A witticism is a remark that is amusingly clever in perception or expression. Robert Hartwell Fiske coined the term dimwitticism in his book, The Dimwit’s Dictionary, to describe the opposite: dull expressions that provide no insight. This is a great example of observations and judgments on style and usage. From his preface:

Few of us are able to learn well by pedantic and rote methods. But if I disturb or annoy a person, is he not more likely to remember what bothered him; is he not more likely to retain what was said; is he not more likely to learn?

Fiske lays out fourteen different classes of dimitticisms, many of which overlap with my book’s (Eureka!) treatment on annoying usage. He employs an effective style and memorable word selection. Here are his categories and a few examples. Note his use of alliteration in the category names.

  1. Foreign phrases: persona non grata ; raison d’etre ; fait accompli ; joie de vivre
  2. Grammatical gimmicks: anyway; something or other; everything like that; stuff, things
  3. Ineffectual phrases: it has come to my attention; it is important to realize; it is interesting to note
  4. Inescapable pairs: aid and abet; pure and simple; closely allied; valuable asset; delicate balance
  5. Infantile phrases: not in a million years; in no way, shape or form; without further ado
  6. Moribund metaphors: thrown under the bus; light at the end of a tunnel; a new ballgame; above par
  7. Overworked words: amazingly; awesome; basically; crisis; mindset; significant; very;
  8. Plebeian statements: there are no words to describe; he is boring; what can you do?
  9. Popular prescriptions: actions speak louder than words; money isn’t everything; forgive and forget
  10. Quack equations: it is what it is; more is better; perception is reality; seeing is believing
  11. Suspect superlatives: perfectionist; area of expertise; great; pursuit of excellence, best and brightest
  12. Torpid terms: cautiously optimistic; utilize; significant other; proactive; incumbent upon
  13. Withered words: albeit; behoove; ergo; amongst; unbeknownst; verily;  wherein;
  14. Wretched redundancies: consensus of opinion; just recently; past experience; in terms of; is because

You have to love his use of alliteration.

Occasionally, there are good reasons to use dimwitticisms. But rarely. If you observe that you use them more than rarely in your own speech and writing, then you are probably annoying more people than you think. The first step to improvement is observing and noticing your own tendencies. A mirror is a very useful tool.

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One Response to “Dimwitticisms”

  1. Nanci says:

    Let’s add ‘not only…but.’ I hate that one. How is ‘is because’ redundant? It is because of something that something.’ It is awkward, but redundant? And let’s un-wither ‘behoove’ — that’s a great word.

    You have a couple of typos in the first para — judgement and the ‘enjoyed chapter’ sentence.

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