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SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK


Dude. Some people are still trying to put a stop to overused words and phrases, LOL. I know, right?

Every generation has a list of misused words … what am I saying? Every year a new batch comes along. The worst part is that, all too often, the old overused words stick around with the new ones, until tiresome clichés become as much a part of headache-inducing misuse as creating an “original” name by misspelling an old one.

For instance, I’ve been saying “dude” and “cool” since the 70’s. I can’t stop, and yet I’ve also fallen into the habit of agreeing with something by saying (insert fake teenage-speak here), “I know, right?” That term was funny. The first hundred times.

Often the newest knives shoved into the ribs of the Queen’s English come from – no big surprise – geeks and politicians. “Tweet” used to be the sound a cute bird made. Now everybody tweets with short messages to their Twitter account, although I still firmly maintain it should be called “twitting”, and the people doing it should be “twits”. Perhaps I’d feel differently if I was tweeting myself, but how much can you really say with 140 characters?

Well, Abraham Lincoln could probably do it; maybe Calvin Coolidge. But even the Gettysburg Address would take dozens of tweets to get out. “4 score 7 yrs we made a cntry for liberty and equal creation, IKR?” It just doesn’t sing, so why call it a tweet?

At least some people try to say something meaningful. Others believe their followers vitally need to know every store purchase, meal and bowel movement, most likely in that order. “At Mickey D’s, lrg fries and coke.” How nice, I’ll alert the heart surgeon.

Also on the list: “app”, as in a computer application. The iPhone apparently overdid their “there’s an ap for that” ad, but considering there are over a million iPhone aps and only 800,000 are for buying stuff, can you blame them? The iPhone can now turn off your home’s lights from hundreds of miles away, give you directions, feed the cat, force John Mayer to sing on-key, and appoint every owner their own personal government czar.

Speaking of which, the name “czar” has hit the list. Czars are heads of government programs, appointed by US Presidents to do things already existing government departments should be accomplishing. Depending on how you count it, FDR had 12 of them; Ronald Reagan 1; and Barack Obama 38. Russia never had that many czars.

Obama’s been attacked so often for hiring special department heads without oversight or accountability that everyone seems to have overlooked one thing: The positions aren’t actually called czars. Usually they have terms like “director”, “Administrator”, or “special something or other”.

So we’re to stop using the term unless speaking of Russian history, even though – let’s be honest – it’s a lot more fun than “counselor”:

“The President has over three dozen counselors!”

“Um … so?”

“Shovel ready” is on the list. “Stick a shovel in it,” said one nominator. Jeez. Wait,
I suppose “jeez” is on the list.

The largely unused stimulus money was to go to shovel ready projects, meaning any kind of project that was ready to go so that people could be hired and the unemployment rate lowered. Of course, the term would also work toward dead, stinky things that should be buried, which leads us right back to a lot of government programs.

Also on the list:

“Transparency.” When applied to the federal government, the word means … pretty much nothing.

“Sexting.” This is the concept of sex by cell phone … which should be the safest form of sex there is, unless you’re doing it while driving. Well, no sex is safe while driving, so never mind.

“Teachable moment.” For instance, scraping a driver off the pavement who was sexting while driving would be a teachable moment.

“Bailout.” That’s a term that’s led to nothing but trouble since the days of “Gilligan’s Island”.

“It is what it is.” That term is so unhelpful that it had to have been invented in Washington.

“Unfriend” When you no longer like your internet pal you unfriend them, a term so ... well, unfriendly that it sounds like you hired your cousin Guido from Chicago to make a hit.

I would add a few terms of my own that drive me crazy:

“You know.” I know! And if I don’t know, that’s not helping.

“Green.” I love that word. It’s a color I dream of all winter, and look forward to in the spring. Now it’s been taken over by the environmental movement. Some of them are good, caring people – and some of them are nutjobs. Nutjobs are now allowed my favorite color.

“Frenemy.” They’re your friend – and your enemy! No they’re not. Get therapy and move on.

“Carbon footprint.” Whenever I’m home I inhale in the rest of the house, but hold my breath until I get to my aloe plant, which I breathe out onto. It turns my carbon dioxide into oxygen, and is now nearly eight feet tall. My carbon footprint is so small that Al Gore had to hire a hound dog to find it.

“Staycation.” That’s when you have so little money that on your time off you stay home. Have you been to my home? It’s no vacation.

“Get a life.” Check my pulse. Heart beating? Okay, then I’ve got a life.

“Love/Hate.” I once had a love/hate relationship: I loved her, she hated me.

“Literally.” I hate this one. “When I heard the news, my head literally exploded.”

It did? Then how can you talk, with your brains splattered all over the ceiling? No, your head figuratively exploded, but mine might explode if you keep misusing that word.

Seriously. LOL, whatever, like, you know?

Comments

( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
ozma914
Apr. 3rd, 2010 04:03 am (UTC)
At least you're in good company!
curiouswombat
Apr. 2nd, 2010 10:17 am (UTC)
The incorrect use of literally is one of my major bugbears.

Hmm - and what, exactly, is a bugbear, I wonder...
ozma914
Apr. 3rd, 2010 04:05 am (UTC)
Why, a bug bear is ... um ... huh.

I literally don't know.
sroni
Apr. 2nd, 2010 10:54 am (UTC)
Funny, as always.

I've been meaning to ask you: How did you get a column in the first place? You're an outstanding writer, and I LOVE this column. I'm just wondering.

