A pet peeve
To be honest, the only connection between this writing and spirituality is that I'm confessing a feeling that roils me every time I hear people abuse language, people who should know better—professional writers and speakers. They're the ones who commit this sin.
I have yet to meet “in terms of” in a sentence that needed it. I wish it had never entered the English language. In most cases, “terms of” is witlessly added to in and should simply be deleted. Almost always it signifies nothing but a lack of precision.
“This nation faces a crisis in terms of health care.” Cleaned of the meaningless words, it says, “This nation faces a crisis in health care.” “Where will they take the country in terms of foreign policy?” More pleasing, “Where will they take the country in foreign policy?”
Readers can easily clean up the following: “The government plays a part in terms of education. If it gives less money in terms of grants you have a rise in terms of tuition.”
More prepositions than in are replaced by this verbal pollutant. In the following sentences “in terms of” replaces to. “Members were appointed in terms of helping set up programs,” should be, “Members were appointed to help set up programs.” The same applies to the following: “Raccoons use their front feet in terms of foraging.” “It’s the only thing we have in terms of making sure it works.” “. . . their mission in terms of killing Osama bin Laden.”
I didn't make up these idiotic examples. When they were said on radio and television, I quickly scribbled them down. Spoken English includes the offending phrase more than written English, because speakers have less time to think of the right words for their intended meaning.
I admire journalists’ ability to fashion articulate sentences on the fly, but when “in terms of” falls from any speaker’s lips, my esteem for that person falls with it, if only a little. The esteemed Daniel Schorr didn’t take the split second to think of the right words when he said, “It will be a real contribution in terms of opportunities for young people.”
“In terms of” has contaminated the language to such a degree that it may seem essential to some. I have caught myself beginning to say it before zealously correcting myself. “Portugal and Spain resemble Greece in terms of their economy.” “Portugal and Spain resemble Greece in their economies,” is cleaner.
In the same way, I edit, “in terms of the coronavirus crisis,” “in terms of trade policy,” “in terms of ability and social background.”
From journalists I hear “in terms of” replace about or over. “What would you add in terms of exposing doctors who market for drug companies?” I consider more accurate, “What would you add about exposing doctors who market for drug companies?” “There was a dispute in terms of how to interpret the court’s decision,” should be, ““There was a dispute over how to interpret the court’s decision.”
I have seen or heard “in terms of” take the place of in, to, for, as, about, around, because of, with, through, and more. “Will they hire minorities in terms of sub-contractors or employees?” should be “Will they hire minorities as sub-contractors or employees?” To clean up, “There’s no constituency in terms of resisting abuses,” I suggest, “There’s no constituency for resisting abuses.”
In some sentences the offending phrase replaces in spite of or because of. “Conditions for women in Afghanistan are better in terms of the surge.” I think the writer meant, “Conditions for women in Afghanistan are better in spite of the surge.” “Relations with Europe have declined in terms of tariffs.” I think the speaker meant, “Relations with Europe have declined because of tariffs.” Or perhaps they meant, “Relations with Europe have declined in relation to tariffs” or “in tariff negotiations.”
For clear and accurate communication, I think it best to avoid “in terms of” because it bloats sentences, reduces comprehension, and diminishes thoughtful reflection. I do not, however, advocate deleting the word “term.” Used correctly, it carries meaning, as in, “When the term “COVID 19” was first used, . . .”
To my ears, the phrase I’ve come to loathe diminishes the richness of any statement. For clarity, precision, and economy of expression, I think English would benefit if “terms of” were entirely deleted from the language. But judiciously scouring it out of weighty sentences requires practice and skill.