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Words I hate: Relatable

There are some words I have an unhealthy aversion to. One of them is relatable. I cringe, every time I hear it. Justin Beaver is so relatable. One of the things that makes Donald Trump such a great president is that he is relatable. She’s so relatable. Hilary didn’t win because people didn’t find her relatable.

Its meaning, in common parlance, is unambiguous: They are relatable means They are someone to whom I can relate [1]. I don’t recall it being in common use until recently, although the Google n-gram viewer seems to suggest that it peaked in the late 1970’s.

I’m generally in favor of words that clarify and simplify. So why do I hate relatable, other than the contexts in which I usually hear it [2]?

Perhaps it’s that it’s a nominalization. I spent enough time working with the Joe Williams approach to writing [3] that I like to hear actors and actions. Who relates to the person so described? Is it the speaker? Is it the speaker suggesting a broader sense of relatability? Relatable obscures.

And is relate really the appropriate word? I also don’t like hearing I relate to [insert random pop star]. I guess it’s appropriate; as it means to be connected. But I feel connected to [insert random pop star’ feels more powerful to me, as does I think many people would feel a connection to [insert random pop star].

Those serve as a few core complaints: Relatable is a nominalization and therefore causes the speaker/writer to eschew a clear actor and action. Relate seems like a weaker word than connect or other related words. So yes, I do have reasons to dislike the word.

Or maybe it’s just that I’m not relatable.

My spell checker also doesn’t think relatable is a word, but it has a fairly limited vocabulary. It also doesn’t like nominalization, perhaps because it doesn’t like seeing me nominalize that word..

[1] Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it means They are someone to whom others can relate.

[2] I would venture to guess that I hear it most frequently used in relation to pop stars, but perhaps I’m mistaken. I have heard the Hilary quote, which is perhaps another reason.

[3] Exemplified by Chicago’s Little Red Schoolhouse and a variety of books whose title normally begins Style.

Version 1.0 of 2017-09-25.