‘He sadly died’ and Other Woolly Words

It’s difficult to get through even one day’s reading without having to struggle through the tangled mess of woolly words – a real dog’s blanket of poor grammar and lazy language use.

For most people, writing is not their primary function at work and, whether from lack of time or lack of training, they will make mistakes. The smart ones hire professionals to edit and polish or proofread, so they have more time to spend on what they do best – the job they are paid to do.

But what about those for whom writing is ‘the job they are paid to do’?

It’s unforgivable when so-called professional writers – mainly those in the mainstream media – don’t do that job well.

Instead, their readers are forced to endure the absolute howlers that stroll through the holes in their knowledge and saunter on, unnoticed by their editors.

Every day, there’s a barrage of assaults on our language. Here are just two:

‘The stigma surrounding . . .’

A stigma is a mark, with a negative connotation. So far, so good (or bad, in this case). A stigma doesn’t surround, though. If there were a stigma ‘surrounding you’, you’d be laughing. It would have missed you altogether and you’d be clean.

It’s just like another silly expression: ‘The discussion centred around…’ Sorry, can’t be done! It would have to centre on; ‘around’ is for circumferences – that is, going around in circles, which, admittedly, is what a lot of discussions do.

‘… but he sadly died’

I bet he did. He might not have been looking forward to shuffling off this mortal coil, and there might have been some long, lingering and sad goodbyes. But what if his exit were sudden? No time for tears or regrets, then…

Seriously, though, the adverb is totally misplaced. It should be written as ‘… but, sadly, he died’, putting the sadness where it belongs – with the speaker (and perhaps others), who are sorry to see him go.

‘Hopefully, he died’

A much more positive situation. Am I being callous and cold? No. Just highlighting another blooper. If he died hopefully (in a state of hope), it probably means he had an eye on reaching a better place.

So many writers don’t get this.

‘Hopefully we’ll win fifty million dollars’  should be written as ‘We hope we’ll win…’

‘Hopefully we’ll buy a ticket’ makes more sense. Buying a ticket in the hopeful state is the only way to do it, otherwise why bother?

’Winning hopefully’ seems a bit wrong, in my opinion. A fifty million dollar windfall means there’s pretty much nothing left to hope for.

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