Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Word peeve: "Fraught"

"Fraught" is another perfectly good word that's being horribly abused.

Classical literature is full of "fraught." You may recall reading phrases which described a situation, person, or thing as:
- fraught with danger
- fraught with portent
- fraught with misgivings
- fraught with significance

Notice that, in classical literature, the object is always "fraught with something." It's never just "fraught."  Twentieth-century journalists who dared to use this word followed the rule, and made sure that something that was fraught, was fraught with something else.

Now, in the 21st century, we find bloggers and amateur journalists (and pseudo-experts getting their fifteen minutes of fame on Headline News) using "fraught" all by itself, with no modifiers.  That's wrong, and here's why.

"Fraught" is another way of saying "freighted." Think of loading a cargo ship or a train. Suitable synonyms for "fraught" or "freighted" are:
- "packed"
- "weighed down"
- "loaded"
- "laden"
- "full of" (for "fraught with")

That next-to-last one, "laden," is a good one. It's a snooty version of "loaded," just like "fraught" is a snooty version of "freighted."

If you want to use "fraught" in a sentence, then write it down, and then mentally substitute the word "loaded" and reread the sentence. If it sounds okay, then I guess you can use "fraught." On the other hand, if it sounds okay, why not just erase "fraught" and use "loaded?"  Or "laden," if you want to sound snooty.

UPDATE: No, don't use "loaded." "Loaded" has a secondary meaning which could accidentally legitimize "fraught." Instead, substitute "full" for "fraught." "Full" does a better job of exposing misuse of "fraught."

And do you think I should rewrite that second paragraph to say that "classical literature is fraught with 'fraught'"?

UPDATE THE SECOND: I am aware that the dictionary gives a definition for standalone fraught as "marked by or causing distress," to which I say "pah." You can find a better word to use than "fraught." Leave "fraught" for the same lawyers that say "egregious."


Anonymous said...

I'm relieved to see that I am not the only one who hears this as wrong and that we share several other word-peeves. (I put comments for those, as well.) I would add here my own issue with people nowadays using "less" to describe reduced quantities, rather than "fewer", or awkwardly using "I" all the time where "me" would actually be correct, in some miosguided attempt to sound learned.

Zyzmog said...

How about "myself" as a non-reflexive pronoun? As in "please return the completed forms to Mr. Bigelow or myself." Or, even worse, "John and myself will come by later to check on it."

Zyzmog said...

As for misguided attempts to sound learned, I always enjoyed James Thurber's guide to "who" vs. "whom." He said you use "who" in normal social situations, such as a Friday afternoon beer bash, where you can ask a stranger, "Who are you, anyways." You use "whom" for those more highbrow situations such as black tie cocktail affairs, where you can ask a a stranger, "Whom are you, anyways?"

Anonymous said...

AH yes, the "Whom" thing...Thurber's way of deciding sure seems more practical than the grammarian's distinctioon (based on some rule about whether the word is the object of an action or something like that).

Anonymous said...

I rhink when I am asked "You and who else is the "we" that thinks so? I will answer: WHy, the three of us: Me Myself and I. (That answer is issued by my Department of Redundancy Department.)