'Your hair smells nice'. If they can smell your hair, they're too close. Picture: freeimages.com
'Your hair smells nice'. If they can smell your hair, they're too close. Picture: freeimages.com

Bad language is not rocket science

By CRAIG BROWN Time of article published Sep 19, 2014

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London - The American author Stephen King has listed the words and expressions that most irritate him. They include the vintage irritants ‘at this point in time’ and ‘at the end of the day’, and the more hot-off-the-press ‘that’s so cool’ and ‘LOL’.

He also dislikes phrases such as ‘some people say’, ‘many believe’ and ‘the consensus is’, describing them as the ‘kind of lazy attribution’ that ‘makes me want to kick something’.

To me, his list seems very modest, almost saintly. I spend most of the day quivering with irritation at phrases like ‘game-changing’, ‘ongoing’, ‘bear with me’, ‘awesome’, ‘happy bunny’, ‘you should get out more’, ‘for my sins’ and ‘no-brainer’.

Here are a few more of my pet irritations (another of which, incidentally, is pet used as an adjective):

* The way the word ‘boutique’ is now placed before everything, not matter how sordid, in the hope you will think it means intimate and glamorous, when it generally means cramped and claustrophobic.

* Talent show contestants talking about their ‘journey’ and vowing to ‘give it 110 percent’, and even the most non-descript singers, fashion designers and breakfast cereals being described as ‘legendary’ or ‘iconic’.

* Politicians saying ‘questions need to be asked’ and ‘lessons must be learnt’. Also, their tic of asking themselves questions that they themselves then answer: ‘Do I regret my decision? No. Would I do the same thing again? Yes, I would.’

* TV reporters looking grave and saying ‘one thing is for sure - things will never be the same again’. And their way of assuring viewers that such-and-such a politician is set to make ‘the most important speech of his political life’.

* Critics on arts programmes trying to make themselves sound even artier by saying ‘om-arzh’ instead of ‘homage’, particularly when they are just talking about one director copying another. And radio and TV presenters urging us to ‘join the debate’.

In the world of journalism, I never bother to read on if an opinion piece begins with the word ‘so’ (‘So, Alex Salmond is up to his old tricks again . . .’). I also avoid columnists who (a) use the word ‘arguably’ and (b) still consider it snappy and on-the-button to mention Andy Warhol and his boring old 15 minutes of fame. Breathless lists that include the words ‘of all time’ (e.g. ‘20 Greatest Hits By T. Rex Of All Time’) are also worth avoiding.

I don’t work in an office, but new jargon seems to creep out of offices every day, ready to infect the rest of us: touch base, ballpark figure, ticking all the right boxes, guesstimate, blue-sky thinking, win-win situation, ‘I hear what you say’, thinking outside the box, low-hanging fruit, singing from the same hymnsheet, pro-active, ‘I’ll get back to you on that’, going forward, bottom line, on the radar, ringfence, team-building, hit the ground running.

Where did ‘no worries’, incorporating ‘no problem’ and its close cousin ‘not a problem’, spring from? Nowadays, when you ask for a glass of wine in a pub you are told it is ‘not a problem’, a statement that arrives with the implicit suggestion that if you were a little more sensitive you would realise that it was a problem.

On the subject of catering, I’ve noticed that the gruesome expression ‘plate up’, first popularised by Gordon Ramsay and the presenters of MasterChef, has now begun to contaminate ordinary household kitchens. I have even heard the ubiquitous command ‘Enjoy!’ used in private houses.

It doesn’t take long for fresh language to turn sour. Expressions that once seemed pleasantly novel grate with repetition. OMG is one, ‘Keep calm and carry on’ another. There must have been a time when I wasn’t irritated by the most humdrum experience being described as ‘surreal’, but, if so, I can’t remember it. ‘What-EVER!’ and ‘classic!’ have gone the same way.

For some reason, I am still amused by young people greeting every faintly embarrassing situation with the response, ‘Awk-ward!’, but it can’t be long before the charm wears off.

Closure, not rocket science, what’s not to like, rollercoaster ride, and the use of the word ‘nightmare’ to describe a mild inconvenience: the only consolation is that, eventually, most of these words and phrases will fade away. It’s years since I heard anyone say ‘Beam me up, Scotty’, yet there was a time when it was on the lips of every pub bore.

If they don’t fade away, they become part of the landscape. Jonathan Swift hated the new words ‘mob’ and ‘banter’, and Samuel Johnson deplored Frenchisms such as ‘trait’, ‘ruse’ and ‘vignette’. And, not so very long ago, words like ‘seafood’, ‘soft drink’, ‘babysitter’ and ‘commuter’ were dismissed by the old guard as horrid new Americanisms, but today we use them without a second thought. - Daily Mail

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