This boomer is altering the dictionary, one word at a time

As baby boomers, were are the rebellion generation. Rebellion against war, rebellion against injustice, rebellion against bras. But now, boomer and longtime San Francisco Chronicle columnist Nick Hoppe is on a rebellious new tear. Against one word… and it’s in the sentence you just read.

The pandemic has changed all of us, and sometimes the changes are not so obvious. For instance, little things like the English language can be a problem. With that in mind, I’d like to report that I’ve discovered a word that I am learning to really dislike.

Nick Hoppe

I’ve had enough of “but.”

I’ve never felt this way before. Like everyone else, I use the word “but” all the time. I’ll probably use it somewhere in this column, and feel comfortable doing so. It’s not always a bad word. In fact, quite often it comes in very handy. But (there it is) the pandemic has changed everything.

I now cringe when I hear it or read it. It’s always the same. Some doctor or politician will be talking about the good things happening. Vaccine supply increasing, cases dropping, hospitalizations and deaths plummeting. I’m starting to feel good about things.

Then the “but” comes raging into the conversation. There’s always a “but.”

In a recent briefing, the head of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) followed the script. “We have so much to look forward to,” she said. “So much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci

What lovely thoughts. Then it came, as it always seems to do these days. “But right now I’m scared.”

That damn “but.” Sure enough, she went on to issue a dire warning of “impending doom.” The “but” was the instigator. The “but” was the forecast. It was all downhill from there.

That’s why I don’t like hearing that word anymore. I now call Dr. Anthony Fauci, the esteemed infectious disease expert, “King of the Buts.” He is ubiquitous on the news, and always attempts to reassure Americans that we’re heading in the right direction. Then comes the “but.”

“We have a good chance to reach herd immunity by the Fall,” he will say to my delight, “BUT we’ll still have to wear masks into 2022.”

“BUT the variants are coming, and this is no time to relax. BUT we live in a global community and the rest of the world needs to be vaccinated to control the virus. BUT we don’t want to get too confident. BUT we need to stay vigilant. BUT there could be another surge.”

But, but, but. I get it. We do have to stay vigilant. We do have to be careful. We do have to listen to the experts. I just long for the day when there will be no more buts.

Maybe it’s unfair to malign the word. There’s plenty of instances where “but” works in our favor. “She has cancer, but the prognosis is excellent.” Now that’s a welcome “but.” They’re just too few and far between these days when it comes to reporting on the pandemic.

Unfortunately, I don’t think “but” is going to go away anytime soon. Every doctor, every expert, every politician has to couch their optimism with qualifiers, and “but” is the word of choice.

It would be nice, though, if we could come up with something else. “But” isn’t exactly the prettiest word in the English language. In French, it’s “mais,” in Spanish it’s “pero.” Nice sounding words. Perhaps that helps the French and Spanish people in dealing with their experts.

Our “but” is far inferior. Add an extra “t” and it becomes even less attractive. It’s time to come up with a word that will replace “but” and help us deal with the downer declarations that always follow the expert’s optimism.

How about “bazooka?” I could live with that. “The pandemic is over,” Dr. Fauci will announce. “Bazooka we still must wear our masks.”

Less harsh, with a little singsong aspect to it. No more cringing in anticipation of negative declarations. “Bazooka” is so much better than “but.” I’ll wear the mask either way, bazooka I’ll be far less grumpy about it.


Nick Hoppe’s latest book is, “Some Books Aren’t Meant To Be Sold: A Collection of Humor Columns.”


  1. Just need to reverse the sentence. “We’ll still have to wear masks into 2022, but we have a good chance to reach herd immunity by the Fall.”

    “Right now I’m scared. But we have so much to look forward to,” she said. “So much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope.”

    Or, maybe, change it from “but” to “bet”…?

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