erik lundegaard

Words I Never Use and Why - I

arguably (adv.): as can be shown by argument.

I cringe every time I see this word. It feels like the writer is trying to make a bold statement but wants it to be a bold and objective so adds this and ruins everything. Now it's meaningless. Because what can't be shown by argument? "Oxygen is arguably our most important element." "George Bush is arguably the greatest president in the history of the United States." "I am arguably the sexiest man alive."

The other day, Michael Rand, a Star-Tribune blogger, disagreed with some of Rob Neyer's top 100 baseball players of the decade, including Joe Mauer at no. 40 (Rand felt he should've been higher), and wrote that Mauer's accomplishments included winning "two consecutive Gold Gloves while playing arguably baseball's most demanding position." Dude, just say it's baseball's most demanding position. Or say it's, with pitcher, one of baseball's two most demanding positions. Adding "arguably" is like letting left fielders or second basemen into the equation. Just look at injuries, games played, career length. Now: Which position's demanding? Write your sentence.

"Statistically" would've worked there as well. Here, too. It's from a 2006 AP story:

"Texas has arguably the most extreme separation between the well off and everyday people in the United States," said Don Baylor, a policy analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, an Austin think tank that advocates for lower-income families.

I should cut the guy some slack since it's just a quote, but policy analysts for think tanks should know better. They should know that what's being talked about here can be measured, so it's less an argument than a matter for statistics.

On subjective matters, I prefer "probably" or "one of the" or "I feel," since none of these have the pretensions that "arguably" does. Unfortunately, more and more, people are using both, as in this short Zimbio bio of Tiger Woods:

Tiger Woods (born December 30, 1975) is a professional golfer. He is arguably one of the most successful golfers in the history of the sport..."

I don't know golf but Woods has won 14 majors, second only to Jack Nicklaus' 18. Tiger Woods is one of the most successful golfers in the history of the sport. There's no argument there, Zimbio.

This may be the saddest usage I came across. From an amazon.com customer review of "Bella":

It is arguably the best independent film I've ever seen.

You don't know? Why don't you have that argument with yourself, son. Then get back to us.


Posted at 01:31 PM on Tue. Dec 22, 2009 in category Word Study  
No tags

COMMENTS

Mister B wrote:

This is arguably one of the touchiest blog posts I've ever read on Erik's page. :)
Comment posted on Tue. Dec 22, 2009 at 02:29 PM

Andy E. wrote:

Oooh language pet peeves, I love it. Channeling the ghost of Will Safire?
Comment posted on Fri. Dec 25, 2009 at 09:10 AM

Erik wrote:

Just me being me.
Comment posted on Sun. Dec 27, 2009 at 08:50 PM

You may bypass the ID fields and security question below if you log in before commenting.


 
 





Enter e-mail address to receive notification of new comments on this post
Click here to manage subscription
« Lancelot Links (Is Pissed at QT)   |   Home   |   Review: “Avatar” (2009) »
 RSS    Facebook

Twitter: @ErikLundegaard

ARCHIVES

All previous entries

LINKS
Movies
Jeffrey Wells
The Film Experience
Roger Ebert
Baseball
Rob Neyer
Joe Posnanski
Cardboard Gods
Politics
Andrew Sullivan
Alex Pareene
Hendrik Hertzberg
Friends
Cloud Five Comics
Copy Curmudgeon
Deb Ellis
Andrew Engelson
Jerry Grillo
Tim Harrison
Eric Hanson
Ben Stocking
Jim Walsh
dative-querulous