The Path to Acceptance

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Emotional Healing After Doing Something (Grammatically) Stupid

I used leverage as a verb. And I feel shame pride shame.

If you can claim you have never inappropriately used the word leverage, I am going to go ahead and say that you are either: 1. a liar, 2. an English professor or 3. an infant.

I got wise to the fact that leverage is not a verb much later in life than I would like to admit. It just wasn’t one of those lessons they drilled into us in school like your principal is your “pal” and a principle isn’t human, or common misused phrases like I couldn’t care less, literally and irregardless.

Particularly in the tech industry, which is teeming with generic terms used to vaguely describe a product or service, saying something akin to “We leveraged the sheer power of the flux capacitor to take us back to 1921” comes as naturally as “nice to meet you.”

So when I learned that a verb I was using quite regularly made me sound ignorant to the .5 percent of the population that understand the word's proper use, I launched into several stages of emotion before settling in on where I believe I am comfortable on this topic.

First, I felt shame. I have a degree in Journalism. I took AP English. I own a communications company, for Pete’s sake! How could this be? And why has no one ever told me?

Then the anger set in… Darn all my teachers for not incorporating this into their lesson plans. Screw those people that didn’t have the nerve to correct my butchering of the English language. …or, did they even notice?

Next was pride and inspiration. If leverage is not “technically” a verb, who cares? Lever sounds dumb. The deciding factor of successful communications is whether your audience understands your message. Everyone knows what we mean by leverage, especially when it is used as a verb. Ignore those arrogant puritans who find it necessary to display their superior intelligence and whip out their AP Style app whenever someone challenges their position!

That stage was short. I wanted to be that person. I wanted to be part of a movement, leading a protest, chanting “We can leverage, yes we can.”

But, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Every time the word starts to roll off my tongue or my fingers glide towards the L key, my internal disciplinarian smacks me upside the head. When I see the word on my clients’ collateral and industry blogs or I hear it on How I Met Your Mother, I become one of those dweebs who can’t fight the urge to point out the mistake. I love the English language and, unlike many of my other vices and guilty pleasures in life, once I know that something grammatically just ain’t right, I can no longer bring myself to continue supporting that poor linguistic behavior.

And I am now at peace with that. I’m not actually a purist. Creative license has its time and place. Hell, I just used the non-word “ain’t” three sentences ago. (That statement was necessary because the comments to this blog are turned on and I really don’t need your edits.) But leverage used as a verb isn’t intentional or ironic, it’s just ignorance, however common and widespread. Refraining from using it means I care about doing things right. It means I have principles (not pals). And it means I know when to pick my battles (who wants to sign the petition to promptly remove twerk from the dictionary?).