Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Stickler's Notes

Idiotic Idioms, Fad Expressions & Speech Mannerisms for 2013

Starting a sentence with "so." Easily the most annoying new mannerism. No one does the topic more justice than English teacher Ben Yagoda on the Lingua Franca blog:

So It Turns Out That Everyone’s Starting Sentences With ‘So’

     2012 Winner: "Takeaway." The main takeaway: Never use an idiotic expression like "takeaway."

Can you possibly listen to a discussion show for more than a few minutes without hearing some moron say "takeaway"? No! The expression has become the media's new darling, putting "at the end of the day" temporarily in the back seat.
     If you really want to distinguish yourself as a hopeless hack, a miserable excuse for a wordmeister, here is the phrase to use: "And the REST is history!" While you're at it, work in "The good, the bad and the ugly." Not only do professional writers and speakers use these trite expressions every day, they use them with gusto, as if they bound out of bed every morning thinking, "Maybe today I'll get to use 'the rest is history' again!"

I'm a grouch when it comes to the fads and crazes that sully my language. "Iconic" is the rage at the moment. The word went viral practically overnight. Anything vaguely recognizable is described as iconic. I defy you to pick up a publication or view a blog without seeing "iconic" all over the place. The word has been sucked dry of meaning. Don't we know that the Statue of Liberty is pretty iconic without having to be told?
     When an expression goes viral, people are so full of themselves when they use it. They act as if they invented it.* I'm hoping the frenzy over "iconic" dies down soon so we can move on to the next phase: "Iconic" becomes just another trite expression like "at the end of the day."
     I used to delight in finding new words. When I discovered "quintessential," I thought it was a very cool word. Not just essential, but QUINT essential. (Or PEN ultimate. OoOooh!) Then I found out everyone was using it. Sorta takes the fun out of it, like hiking to a favorite camping spot only to find it overrun by a Shriners convention. A word like quintessential shouldn't be used every chance you get. It should be saved for a really salient sentence that cries out for just that word.
     That's what the fad talkers don't get. There's an art to using words. A chef doesn't load up every dish with his favorite spice. The more a word is overused and overused and overused the less power it has. Yeah, it loses its panache. So that word becomes passé and the crowd moves on to the next "famously."
     No offense to those who delight in using the latest fad expression every chance they get. I'm sure it's a lot of fun, like the Macarena. This is just my humble protest against the clutter of garish verbal signage along life's scenic highway. For me the enjoyable speaking and writing is blessedly free of trendy buzzwords and catchphrases. I'm just an unknown blogger. Many of those who overuse and misuse fad expressions are highly paid writers and speakers. So who's the smart one?
     Listing all the nonsensical expressions that have piled up over the years is an endless project. (One just popped up: Anyways. Why is everyone suddenly adding "s" to anyway?) Here are a few that just won't go away.

     *Like the folks who reply to "How are you?" with "Oh, can't complain. Nobody'll listen anyway! Haha!" (giggle-giggle)

First Ever
What do you call an instance that precedes the first? When is the first not first enough? “First ever” is now the popular way to designate a first occurrence that might be confused with other first occurrences that are identical in every way except that they are only the first. Referring to the first man to walk on the moon, for example, might leave some wondering if you actually mean Neil Armstrong, the first ever, or the one who was merely the first, whoever he was. Some Russian?

     “I thought I was your first lover.”
     “I said first, not first ever.”

Related to first ever are “very first,” “very best,” “very latest,” and “right now.”

Mandatory adornment
The trend is to dress up the language with useless adornment. “First ever” joins a growing list of adornments that have become mandatory. It is no longer enough to say “first” and let it go at that.

What a difference "different" makes
Another mandatory expression is “different” when you talk about multiple items or events. You can’t just say “I applied for six jobs last week.” Someone might think you applied for the same job six times, so you have to say “six DIFFERENT jobs.”
     Different is related to separate. Trendy talkers need to clarify that things that are normally separate are indeed separate. "The bank has been robbed on four separate occasions." Thanks for clarifying that the robberies weren’t simultaneous. “Three separate witnesses gave the same account.” No Siamese twins watching?

