May 11th, 2012
A couple of weeks ago, New Yorker editor Ben Greenman (@bengreenman) launched a Twitter-based game he calls “Questioningly.” It’s a fun time-filler for multi-taskers who need to stop juggling all the balls for a few minutes to gain composure and a normal heart rate. Greenman poses a suitable tweet question every week and activates a conversation. This week’s is “Which Beatle did you think of most recently and why?” I like the game’s first question best so far: What word should be eliminated from the English language? The list quickly gained momentum and before you could say “impactful“(sorry) Greenman’s thousand or so followers had come up with some hilarious proposals.
For example, high on the list were “he,” phlegm,” “actually,” and “God.” The NYorker editors agreed that the winner was “slacks,” a pretty benign but useless noun that just doesn’t sound right, or so they said. Slacks begone!
I am sure we all have our word or phrase hate lists. My list keeps growing, although I confess I am guilty of utilizing using some of the very words I profess to loathe. It’s hard not to in this day and age. Take incentivize—please! I hear myself using it sometimes and wonder if I have been possessed by idiot aliens. I never use “hopefully” but almost everyone does –and incorrectly. Knock it off the lexicon immediately.
No one likes “like,” as in, like, you know, this list… but it’s probably here to stay with everyone under the age of thirty. Have you noticed that “arguably” keeps rearing its ugly head? I’m starting to acquire an aversion for “learning.” It’s got a trendy buzz to it and I wish it would disappear altogether. “Allegedly” has also crept into the language like a slow-mo virus. And don’t get me started on the oddly abbreviated “priorize.”
English stylists have long dismissed the following empty adverbs: basically, consequently, famously, and incredibly. There are more, but these are arguably among the worst offenders.
I taught part of a professional writing course in the winter semester and in the written assignments I noticed the usual verbal offenses. Because the subject was writing about film, a number of these clichés and overused phrases were drawn from the conversations we commonly have or read about movies: must-see, incredible, awesome, action-packed, crowd-pleaser, quirky, roller-coaster, hot-button, Oscar-worthy, chick-flick… you get the, er, picture. They’re all on my hate list. But once I pointed these out, everyone became self-conscious and for the most part the written assignments were remarkably free of cliché-dependency. But it takes self-awareness and some discipline to strip away the bad habits and acquire some best practices better ones.
Twitter is surprisingly free of words I loathe. The mandate of succinctness puts additional pressure on words. They need to carry a lot of meaning, and they need to sound fresh. Twitter is a 21st century version of haiku—so much to say and so little space to say it in, brevity being the soul of wit.
Which reminds me, such brevity got a local MHA into some serious, if time-wasting, trouble this week. I won’t dwell on it here but the alleged culprit is university colleague and MHA Dale Kirby who tweeted at the end of a long and no doubt frustrating day in the legislature. You can pound on the desk, interrupt speeches, hoot, holler, and yell like a school brat but you can’t call another politician a liar—not in the House and not, apparently, in a tweet. “Unparliamentary,” they say. Now there’s a word that has lost its meaning. And so has “ironic.” No one nails that one anymore either.
Enough rambling. Back to “Questioningly,” and this week’s challenge. I think of Paul McCartney. How could I not? He’s everywhere—even on 30 Rock. As he once sang, these are words that go together well.