My need for precision. Or why I hate placeholder words.

“Thank you for coming on my podcast,” she said. “Thank you for having me,” he replied.

‘Having’ has so many meanings, doesn’t it? I’m having a bad day. I’m having salad for lunch. I have to do this. I’m having a child. ‘Have’ is what I think of as a placeholder word. And I hate it and all of its kind.

What do we call something that’s written? Article? Piece? You see ‘article’ means an item, a thing. Piece is worse, it’s part of a thing. I prefer essay, but I don’t know anyone else who uses that to mean anything other than a college essay.

I understand that these words take precise meanings in context. When an editor says, “let’s do a piece on custodial violence in Gautham Menon’s cop films”, the word ‘piece’ acquires a specific meaning. But it still feels so jarring. 🙁

Another word I hate is ‘number’. From Masterchef to Madonna, everyone’s doing a number (Masterchef language needs a whole post on its own).

Fundamentally, these words disturb my obsessive need for precision. My writerly goal is precision. Nothing bothers me more than being misconstrued. I’m not saying I am always precise; I’m saying that’s what I aim for.

And placeholder words — along with the use of the word ‘couple‘ to mean anything other than two — disturb me no end.