You won't believe what happened! - Sheldon Wolf

    In "Absolute nonsense" (1), I talked about the lack of precision used in daily conversation, and the need for precision in construction documents. Nothing so serious this time; in fact, I'm not going to say much about construction documents, except for an interesting penalty paid by Lowe's to five California counties. Instead, I'm going to have a little fun and talk about some of my favorite social media peeves.

    There are so many links from so many sources that it can be difficult to decide which to follow. In an effort to entice readers to follow the links, thereby increasing their value to advertisers, many updates and social media posts use headlines designed to suck you in. For me, these clever headlines are a red flag, but apparently they work. 

    Does anyone really believe headlines or links with phrases like "what happens next will shock you", "this will blow you away", "you won't believe what happens next", "this will make you cry", "she never expected…", "left me stunned", "changes everything", "will never be the same", "jaw-dropping", "profound", "epic", or "mind blowing"? My experience has been that the article, video, or whatever rarely justifies the sensationalized headline.

    Similar are the e-mails with too-good- or too-bad-to-be-true claims, and just about anything related to politics. There's something about them - the format, the writing, perhaps the astounding claims -  that raises the red flag, sets off the alarm, pegs the BS meter, and sends me immediately to Snopes(2). And nearly every time, it turns out the e-mail is a fabrication. The thing I don't understand is why people would do that sort of thing, when there are so many truly amazing things to talk about.

    And then there are the ways words are used and misused. As noted in "Absolute nonsense", we have a great many words that allow us to communicate specific ideas with shades of meaning. I realize ours is a living language, changing continually to accommodate new concepts, new activities, and new products, but it's hard to accept casually-made changes, which often are driven by lack of understanding or careless use. Some of my favorites: 

    • Literally has been incorrectly used so often that it has been accepted to mean figuratively or virtually.

    • A large increase is not necessarily exponential. 

    • Until recently, a business that went out of business was closed. Now it's shuttered.

    • I have respect for curators, who spent a lot of time and do a great deal of research to reach their special positions. Today, anyone who chooses a few of the multitude of tweets or links is said to curate them. 

    • Why is it necessary to start a statement with "Honestly…" or "To be honest…"? Does that mean I can't believe anything else you say? 

    • In most cases, "use" should be used instead of "utilize". 

    • Needless redundancies and padding, such as "each and every", "every single one", and "any way, shape, or form". 

    • Why is every change now "disruptive"? Disruptive does not mean clever, innovative, or beneficial; "dis-" is a negative prefix. Why is it that disruptive changes are seen as positive, and so many companies want to be known as disruptive(3)? There is such a thing as "disruptive innovation"(4), but many things described as such are not; some are more accurately described as "sustaining innovation." 

    • "Price point" also has a specific meaning, but every time I have heard it used, it meant simply "price".

    How important is correct use of words and terms? In casual use, not much; we are remarkably adept at interpreting new uses of old words. As noted in "Absolute nonsense", we must use words correctly in contract documents to avoid misunderstanding. 

    Precision also is required in informal documents if those documents imply terms of a contract. Michael Chusid (5), a building product consultant, blogged about an interesting legal decision, in which Lowe's was required to correct "false, misleading, deceptive or inaccurate product descriptions." Even though Lowe's used common industry terms, often repeating manufacturers' information, the settlement required Lowe's to pay nearly $1.5 million. 

    What horrible transgression did Lowe's commit? They were selling 2x4s without stating the actual dimensions(6). Apparently, the issue wasn't raised by consumers, who seem to be able to cope with nominal dimensions; instead, the suit was brought by the local weights and measures department. I wonder what will happen when they discover the fact that wood changes dimension. And where does the money go? Not to the consumers who supposedly were harmed, but into the government coffers. 
    Isn't that just mind-blowing?

    © 2014, Sheldon Wolfe, RA, FCSI, CCS, CCCA, CSC

    Agree? Disagree? Leave your comments at

    1 "Absolute nonsense"
    2 Snopes.
    3 "Let's All Stop Saying 'Disrupt' This Instant.
    4 Disruptive innovation.
    5 Michael Chusid's blog,
    6 "California Municipality Declares War on Lowe's"