Can someone add on to a house that does not exist?

Corruption of the English language has been happening for decades, and I still think it is annoying. As a newspaper reporter, I have become extremely sensitive to misuse of my native language and phrases that are becoming cliches.

Writing about my pet peeves probably won’t change people’s wordisms. However, it is emotionally satisfying to spout off about some of them.

1. “Existing.” City planners often say in staff reports that an applicant wants to construct an addition to “an existing home.” How can anyone construct an addition to a house that does not exist?

Unfortunately, “existing” now is popping up in advertising. The other day I heard a My Pillow ad that proclaimed the wonders of using a My Pillow mattress topper on an “existing mattress.” Would anyone want to sleep on a mattress topper that did not have a mattress underneath?

2. “Reaching out.” At first, this seemed like a picturesque phrase in emails about serious issues. People would respond to my requests for information with something like, “Thank you for reaching out to me about your interest in the domestic assault problem.”

Now people are using this phrase for more mundane topics, such as church rummage sales. “I am reaching out to you to publish this notice of our biggest fund raiser of the year, our “PETUNIA POWER PLANT SALE!!!! Admission to the sale is FREE!!!!”

3 and 4. The previous example brings to mind two more pet peeves. People feel the need to scream about their events by capitalizing words unnecessarily and inserting exclamation points — often more than one. Entirely capitalized words and exclamation points rarely make it into the paper.

5. “Fully engulfed.” I don’t know whether to laugh or say “Eeew” when someone says that a building was “fully engulfed in flames” when firefighters arrived. The definition of engulf is “to flow over and cover something,” so it is impossible to partially engulf something. Unfortunately, firefighters and news media say “fully engulfed” all of the time.

6. Using “may” instead of “might.” The word “may” is used to say that someone has permission to do something, such as leave the dinner table. The word “might” refers to something that could happen. The National Weather Service has said that heavy winds “may” strike the area. Really? Is the Weather Service giving Mother Nature permission to create a severe windstorm in Corcoran or Maple Grove?

OK, I feel better now about words being misused in my presence, and I won’t have to talk about this issue at home any time soon. My husband will thank me for venting when he is not around to hear.

Contact Susan Van Cleaf at [email protected]