Thursday, March 27, 2014

Forcing adjectives to act as nouns

I’m sure you’ve noticed this trend: Millions of speakers are forcing adjectives to do the work of nouns, simply because the speakers are too lazy to utter the nouns.

For example, a receptionist says to a doctor, “Your nine-thirty is here” instead of “Your nine-thirty appointment is here.” Because the receptionist is too indolent to utter the three-syllable noun appointment*, he makes the adjective nine-thirty do the work of a noun as well as the work of an adjective.

And I will bet that you find this indolent habit annoying. Judging by what I have noticed, I can say that many people agree with you. When I am in a waiting room and the receptionist refers to an appointment without using the noun appointment, I glance around for reactions. I have noticed eye-rolls and angry looks. And even angry words: “Oh, so I’m just a time of day, am I?”**

You may have noticed other examples of this trend. Here are three that I’ve heard recently:
“Don’t let people put their crazy on you.”
Their crazy what? Thoughts? Feelings? Plans? Rituals? Fetishes? Body paint? Tattoos? Ideologies? Political opinions? Cosmological theories? Memories of being reared by Amelia Earhart and Elvis?
“I live the day-to-day with them.”
The day-to-day what? Struggles? Joys? Fears? Aches and pains? Drunken stupors? Superficial disappointments? Achievements? Housework? Homework? Wanderings in the Gobi Desert?
“He works in a vertical.”
I think this speaker meant either a vertical market or a vertically integrated company; they are two different things. Unfortunately for his listeners, he did not specify which thing he meant.

The Takeaway: When speaking, don’t be indolent or lazy. Remember that we speak in order to inform. When we use generalities because we are too lazy to think of specifics, we risk confusing and irritating our listeners.

*And many indolent speakers, when they do utter the noun appointment, pronounce it as “appoin” (only two syllables). For more examples of this disgusting trend, see “Slurring.”

**People are angry because they sense that referring to an appointment without saying “appointment” is part of the dehumanizing language of medicine. I’ll discuss more examples of this language in a future post.

See disclaimer.


  1. I'd be willing to bet that "your 9:30 is here" is an evil migration from the world of transportation. "Let's catch the 8:55 to Grand Central" --to which Mr. Clarity might reply "Grand Central what?

    An example of this sort of thing that I particularly dislike is "She wore her blue silk to the party," a way of speaking that I believe (though I would have to check) goes back far in novels by women. To my ear, it sounds like a creepy intimacy with what's in somebody else's closet.