Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Hot air

with 17 comments

Fixed-wing aircraft
Image via Wikipedia

Language can be so beautiful and say so much and it can be so ugly and say so little. Here are a few contenders for the ugly bug ball that I’ve recently come across:

  • UK Airprox incidents
  • Potential confliction
  • Loss of standard separation

All come courtesy of the euphoniously named UK Airprox Board website.

And what are they on about? Near misses, basically. Close shaves. When one aeroplane gets too close to another. Not a poetic subject, but that’s no excuse for the use of horrible euphemisms that say precisely nothing.

And ‘confliction’ is, I believe, a made-up word — not listed in my Oxford Dictionary of English or on the Oxford Dictionaries website. Much like the equally unappealing ‘Airprox’. Note that ‘Airprox’ is always mysteriously capped on the Airprox Board’s website. For example:

Details of specific Airprox events are provided….

The only thing worse than an ugly made-up word is an ugly made-up word bestowed with faux importance.


Just to take you down a little side alley — I’ve discovered that the opposite of ‘euphemism’ is ‘dysphemism’, meaning to use a derogatory or unpleasant term instead of a pleasant or neutral one. Now I’m trying to think of a good example.


Neologisms: new words and phrases

Plain language


17 Responses

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  1. Hope this works – WordPress is a mess this morning.

    These are, of course, euphemisms for “You almost died, in considerable numbers, but we’d rather you didn’t know about it so we hide the fact behind dopy, made-up words”.


    08/08/2010 at 11:29 am

    • That’s so true, Ron. By complete coincidence, I came across this post this morning. The comments thread contains some very funny remarks relating to euphemisms for death.


      08/08/2010 at 11:48 am

      • Thanks for “Airprox”. Definitely the sort of thing Orwell’s Ministry of Love would have approved of.


        08/08/2010 at 12:15 pm

        • Hello, Dai — yes, Orwell would have pounced on that, I think.


          08/08/2010 at 1:21 pm

  2. Some weird comments, too. The term Grammar Nazis is a shade perturbing (suggesting the writer has no concept of real Nazis).

    It reflects the absolute hatred of pedants in CiF, which poses a question – when did being right become so wrong? Why should those who know better keep quiet so that a mistake might be perpetuated?

    Those who mocked La Palin for “refudiate” came in for almost as much stick as the culprit.


    08/08/2010 at 12:10 pm

  3. Mind you, whoever corrected “Past” in that manner was asking for a slap!


    08/08/2010 at 12:21 pm

  4. Thus WordPress:-

    “One of our three major datacenters was taken offline for scheduled emergency maintenance. Shortly thereafter, a second datacenter went down because of hardware failure in a core piece of infrastructure. With two out of three datacenters offline, WordPress.com couldn’t function.”

    What, I wonder, is a scheduled emergency? And this is twice in a week – it doesn’t fill me with confidence. Best back up your blog just in case.

    My local Sainsbury’s had a habit of putting up a notice, at 07.00, saying that due to “unforeseen circumstances” the cafeteria would close at 16.30.

    Hmm. . .


    08/08/2010 at 1:29 pm

    • …and excellent use of the responsibility-free passive there, too. Thanks, Ron.


      08/08/2010 at 1:42 pm

      • Er – you probably do, but do you know how to back up your blog?


        08/08/2010 at 1:51 pm

        • No, I don’t. But I’ll probably just let the fickle finger of fate decide if my blog should disappear into the ether.


          08/08/2010 at 6:18 pm

          • Why on earth would you do that? On your Stats page (or Dashboard, which ever is your default, click the Tools icon (hammer and screwdriver, if you have your menus minimised, second from bottom). Click Export, accept the defaults, and hit the button. If your browser isn’t set automatically, I’d download it to your Desktop – so you can find it.

            Stash the file somewhere safe and repeat every few weeks or whenever you start to feel insecure – it’s a lot to lose if WP drop the ball (for me it’s nearly 1,000 posts and over 1,600 comments – can’t risk losing that).


            08/08/2010 at 6:37 pm

            • Well — that sounds easier than I feared. I’ll get the butler on the case.


              08/08/2010 at 6:41 pm

      • “Residents are visited if they have any complaints. (You don’t know who will visit the residents.)”

        As long as they’re not contagious?


        08/08/2010 at 2:24 pm

        • That made me laugh, Ron. Thanks. I didn’t quite think about it like that before!


          08/08/2010 at 6:20 pm

  5. Garner has this example of dysphemism: sawbones for surgeon.

    Whyever are you reading the Airprox Website? Planning a trip?

    Michael Farrell

    08/08/2010 at 5:09 pm

    • If I were planning a trip I definitely wouldn’t visit Airprox. It was mentioned in the Grauniad and my curiosity was piqued. Thanks very much for that example from Garner; it’s strange how it’s more difficult to think of dysphemisms than euphemisms.


      08/08/2010 at 6:24 pm

  6. Reblogged this on keithpeers247.


    22/09/2013 at 2:33 pm

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