There are certain words and even expressions one frowns on in general usage and only approves in moderate or very limited, particular usage. One of those words, for example, is the word Unfortunately. This is a word one uses with a mild warning, not a strong warning, but simply the mild warning one uses with a word which one knows it is generally better to avoid. Unfortunately is used very frequently in circumlocutions the gist of which is to avoid an unavoidable and emphatic no. The use is interesting because it may merely betray a genuine desire to avoid or it may actually attempt to underscore the emphatic nature of the No being offered by an acknowledgment and cynical use of the circumlocution. One encounters the various uses of this mostly meaningless word frequently when dealing with anything related to customer service. (The word Service itself seems a target, but we will avoid that for now.) I am generally averse to baby talk (yummy, yuck, diminutives in general) apart from the ironical use of them, especially the word Yay. One of the baby-talk family I am particularly averse to is the word Fair. Fair is a good word in many instances, but when used in some contexts, in contexts where it is used as the baby-concept substitute for the vigorously mature and full-fledged concept and word Justice, it is a red flag indicating some mental incapacity on the part of the user. That is not fair, people will exclaim. Who cares? To him that hath shall be given and to him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath. That is not fair. God is not fair. God is just, you see. Fairness is not justice and it is justice that matters. Fairness is usually a baby-concept and so the term Fair is often baby-talk.
But the word the use of which is annoying me today is one of my bette noir (I think that is French for a pet peeve) words, the word Crisp. The day, I heard, was a crisp autumn day. Crisp? . . . one wonders. Crisp like a potato chip? I have no problem saying the potato chip is crisp and leaving it at that. My problem is with the transfer as it seems to me absurd since it is the illegitimate—it seems to me—transfer of a quality that really belongs properly on the potato chip and not elsewhere. What is crisp about the day? They probably mean it is cool and it is bright though they might just mean it is chill in a pleasant way. The key thing, it seems to me, is that it is cool in a pleasant way—hence perhaps bright. Pleasant, in short, like a potato chip, for there is nothing so pleasant as a potato chip. One can go a step further in meditation after the essence of this alleged crispness of weather which depends on a certain chillness. The chill is abrupt: one realizes it suddenly; it does not meet one gradually for the temperature involved is cool enough to strike one at once, like a potato chip. Yes, abruptness is a quality prized in the potato chip since the potato chip, whose chief quality is always to be crisp and never satisfactorily otherwise, is crisp in its very transience: nobody eats just one of any brand of potato chip—they go too fast, they are too abruptly experienced: they are crisp. And so the illegitimate use of the adjective crisp is transferred to something not really stiff but instead something abrupt, and not really something abrupt but something abruptly experienced—like the potato chip—the wind, and so inexactly, the weather. You see how muddled it gets?
I have heard those who express a preference for sheets dried out of doors in the wind because the sheets then are crisp. How crisp—rough? Of course not. Crisp as in stiff, which, one doesn’t have to think long to realize, is what is prized in the potato chip. I have even heard the snow described as crisp—a usage that one doesn’t even wince at since it is rather a long stretch of the concept and, unfortunately, regularized by the carol. Crisp in that it is cold? Even that seems too redundant. It is crisp in that it lies unspoiled in the vague imagination of the usage. Why not say unspoiled, then? Ask yourself when the last time was you heard anybody lament the lack of crispness in the snow. Nobody does that because it is a false state for snow to find itself in. In other words, there is no such thing as snow that is not crisp because there really is no true crispness to it. Unlike the potato chip, there is no edge, no stiffness, some transience perhaps, but not exactly abruptness. It is the ultimate and accepted irrational use of the adjective in association with the abruptness of the cold.
Something crisp is brittle—like a potato chip. Ice, one observes, might be crisp in that way, but who ever says that ice is crisp? The weather is not brittle in autumn, the sheets are not brittle after they dry, the snow is not brittle at any point until it develops a crust of ice and ceases thereby to be snow. But why, why is not the ice called crisp ice? Because there is no advantage to brittle ice whatever, and there lies the heart of my high, noble and principled objection to the term. It is an expression of narcissism on the level of sentimentality. I have observed there is a certain complaisance to the use of the word crisp when it is misapplied, a sort of self-satisfaction received by an egregious act of imagination that amounts to a cliche, like a potato chip. Oh, suddenly the wind strikes me in a way people are reputed to like that so I will say with an idiotic wriggle (whether physically wriggled or indicated by the voice) that the day is crisp. Bah. What brittle locutions, what limited vocabulary, what shallowness of expression. Crisp, is it? Like a potato chip.