Top Ten Linguistic Bloopers 7 – 10

Decimated Nauseous Prone Aquiline Somewhat Unique State of the Art Older Laundry List Changed the Course of History, and Could Care Less

(Dedicated to the proposition that words mean something.)

Something has happened to the word older. Let’s back up and start with a parallel example. Visualize a big sandwich, perhaps 4” thick. Now picture a bigger sandwich. How much bigger? Maybe 2” of extra bread and cheese, making it a 6”-thick sandwich. It’s bigger than the big sandwich. Bigger means more than big. It means big plus. However thick that first big sandwich may be, the bigger sandwich is – well, bigger.

For some incomprehensible reason, however, popular usage is tending reverse the meanings of “old” and “older.” People are using “old” to mean a bent-over crone in her 90s, and “older” to mean a silver-haired tennis player in her 50s. This is totally backward, and just about the stupidest vernacular innovation in a long time.

Also, to be old-ER, there has to be something to compare it to. There’s an implied question – Older than what? First, you have to establish the quantity of “old”. If a big sandwich is a 4” sandwich, let’s say that an old person is 70. Okay, now there’s something to compare to. A 4” sandwich is big, and a 6” sandwich is bigg-ER. A person of 70 is old, and person of 90 is old-ER.

olderExamples from real publications:

“…an older woman in her late 60s…” Older than what? Older than anyone from age 1 to 65, sure. But not older than anyone who is 80 or 90 or 100. It’s stupid.

“Older women buy a lot of shoes.” This makes no sense because if you ask the question, “Older than what?” there’s no answer. It’s stupid.

“HIV/AIDS and the Older Woman” Older than what? Stupid.

“… how older women’s identities are socially constructed…” Older than what? Also stupid.

This quotation is the star:

“Most infertility specialists define an older woman as one who is more than 35 years…”
Remember, “older” means “more old than old.” So by this reasoning, a woman of 34 is old. In fact, anything less than 35 is old, because 35 is old-ER, and that means it’s older than something.

There are times when “older” makes sense. It makes sense to say, “an older man told me,” because he’s older than someone. He’s older than me. It makes sense to title an article about intergenerational romance “Older Women and Younger Men,” because in each couple discussed, the woman is older than someone: specifically, the man she’s dating.


Why must it always be a laundry list? WHY WHY WHY must the word “list” always be preceded by the word “laundry”? It’s like “old abandoned.” Is there some kind of federal law that the word “abandoned” must always, always be accompanied by the word “old”? It’s as if they were conjoined siblings, never to be separated. Same with “laundry” and “list.”

Wretched examples:

“… a makeup artist who boasts a laundry list of celeb clients…” Only it’s not a laundry list – it’s a CLIENT list!

“a serial murderer whose victims form a laundry list of some of the most notorious unsolved cases…” It’s not a freakin’ laundry list, it’s a list of VICTIMS, and has nothing to do with laundry.

Stop it!

We live with a whole collection of myths about how things are. For instance, you’ve heard the phrase “It changed the course of history!” What the hell is the course of history? This implies there is a script where everything that’s going to happen is written down and it can’t be deviated from. Sure, there is – invented by some gnomes who live in caves on Saturn. They write it up in a big book, and boy, do they get ticked off when something comes along to change it!

No, I don’t think so. Reassuring as it might be to think there is a Course of History, there isn’t.

In another sense, everything changes the course of history. Not just big things like the assassination of a president. Every time I breathe, it changes the course of history. You too. It’s the Butterfly Effect, which some call the Trimtab Effect, repeated over and over again billions of times every day. Every time something happens anywhere, it changes the course of history. Which, in that case, doesn’t exist.

I could care less” is just about the stupidest thing anyone can say, because what they mean by it is “I couldn’t care less.” In other words, they don’t care at all, not one little bit. But – “I could care less” means that they do care, which is of course the opposite of what they think they’re saying.

Devaluation of words, degradation of the language? Most people could care less.

About Pat Hartman

Before publishing the two books "Call Someplace Paradise" and "Ghost Town: A Venice California Life", my main project was "Salon: A Journal of Aesthetics. " I wrote extensively for "Scene," a monthly arts and entertainment magazine with a circulation of 25,000. Also proofread, sold ads, put together the music calendar and, for a couple of years, served as editor. Presided over a couple issues of the local NORML newsletter, as well as being featured speaker at chapter meetings. Wrote a complete screenplay; collaborated on another one; worked on a couple of scripts (additional dialog and general brainstorming) with an indie film producer. Booked the talent for a large music festival. Wrote, designed, illustrated and produced various catalogs and brochures for small businesses. Spoke at a high school as a panelist on Women in the Professions; was a featured speaker at the 1991 Women in Libertarianism Conference; presented public programs on "Success in One Lesson" and "The Bloomsbury Group: What's It To Us?" Created the website and wrote many politically-oriented pieces for
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