No Wonder We Can’t Find the Right Words Sometimes


We love words, but find they cheat us too often by falling somewhere between overused and rarely understood. Upon occasion, there’s the turncoat that is its own synonym (take inflammable, which means both capable of burning and also unburnable). And then there are the words that have been rinsed of their meaning through overuse (like great, awesome).

Too often, new ideas are assigned words by financial analysts or policy wonks instead of poets. Take provider, a word we disdain in health care. I don’t want to be cared for by a provider, and I suspect neither do you. Yet we can no longer say doctor—as we must include nurse practitioners and physician assistants. We often opt for caregiver out of despair, because it suggests the more tender side of health care, though we know it comes dangerously close to caretaker (think cemeteries).

All of this is why Brad Leithauser’s Unusable Words article in The New Yorker resonated with us—and perhaps will with you as well.

It’s also why we lean on pictures to deliver messages, because they can say so much more in such a short time.

So tell us, what word would you like to see replace that heartless word provider?