A little BIT
A little of something is a small amount. So is a bit of something. What is a “little bit”? When people say “a little bit,” do they mean a teensy-weensy amount? Isn’t that just too cute?
     To either/or questions, the usual answer is “a little bit of both.” For example, was it talent or hard work that made you the success you are? A little bit of both is only two little bits. That leaves lots of other bits, perhaps some big ones, to explain the success.
     "A little BIT" is related to each and every. Boobish babblers who don't comprehend the meaning of "each" or "every," may surmise that they are not all-inclusive. They may think "each" means "most" or nearly all. Better be safe and throw in "every" just to cover anything "each" may leave out.

Same exact/exact same - According to fad talkers, "same" is loosely defined. It could mean roughly or about the same. You have to clarify: EXACT same.

Painfully shy - The only kind of shy there is these days.

Whether (OR NOT) - "The judge will decide whether or not to allow the evidence." Few can resist saying “or not.” Most of the time, you don’t need to. The purpose of the word is to indicate alternatives; “or not” is conveniently built in.

All New! Whooptidoo!
What’s newer than new? Can something be both new and not new? Apparently it can, because something merely new, not all-new, is deficient in newness. It may only be partially new and certainly nowhere near as new as all-new.

     “I see you have an all-new Toyota. Congratulations. How all-new is it?”
     “I just drove it home.”
     “It must be all all-new then.”
     “It’s completely all-new, yes.”
     “That’s good. You wouldn’t want to be stuck with one of those new cars, one that isn’t all-new.”
     “Right. I’ve heard about them. They’re all-new except the air in the tires, which is only new.”
     “They can’t put that over on me. I have a sworn statement from the dealer that the car is completely all-new.”
     “All-new oil? You have to watch that. Sometimes they try to slip you oil that’s just new.”
     “No no. The oil is all-new, the whole car is completely, totally all-new.”
     “Glad to hear it.”

“All new” first captured the imagination of rhetorical cutups when Hollywood writers went on strike in the mid-80s. Producers of TV sitcoms were forced to churn out shows reconstructed from old episodes. When the strike was over, new episodes were hyped as “all” new, to distinguish them from previous episodes that were merely new but contained recycled material. Calling them “all-new” was nonsense, of course. Had they been literally “all-new” the shows would have featured a new cast, new sets, even new characters. “All-new” may go down as the most annoying rhetorical gimmick of the century.

My alternative: Everyone say spankin' new!

“Literally” is the perfect big word. Four syllables. No one is really sure what it means, so you don’t have to worry about committing an embarrassing gaffe.
     Literally makes you sound smart because it the word itself sounds smart. It's a cousin of "literature" and what could be smarter than that? It brings forth images of books, heavy volumes, libraries. It's also related to "literate," which is how we want to sound, not illiterate.
     You can literally toss this word into almost any sentence. Many people use it to emphasize a figure of speech. Something makes you angry. “When he insulted my mother, I blew up.” To sound smart, you say “I literally blew up."
     Americans rely on mimicry for vocabulary-building. They hear a catchy word and start using it. They like the way it sounds. It’s cool. Who cares about the definition*? “I was literally torn.”
     People have fallen in love with the word and want to use it every chance they get. It has become a junk word, meaningless filler to keep your mouth moving between phrases. Literally has become a synonym for “actually” or “virtually” and is almost never used correctly. It is possible to go a lifetime without ever using “literally.” But who can resist? It makes you sound like a card-carrying member of the intelligencia.
     A cousin is basically. The word is not just basically useless, it's useless any way you consider it.

*Anniversary, for example. Mindless manglers are trying to create a new definition: "This marks the one-month anniversary of the tsunami." Only an imbecile could talk like this without feeling embarrassed.

Random! OMG!
The under-30 crowd has adopted "random" as the all-purpose word to toss willy-nilly into a sentence when a better word doesn't spring to mind. Or if you just want to show that you are cool, hip and with it. "Mom, you are so random!"
     Random apparently now refers to things that are unexpected, unlikely, unclassifiable, unexplainable, or nondescript. A non sequitur or off-topic comment is considered random.
     "I was just randomly driving around one random Friday night when I saw this bar in a random strip mall. I went in. The music was random. The people were random. A random waitress brought me a random drink and said someone had bought it for me. Two random chicks! Totally random!
     "When I left, a random dog ran up and bit me on a random leg. I found a random clinic and got my random wound treated. What a random night."

