Meaningfully meaningless

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Some words should simply be chased away. "Meaningful," for instance.

One winces when it is trotted out indiscriminately to convey the unjustified significance of anything from a peanut to a moonbeam. How many more "meaningful relationships" or "meaningful meetings" can the world accommodate?

The word was not always so grossly ubiquitous. My 1859 Webster's doesn't even mention it. When it appeared in the past, it was generally in some novelistic phrase like "she gave him a meaningful glance."

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The newest (2001) usage book I have is "Mind the Gaffe: The Penguin Guide to Common Errors in English," by R.L. Trask. In it, Trask grumbles that "meaningful' is "vastly overused."

Yet as long ago as 1993, Kenneth Wilson's "Columbia Guide to Standard American English" described "meaningful" as convalescing after "prodigious" cliché-ridden popularity in the 1960s and '70s. He suggested as alternatives "pleasant, instructive, helpful, thought-provoking."

The fact that he considered such commonplaces preferable indicates how meaningless "meaningful" had become.

It could still do with a good rest.

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