Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Words I prefer not to hear

Comes now the essay I promised when I stopped writing a regular column: words and expressions I prefer not to hear in 2006. First we’ll have a prologue, then a top-ten list.
Many of these annoyances come form the food service industry. As I’ve previously ranted in these pages, I don’t wish to be commanded to “enjoy” after my server has placed food before me. When I’m repeatedly asked, “Is everything alright?” at least one thing is not alright-- my server is not very good at the job-- but I also suspect I’m in an establishment I’m not likely to “enjoy.” The same is true when I enter a restaurant to lunch alone (possibly so I can work on something like this column undisturbed) and am invariably asked, “Just one?” as if I’m not only a social pariah but a burden to business. I want to reply, “No, supremely and abundantly one, one with the universe, one of God’s children, one who will tip bigger than the party of three requesting separate checks even though I’m assaulted by kitsch.” I’ve tried beating them to the punch by walking up and saying, “one,” but I’m getting old and can’t smack them with my notebook before they can reply, “Just one?”
At least food service jargon is confined to the trade, but when the corporate media, the entertainment industry or political commentators latch onto the trendy expression of the month, it spreads like a pandemic throughout the industry and into the population at large. I no longer care to think outside the box, and I’m not going to push an envelope unless it shoves me first. “Senior moment” is only funny if you’re so senior you can’t recall having heard it before, and I’m already getting tired of hearing a confluence of events described as “a perfect storm.”
Sports broadcasters are not only the worst offenders at repeating the popularly trite, they spawn a cornucopia of banality of their own. Once one of them spoke of “leaving it all on the floor” (court, field) they all had to say it in their sleep. The “walk-off” homerun didn’t exist two years ago, but now a summer broadcast of “Sportscenter” can’t go by without one. And no, Georgia Tech is not within three points of the lead, they’re exactly three points behind. Sportscasters are the worst abusers, if not indeed the originators, of the fallacy of referring to a particular individual as one of several of the same even if that individual is supremely singular, i.e., “your Barry Bonds, your Michael Jordans, your Jesus Christs.” Bobby Knight, famous for not suffering fools lightly, when asked how Indiana would fare when it faced “the Ohio States and the Purdues,” replied, “There’s more than one Purdue? When did this happen?”
I’d prefer not to hear pointless redundancies this year, each and every one of them, irregardless of how much you want to say them at this point in time, (Did you think we might think you were referring to some continuum other than time?) and I don’t want to hear anyone with any claim to being from the American South say that anything has “class,” (Everything has class, from the Brahamn to the untouchable) much less call anything “classy.”
The Top Ten List
10. “My ex” That X person is a human being whom you in your infinite wisdom selected from among billions as your soul mate. He or she is not diminished by your diminutive, you are.
9. “Quote-unquote” What does this mean? Its users are seldom quoting anyone, and what’s with the “unquote?”
8. “Has issues” I have issues with this expression because I’m sick of hearing it, the same as with
7. “Challenged” It was funny about once. Its current users are language-challenged.
6. “Proactive” Suddenly everything and everybody worth their salt is. I’m going to plan ahead so I won’t have to be.
5. “is priceless” I can mute the fiftieth nauseating version of the MasterCard commercial, but when you print your version on T-shirts and coffee cups to promote your organization and to show me how clever you are, unfortunately you do.
4. “Mom” Call your own mother “Mom” if you choose, but I say, “ Yo mama’s such a half-wit she don’t even get a whole name.” A level of purgatory is reserved for newspaper people who refer to mothers generally as “moms.” (“Mom says kids learn good in home school.”) A much lower level is set aside for those in social services and related fields who actually address people to whom they are not related as “Mom” and “Dad.” (Dad says the children are unsupervised because you’re a bar-hopping crack whore. What do you say to that, Mom?”
3. “24-7” A woman once interviewed for employment with me and the first time she said she was on the job 24-7 I knew we wouldn’t be a good fit, the third time she said it I foresaw that her employment by me would end in homicide and me in need of a lawyer.
2. “Veggie” No explanation required, I trust. If you use this term, you’re not reading this column because it has more words than pictures.
1. “Utilize” Out of the thousands of times you’ll hear or read this word next year, you’ll encounter maybe one instance of correct usage. Many were assigned The Elements of Style, but few read. In the fifty or so years since Strunk and White first lamented this situation, the cancer has spread throughout society. “Utilize” is now used as a synonym for “use” by a legion of people who want to sound techno-scientifically important.

Dick Vitale is probably the worst offender, but then Mr. Vitale, unless he has no former spouse, had used all ten expressions on this list in the last hour. There’s nothing Dick Vitale can’t utilize: talent, quickness, athleticism, even caution.
“Utilize” means to find a use for something formerly thought to be useless, such as the rectangle of matted lint one removes from the filter of a clothes dryer. One does not “utilize” caution unless maybe one discovers a lost stockpile previously believed to have been thrown to the wind.

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