That said/that being said
Like literally, a handy conversation-filler, something to make you sound like a smarty pants.

If "that said" had been popular in Shakespeare's time:

          How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
          Seem to me all the uses of this world!
          That said, what's for lunch?

Uniquely unique
     “How unique is that, Bob?”
     “It’s very unique, Jim.”
It would be nice to have a word that means the only one of something. Long ago, unique supposedly meant that. So good a word was unique that it became immensely popular, like literally. People wanted to use it all the time, not just on unique things. The word became less unique. Now unique is a synonym for distinctive, unusual, or rare. The strength of the word has been diluted to the point that anything described as unique is probably common.
     When a word is neutered by overuse and moronic misuse, maulers of the language must give the word a boost--”very” or “most” unique. Since anything slightly above average is now iconic, something truly iconic sends the twitterati scurrying for superlatives: "legendary icon," for example.

The words once had different meanings. Dictionaries now sanction their use as synonyms. A wife can infer infidelity from the lipstick on her husband’s collar. When she says “Tell me where you really were last night,” she implies that she doesn’t believe his alibi. He can correctly respond: “Are you implying that I wasn’t playing poker with the boys? What leads you to infer that?"

Gee, thanks...

We should all be thankful for vital information trendy talkers give us. Every day we hear on the news about a "brutal" murder. They do tend to be brutal. Why do you suppose thoughtless yackers are compelled to remind us that murder is, indeed, brutal? Do they assume their audience is as stupid as they are?

- The robbery occurred at 3 a.m. this morning.
- Sunset is 7:24 p.m.
Otherwise, how would we know if it was morning or afternoon?

Considered extremely dangerous.
The manhunt is on for a rampaging killer. They always announce the suspect as armed and “considered” extremely dangerous. Like rain is considered wet?

Tough battle. - “Battle” simply isn’t good enough for today’s manglers, even though adversity is inherent in the word. How could it be a battle and still be easy? Also “difficult struggle,” the type experienced by so many celebrity “survivors.”

Tragic accident.
It’s hard to imagine an accident that results in serious injury or loss of life as not being tragic, but you can always rely on news entertainers to remind you that horrible accidents are, indeed, tragic.

Enough Already

A-MAZ-ing - I never thought I would long for the days when "awesome" was the rage. "A-MAZ-ing" gets sapped of any impact when applied to just about anything that warrants approval: "A-MAZ-ing haircut!" "A-MAZ-ing toothbrush!"

We caught up with...
This one was trite 25 years ago, but you still hear it surprisingly often. You picture the reporter chasing the newsmaker across continents, dashing through airports, commanding cabs to follow in wild pursuit. Perhaps the newsmaker gained prominence with a meteoric rise that is credited to a herculean effort. You “catch up” with a newsmaker by telephoning her publicist to arrange an interview.

Speaks volumes - "Israel's silence on Syria speaks volumes." When I hear this precious term, my sour look speaks volumes for my disdain.

Last known whereabouts
“What were his last known whereabouts?”
“Search me. I only have his last unknown whereabouts.”
“Lay ‘em on me.”
“Last time he was unknown to be somewhere, it was Third and Main.”
“Got it.”

Level playing field - We’re constantly hearing about people struggling to overcome slanted playing fields. It’s an absurd analogy because an uneven field hinders all players equally. Golf courses, for example, are deliberately hilly, twisted, and tricky (a terrible injustice). If baseball were played on hillsides, which team would be unfairly encumbered?

As soon as humanly possible - Divine intervention never seems like a possibility, but they keep saying this anyway. If the task were left to robots or monkeys, might it be done sooner?

Heinous crime - People can’t resist using this pompous expression. They can’t pronounce it (rhymes with anus), nor do they seem comfortable using it. Rightly so. It’s a lousy word and everyone should drop it. Heinous began to be popular in the ‘60s, about the time the Kennedys’ mispronunciation of “clandestine” caught on. Before the Kennedys, no one said clandestine. They made it rhyme with Palestine which was wrong, but dictionaries now sanction it.

Hands down - How did this get so popular with the younger set? They usually shun old-school expressions. My guess is they don't realize it's old school. They think it's something they invented, like oral sex.

Go see/went to see - What did you do Friday night? "We went to see a movie." Why is it never "we went to a movie," or "Do you want to go to a movie?" It's always "go see." I've even heard "We're going to go see a movie." I'm puzzled how these get started, but once they do, there's no stopping them.

