I recently came across an article about 115 forbidden words and expressions compiled by Randy Michaels, CEO of the Tribune Co. The company owns the Chicago radio station WGN, and Michaels forbid radio anchors and reporters from using these words. Among forbidden words and expressions are some that make me cringe as well.
- 5 a.m. in the morning
- at this point in time
- close proximity
- fatal death
- in harm’s way
- completely destroyed, completely abolished, completely finished or any other completely redundant use
Following up on Michaels’ directive, WGN’s news director Charlie Meyerson circulated the list to on-air talent. He directed his staff to report co-worker infractions, noting the precise time and date on “bingo” cards.
That got me thinking about overused and misused words and expressions that I’d like to outlaw. Here are my baker’s dozen. Some of them have been around for a long time and are worn out. Others have worn out their welcome in just a short time. (None are on the WGN list.)
- Special. You’d have thought that Dana Carey’s SNL parodies of “isn’t that special,” in the 1980s, would have put this on the endangered list. But despite The Church Lady, it’s now applied to almost every person, gift, event, activity, organization, and promotion. The result: special is no longer special.
- Awesome. The Grand Canyon and Taj Mahal are awesome. Most everything else is not.
- Absolutely. Perhaps the most overused expression in the English language. Explains CNN’S John Blake: “It’s a verbal virus that’s spreading unchecked on TV, radio and in print. Want to sound certain? Want to remove all doubt? Want to be a commentator on TV? Absolutely.”
- Issues. A nicer way of saying problems: I have issues with this plan. He has commitment issues. She has health issues. Why not just say problems?
- Cool. This is a relic from the 1950s. Beatniks were cool.
- Guys. You guys. Those guys. This expression jumped genders and now refers to any group of people. I particularly hate it when my waiter says, “I’ll be serving you guys.”
- Throw under the bus. Shorthand for sacrificing a person for political gain. Among those who were or weren’t thrown under the bus by President Obama were Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. and Obama’s grandmother. Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod was thrown under the bus for an out-of-context remark then pulled out from under the bus when it became known that she was a civil rights activist. On the Republican side, Scooter Libby was thrown under the bus by Vice President Dick Cheney.
- Not so much. Edgy satirist Lenny Bruce used this phrase in the 1960s. But the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart popularized it. When asked which Democrat he saw stepping forward to lead the party: “I like this guy John Kennedy. Since him, not so much.”
- My bad. This one grated on me from the time I first heard it, and it continues to feel like chalk on a squeaky board. (Talk about outdated expressions! Marking pen on a white board?) While historians trace this back to Shakespeare, it came into the mainstream with the 1995 movie Clueless. Cher (Alicia Silverstone) swerves to avoid hitting a bicyclist. “Whoops, my bad.”
- It is what it is. This bit of Zen philosophy has come to mean whatever you want it to mean. Among the meanings: screw it, that’s the way it is, nothing we can do about it, and que sera, sera. It normally puts the brakes on discussion. What can you say in response?
- Not that I’m. . . (prejudiced, racist, homophobic, sexist). This almost always precedes a statement that shows prejudice. Explains Rational Wiki, “These words are spoken in the mistaken belief that simply saying ‘I’m not prejudiced’ is enough to exempt the speaker from responsibility for the offensive comment they are about to make.”
- Get it. He gets it. She doesn’t get it. These phrases express exasperation at someone’s failure to understand something. It owes its popularity to the great communicator Ronald Reagan. In a 1980s presidential debate, then candidate Reagan chided his opponent, President Jimmy Carter: “You just don’t get it, do you?“
- Shellacking. Okay, this is a preemptive strike. President Obama used it to describe the Democrats’ heavy losses in the 2010 mid-term election. But I’ve heard it enough times since then to merit its inclusion in the list.
Alas, I’m not the head of a large media conglomerate. I don’t have the power to enforce or humiliate those who use my outlawed expressions. Compliance is voluntary; I can only plead.
What’s on your list of overused and abused expressions? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail. I’ll compile the list and post it.
— Marilynne Rudick (guest blogger)Tags: Editing, Grammar and usage, Usage