"Junk English is like junk food - ingest it long enough and your brain goes soft."

Ken Smith's book Junk English (New York: Blast Books, 2001. ISBN 0-922233-23-3) is a short guide (150 pages), sorted alphabetically, to various mistakes commonly made in English. Each of the points is accompanied by a real-life example. A lot of these are things I never really realized I was doing, but Smith shows why they're incorrect. The humbling part is when you realize he's right about it.

One example is what Smith calls abstract adjectives. Abstract adjectives are words like major and serious that add emphasis but do not describe the subject. A lot of people say things like "it's a serious defect in the plan". The word serious here doesn't tell you anything about the defect, but the sentence sounds better, doesn't it? Naw, that's just your brain going soft.

The section on Battlefield Language really stuck out to me. Here, Smith shows us some very violent words and phrases used in everyday language. "Spearheading a sales drive with new sales tactics and escalating a price war in target markets..." may sound correct, but it's the softening of the brain. While I support the romantic notion that English is a living language, I agree with Smith that certain words, misused enough, lose their effect.

I suppose a lot of the material in the book is based around sales. One of the observations made in this area is the word just. It's often used to conceal how difficult something is (just $500!). Another is the misuse of words to dress up a product. An example would be calling your product a "solution" or "convenience". And of course, the constant misuse of the word do in such phrases as "let's do lunch".

Junk English is an interesting read. It challenges you to take a look at what you say every day and realize that most of it is meaningless filler. The book costs $12.95 US and is well worth it.

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