Remains to be seen - “Whether the players and owners come to terms or not remains to be seen.” We don’t need to be told that we must await the outcome of a future event before we can “see” what happens.

Window of opportunity - The more I hear about all these hackneyed windows, the more I want to throw myself out one.

One of the only
- He was one of the only men to attend the women’s conference. “The only” is not a collective expression. He was one of only a few.... (please, not a VERY few)

Free gift
“Here’s your birthday present. No charge.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s free.”
“Of course it’s free--it’s a gift isn’t it? Are you trying to spoil my birthday?”

You can sometimes get a free gift at a sales event. When a merchandiser has an ordinary sale, it’s nothing special. The really good bargains come only at sales events. A very special all-new first-time-ever sales event is where you get the most spectacular savings. Hurry!

Foreseeable future
“Are we going to Mars?”
“Not in the foreseeable future.”
The speaker means he doesn’t expect it to happen soon, hasn’t consulted a psychic, but saying so doesn’t sound pretentious enough. In the same category is the pretentious a tendency to, which doesn't have the gravitas that "tends to" does.

Quite frankly - Another that has caught on although it serves no purpose except to make the speaker pompous.

Grisly find - Newscasters rejoice at the chance to use this expression, always to describe conditions that any moron knows are grisly. If someone is beheaded, dismembered or disemboweled, what do you expect the find to be--pleasant? To give grisly a rest, they sometimes switch to gruesome.

Visibly shaken - Angelina Jolie visits a camp for refugees from Rwanda and is visibly shaken by the suffering. When was the last time you heard about a newsmaker who wasn’t visibly shaken upon seeing conditions that would disturb anyone except the catatonic?

Visual description/physical description - “We don’t have a visual description of the suspect.” How about a description of his emotional state?

Physical body - I’m not sure why it’s necessary to point out that a body is physical, but you hear this surprisingly often.

Near brush with death - Brushes with death at safe distances are all too common.

Problem areas - Problems? We don’t have problems, only problem areas.

Pinpoint the exact location - Pinpoint sounds pretty exact to me.

But I digress - Adorable! Purposely stray off-topic just so you can use it!

Frequently asked questions - “Frequent questions” is better, but who can resist the urge to toss in an extra word? It can’t be a question if it isn’t asked.

Unanswered questions - “There are still many unanswered questions surrounding the disappearance.” If the questions were answered, they wouldn’t be questions anymore. It isn’t necessary to point out that the questions have not been answered, but superfluous words always sound better.

Period of time - “I never thought it could happen in such a short period of time.” Drop “period of” and you have a much more forceful statement.

Particular - “This particular instance.” Another junk word.

The 800-pound gorilla rears its ugly head with alarming frequency. How does he manage to sneak into so many rooms? Is he officially 800 pounds or is he sometimes a thousand? We need a ruling from the Cliché Ministry. The presence of a large hairy ape in the room should serve as a wake-up call for those who have become complacent about the wanton sterilization of our language. The fact of the matter is, next time you see any gorilla in the room, regardless of weight, run like hell. It's a no brainer. Sick of the 800-pound gorilla? Try the elephant in the room. So fresh and original. How about the 300-pound hack in the room?

White powdery substance - This gets to the marrow of our problem with trendy expressions. "White powder" won't do. It's too simple and direct. "Powdery substance" sounds more precise but it's actually vague. If not powder, what is a "powdery substance"? Something between sand and baby powder? Why create vagueness? These expressions are part of the trend to clutter the language, to both dress it up and weigh it down. Most of the examples in this squib relate to the same notion: The English language is improved by fog and murk, by tacking on filigree.

In circles that strive for a pompous tone, British affectation is called for: Amongst, whilst, amidst, betwixt, etc. Writers and speakers who want to be taken seriously should shun these. You'll sound pretty silly when you try to dress up your prose with acrost. Americans using Britishisms like "bum," "telly," and "loo" sound pretty ridiculous. I don't expect many readers to tell me this observation is "spot on," however.

Sting operation - If only they’d thought to name the Paul Newman-Robert Redford film The Sting Operation.

Phenomenon/phenomena - Pretentious prattlers often use the plural (phenomena) when talking about a phenomenon.

