needless to say
Push the envelope
Get your arms around
On the radar screen
Bring it to the table
Outside the box
Boots on the ground
Footprint - as in the U.S. footprint in Iraq
In point of fact
Take the bull by the horns
Where the rubber meets the road
At the end of the day