Today I would like to concentrate on two words that are definitely overused, and arguably misused. I will make the case that they are indeed misused, or at least frequently used in a way that pisses me off. (And, I mean really, what's the difference?)
The two words are "explore" and "celebrate." They are used in ways that irritate me not so much in fiction (hardly at all, actually) as in the professional world. I'm not talking about management-speak either: "think outside the box" or "dialogue" as a verb or that sort of thing. These two are examples of words that are far too evocative for the way they are often used, and they are used deliberately to make things sound more dynamic than they are. And that annoys me.
Let me show you what I mean.
First, "explore." This word has an aura of adventure, of the unknown. We all learned "the explorers" in school. (If you're me, you learned them five or six times.) It also has an aura of the physical and the spatial, either literally or metaphorically. One can "explore" the Amazon or Manhattan (though I think the second is stretching it). A surgeon can "explore" your chest cavity (a physical space) or two teenagers in heat can "explore" each other's bodies.
Exploration also sometimes connotes certain kinds of science and discovery (space travel, expeditions to faraway places) but it is very easy to overextend this analogy. In my view at least, one does not open up Excel (or SPSS, for that matter) and "explore" data (one analyzes it). This blog is not an "exploration" of my life or my quest to get published (heck, I don't know what it is). I do not "explore" my Outlook calendar to see what I have to do today (I look at it). The expert panel did not "explore" the future of health care (they talked about, discussed, argued, speculated, and/or pontificated on it). The word is simply too much for those cases.
"Celebrate" is even more annoying, because it conjures festive images: party hats and noisemakers, or at least cake and some booze. A group of people sitting silently in an auditorium in suits at 8:30 in the morning listening to someone talk are not "celebrating" anything.
Indeed, if I have to write a paper for or give a Powerpoint on the occasion, then the occasion is not a "celebration." (If we all go out to the bar afterwards and someone else is paying for drinks, then ask me again.) People seem to want to use "celebrate" to mean "commemorate" or "acknowledge."
Or people will urge us to "celebrate" a concept. "Celebrate diversity" is the most often-used example I can think of. They mean "accept" or, more enthusiastically, "embrace" or "appreciate." They do not mean go buy an ice cream cake and think about the ethnic foods aisle in your supermarket while gobbling away (though I would be happy to do that).
A third but less frequently used example is "weave." And there are probably more. But I won't belabor the point.
Anyone else down with me on this kind of over/"mis"use? What other examples do you hate?