Something In Terms Of This Other Thing In Terms of Something Or Other

Uganda be kidding me in terms of human rights abuses in terms of journalisms in terms of Rachel Maddow.

In terms of its impact on Christianity, it’s probably greater than that of any other book in modern times, outside the Bible.

This time tomorrow, we’ll have results in terms of what happened there, but to see the Republicans throwing their own candidate under the bus, shows you that they are very worried.

It`s going to be a pretty solid August in terms of those auto sales.

He will be seen as a one term president whose political failures and not achieving a second term will ultimately overshadow what he got done in terms of policy.

I think it`s an opportunity cost in terms of what they did and what they didn`t do.

This year, the Democrats have banked big margins in terms of who is turning up for early voting this year.

What Republicans are now articulating in terms of their hopes for tomorrow`s election is that they may be able to stop that 20-year trend.

A language virus which is destroying English: “in terms of“.

Once you have noticed, there is no escape from it. Everyone uses it for everything. Especially in terms of spoken English, and especially especially in terms of that weird, formal-informal language they use in terms of cable news (most, but not all, of the quotes above are in terms of the Rachel Maddow Show — she is quite excellent, but she is also especially egregious in terms of her use of the phrase).

In terms of actually means X expressed in some formally different way. There are connotations of using a different language, a different taxonomy. So for instance we can say, like in a Wikipedia article on rhyming metrics: “The following lists describe the [verse] feet in terms of vowel length.” Or you can say “I want to express this number in terms of a percentage.”

What it does not mean — what it should not mean — is I want to use concept X which I just mentioned and put it together with concept Y over here in some general and unspecific way without bothering to find the correct bridge between them. 

It’s also a cogntive trick which saves you working memory: it sometimes saves you having to phrase the concept that comes after before you have finished phrasing the concept that comes before. So you can get done with one cognitive problem at a time. Which is nice, if you’re short-minded.

Let’s use the phrase from above as an example. Note the italicised phrase:

“What Republicans are now articulating in terms of their hopes for tomorrow`s election is that they may be able to stop that 20-year trend.”

He should have said:

The hope Republicans are now articulating for tomorrow`s election, is that they may be able to stop that 20-year trend.

Note how in order to use the second, more efficient phrase you need to have thought of both the idea that the Republicans are articulating something, and then that the thing they articulated is their hopes for tomorrow’s election. You need to have finished the thought before you start speaking.

On cable news, that’s a luxury. “In terms of” saves you from thinking the entire sentence through because you know that you have a bridge to absolutely anywhere in terms of where that sentence will go, in terms of the umbrella of job creation. The listeners think to themselves that a connection has been made, when really quite often it hasn’t.

Let me correct the quotes above in terms of what should actually have been said:

Its impact on Christianity is probably greater than that of any other book in modern times, outside the Bible.

This time tomorrow, we’ll have the results, but seeing the Republicans throwing their own candidate under the bus shows you that they are very worried.

It`s going to be a pretty solid August in auto sales.

He will be seen as a one term president whose political failures and failure to achieve a second term will ultimately overshadow the policy changes he got done.

I think it`s an opportunity cost of what they did and what they didn`t do.

This year, the Democrats have banked big margins on who is turning up for early voting this year.

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1 comment
  1. LOL, well done. Journalism is so bad these days, even I am correcting them. Come on people, for most of you, this is your native tongue. If you’re going to butcher it, at least use some creativity and make it entertaining. Something else that really drives me nuts, people using meaningless phrases to try and sound intellectual. In the grown up world, you don’t get extra credit points for that.

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