"A" paparazzi - Paparazzi is plural. Paparazzo (singular) is the name of an annoying news photographer in the immortal Fellini movie La Dolce Vita. Anyone who says "a paparazzi" of course would have no interest in a Fellini movie. Woody Harrelson: "With my daughter at the airport I was startled by a paparazzo who I quite understandably mistook for a zombie." (my italics)

Pre-order! OoOoh!
Nothing gets ordered anymore. It's all pre-order. People think OoOoh! Special handling! No, there's no difference between order and pre-order. When an item is not in stock, or if you want to take delivery later, you order it. “Pre”-order is just another idiotic expression some nitwit dreamed up. Soon customers won't be satisfied with a mere order.

     "We're out of stock. I'll be happy to order it for you."
     "NO! I want a PRE-order!"

     Pre-order of course is related to pre-plan and pre-approval. “We would like to talk to people who have preplanned their funerals.” All planning anticipates events or conditions. “Pre” or “advance” planning sounds better to thoughtless yackers even though there is never a need to distinguish them from spur-of-the-moment or retrospective planning.

Location, location, location - Revulsion, revulsion, revulsion.

Happy belated birthday - When someone I know says this, I think "I know he's not stupid. What's the matter with him?" When you look for a greeting card wishing someone a belated happy birthday, they're hard to find. It's all "belated birthday," another sure sign that America's collective IQ has taken an alarming nosedive.

Survivor - A favorite way to describe someone who has come through hard times. The word fetches images of months at sea in a raft, but it can mean anything from cellulite to a bad hair day. There’s nothing special about non-celebrities (“average” people) surviving the myriad horrors of everyday life, things that would make the average celebrity a basket case. A celebrity, on the other hand, is revered for “surviving” so punishing an ordeal as getting rich playing a famous role and then being typecast. Tough battle!

Up and running - Ultra-trendy. “We want to have our facilities up and running as soon as humanly possible so we can hit the ground running and get up to speed.” As with many such words, it’s hard to remember what we said before “up and running” became the rage. Probably something mundane, like “working,” or “back in service.”

Decision-making process - “She wants to be included in every step of the decision-making process.” There’s no need to point out that it’s a process. Try “She wants to be involved in decisions.”

deepest sympathies, condolences - The sypmathizer wants you to know that his sympathies couldn’t be more heartfelt for you, whereas for others his sympathies might only be superficial.

Where you at? - “It all depends where you’re at. ” Nearly everyone, it seems, must use “at” with where. In the underground, we still say “Where are you?" or "Where you are."

Watchful Eye - "Under the watchful eye of sheriff's deputies..." All those eyes, WATCHING through ever-present windows of opportunity.

End user - It has now become necessary to identify the ultimate user of a product as if the item has passed along a chain of users. When you by a new car, for example, you are the user, period. No one has used it before you. Fanciers of trendy techtalk, however, will insist upon calling you the end user. The same applies to “end result.” There is seldom a need to distinguish a final result from a succession of results along the way.

Route/rout - "Get your kicks on Route 66." Only a select few understand that "route" rhymes with "shoot" not "shout." En route - "En" is pronounced "on." Got it? There IS a rout (rhymes with shout). It's a lopsided victory (sports or military).

Marley & Me - Did the author make a mistake when he gave the book its title? Shouldn't it be Marley & I? How did so many manglers get this wrong? To avoid a glaring mistake like "Suzy and me will be there," most people fall back on the idiot-proof "you and I," as in "Just between you and I." It's become so ubiquitous I'm sure dictionaries and grammar texts will sanction it. Meanwhile, here's the final authority on "I,me."

The Situation Room
The classic situations: win-win, no-win, win-lose, no-win, no-lose, and various confusing combinations. Handy expressions for people who don’t like to think about what they say. Only chronic abusers of English can explain why “crisis” or “emergency” are such weak words that they need the help of “situation.”

More about speech mannerisms: What Are Speech Mannerisms?

Lake Superior State University Banished Words - Lake Superior State practically invented Cliché-bashing. I submit new words every year but the bastids never take 'em. So I wrote a squib instead. They disappointed once again with their 2012 list (for 2011), which didn't mention "takeaway," by far the most egregiously overused expression of the year.

We welcome your comments!

Click to weigh in! What idiotic expression are you sick of?