And I fully agree with you on literally. I think people use it to give weight to what they're saying. "It is literally raining cats and dogs- where are you going?" "I'm gonna go get me a kitty. You said it's raining them." "What?" (An actual conversation I had with a friend. Guess which one was me. :D)
ozma914
Apr. 3rd, 2010 04:27 am (UTC)
No problem guessing which one was you!

Well, I started out as the public information officer for our fire department, which is how I came to the Albion newspaper's attention. They eventually offered me a job as a part time reporter, doing fire and police news, local features, and such. Apparently I was doing okay, because a few years after that the editor offered me a weekly column and, believe it or not, I turned it down at first. I thought, doing this every week when I need to be busy on fiction writing? But it was a paying job, which is more than I could say for fiction writing. When we were searching for a title one of the newspaper reporters, who was working on the scores for the local bowling league, suggested "Slightly Off the Mark", and the rest is history. Now it's in three papers, but they're all small local rags owned by the same company.

The funny thing is, I'm not entirely sure how long I've been writing it. I believe I started around 1990, but I didn't use a computer back then and I'm too lazy to dig up the old copies of the paper. That means 20 years ... about 50 new columns a year, which means 50,000 words a year -- WOW.
empresspatti
Apr. 2nd, 2010 11:51 am (UTC)
Dude! I am so down with your jive.
ozma914
Apr. 3rd, 2010 04:27 am (UTC)
I know, right?
psubrat
Apr. 2nd, 2010 11:55 am (UTC)
As always, it's a great column! It totally made me LOL, you know? Seriously.

Sorry, I couldn't help myself. ;) Great stuff, Mark!
ozma914
Apr. 3rd, 2010 04:28 am (UTC)
But in this case, LOL is good, you know?
millysdaughter
Apr. 2nd, 2010 01:06 pm (UTC)
Loved your example for "teachable moment"!
ozma914
Apr. 3rd, 2010 04:29 am (UTC)
Sometimes, as I'm rambling along, things just fit together!
cbtreks
Apr. 2nd, 2010 02:06 pm (UTC)
I know, right? (In my defense, I think that's the second time I've actually used that phrase!) I'm so glad you mentioned "teachable moment." I hate that phrase. It's so smug and self-satisfied and so, in my experience, are the people that use it. I liked "frenemy" though. I know people like that - there are a couple of women at work for which it's the perfect word. Good column, as always!
ozma914
Apr. 3rd, 2010 04:33 am (UTC)
Yes, I've had some frenemy's too, so I'm totally with you on that. Totally!
vovat
Apr. 2nd, 2010 04:01 pm (UTC)
I don't think I've ever even heard some of these, which I guess means we move in different circles. I might have come across "shovel ready" before, but not often enough to get exasperated at it. I agree on "green" (I'm all for environmentalism, but only a little of it relates to the color green, which is also the color of plenty of environmentally unfriendly things), and sort of agree on "carbon footprint." In that latter case, though, it isn't that specific term so much as that people are referring to carbon-containing compounds as simply "carbon," which is highly inaccurate. I mean, you might as well refer to water as "hydrogen." And to go along with "literally," I also nominate "random," which people seem to now use just to mean "unusual."
ozma914
Apr. 3rd, 2010 04:49 am (UTC)
Eh, my circles are pretty dull, for the most part. Surely you've encountered more catch phrases than I have!

Green is the color of my favorite substance of all time, Mountain Dew. I'll bet a few million gallons of that dumped in a body of water would be bad for the environment -- it sure isn't doing my body any good. As for carbon, as you suggest, carbon itself is generally harmless -- it's when you combine it with other stuff that it sometimes turns deadly. There are dozens of carbon compound in smoke from a house fire that kill, quickly or slowly.

I don't know, was that too random?
tessarin
Apr. 2nd, 2010 05:38 pm (UTC)
Great as always. It does seem to be accelerating due to the various forms of media transmission. But it seems less rebellious and more conformist and marketing driven than it used to be. It's more pseudo rebellious.
ozma914
Apr. 3rd, 2010 04:52 am (UTC)
The rebels hate it when their anti-establishment ways get taken over, especially for marketing purposes. And if they haven't trademarked their catchphrases, they become rebels without a clause.
frogfarm
Apr. 3rd, 2010 05:56 pm (UTC)
One word in particular that makes me see red and want to punch people:

"Basically"

Also:

"Relationships, networking, engaging, authenticity, genuiness. These are the words used in a language of lies."
ozma914
Apr. 4th, 2010 04:16 am (UTC)
Basically I have to fight to keep "basically" out of my writing; I developed the habit sometime in the past, and you know how habits are. But I agree, that's a pet peeve as much as starting a sentence with a conjunction. I never thought much about those other words, except for "networking" ... something writers are supposed to do to advance their careers, but which I suck at.

Actually, those words sound like something that might be in a political add, but which readers would skip over because they're so overused.
kassto
Apr. 4th, 2010 12:55 am (UTC)
That's very droll, Mark — you have a way with words. And a light touch. Do the newspapers pay you much?
ozma914
Apr. 4th, 2010 04:40 am (UTC)
Thanks, although sometimes I'm not sure I'd agree with the light touch part! :-)

I get good pay or bad pay, depending on the week: I make $80 a week as a contract worker, whether there's a lot of news or a little. For instance, some weeks there's a lot of news to gather: Maybe some fires with photos, accidents, a drug raid, a lot of vandalism, and so on. If that happens to be a week when I've put a lot of work into my column, like researching for a political subject, my pay's not really all that good.

On the other hand, some columns just seem to flow quickly and easily, and if that's combined with a slow news week I'm making out like a bandit!
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )

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