Thursday, March 19, 2015

Don’t add meaningless nouns

In a previous post, I talked about the silly practice of adding a meaningless noun immediately after a meaningful noun. In the US, probably the most familiar example is “the boarding process.”

Yesterday afternoon I saw two examples of meaningless nouns.

The first example

The first example was on my drive home from the hospital, where I had had a test. In a rural part of my drive home, I saw a handmade sign that offered “Firewood Materials.”

In most situations like this, I would stop and take a picture of the sign and try to interview the person who created it. But I wasn’t feeling so well, having been roughly handled at the hospital. As I drove by, I wondered what the seller would have handed me if I had walked up to him and asked, “Could I look at a sample of your firewood materials?”

I imagined that he would hand me a few packets of seeds – probably sugar maple, ash, beech and oak – and maybe a gardner’s trowel so I could plant them. Then I could harvest (is that the right word?) my firewood a few decades hence.

Or maybe, if I said I was not a patient man, he would just hand me a chain saw.

When I got home, I searched the web for “firewood materials.” Among some miscellaneous junk, I saw a URL for an organization called Don’t Move Firewood, which offers Don’t Move Firewood materials, such as posters, to help prevent the spread of pests that kill timber. A worthy cause, but I don’t think that was what the seller meant.

The second example

I started to read an “After Visit Summary” that my doctor had given me. Among other things, the summary said that the doctor was going to give me my test results by phone, one week later, between 5:00 and 9:00 PM. The summary explained that the reason for calling me in the evening was to allow me to receive my results “while you are in your home environment.” (Boldface added.)

Another example of the careless addition of a meaningless noun, I thought. But wait – a medical doctor wouldn’t be careless, would he? Maybe he put the word “environment” in there for a good reason – perhaps it was an attempt to conjure up an image of comfort and safety, to put me at my ease.


Hastily, I read the rest of the summary to see if it prohibited my having a drink tonight. It didn’t, and I did.

The Takeaway: Don’t add meaningless nouns. It can make you sound careless or even phony.

See disclaimer.

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