Coming Up for Air and Tired Old Phrases

I’ve had to neglect blog­ging for much of this month, because I’ve been work­ing very hard. It’s hope­ful­ly going to work out in the end, but this is one of those times where I have to keep inton­ing that mantra “It’s Only Tem­po­rary.” So, while today was one of those pic­ture-per­fect days we in Van­cou­ver get in the spring and sum­mer, I must con­fess that I only saw it via the occa­sion­al peek at a the KatKam web­cam from my win­dow­less office. I might as well have been under­ground, instead out in the place that has once again been named by Mer­cer Con­sult­ing, Num­ber 4 of the ‘Top 5 qual­i­ty of liv­ing rank­ing for cities world­wide’. While I am proud of the fact that my home is once again up there with Vien­na, Zurich, Gene­va and Auck­land as one of the best places to live, I have to admit that for us per­son­al­ly, for a vari­ety of rea­sons,  it’s been a very tough past cou­ple months. How­ev­er, I’m look­ing for­ward to beau­ti­ful sun­ny days with cool breezes, local straw­ber­ries and aspara­gus, walks along the False Creek sea­wall and the return of the Farmer’s Mar­kets on the week­ends. The foun­tain in the park across the street is flow­ing again, and the tulips are out in full force. I just have to be sure to get out and enjoy all of those things. After all, they are all only tem­po­rary as well.

Heard Often. Way Too Often

To keep an eye on our for­mer coun­try, Pam and I have tried to catch one of the net­work news chan­nels from the US each evening over din­ner, so we keep switch­ing between TiVO record­ings of Bri­an (Williams), Katie (Couric) and Char­lie (pro­nounced the way Sarah Palin did in the puff-piece inter­views he did her, as the sharp, twangy CHAR-ly, Gib­son). I’ve been notic­ing an annoy­ing ten­den­cy by both the reporters as well as the pub­lic (and politi­cians) for using the same phras­es over and over again. Here are a few that I’ve just about had enough of:

Come Togeth­er
What does that phrase mean? Aside from the sex­u­al dou­ble-enten­dre, as far as I can tell, it means to have a pub­lic meet­ing where  prob­lems like gang vio­lence, racial strife and pover­ty are all mag­i­cal­ly over­come by an aura of good fel­low­ship. Sor­ry, I’m not buy­ing it. It’s an emp­ty phrase uttered over and over again in front of TV cam­eras by peo­ple who have no idea what they are say­ing.

Bipar­ti­san
Until recent­ly ‘bipar­ti­san’ used to mean some­thing. I think it meant that both of the big, icon­ic US polit­i­cal par­ties sup­port some­thing, as opposed to its more com­mon oppo­site, ‘par­ti­san’ (which now that I think of it, could have been Monopar­ti­san). Now,’ bipar­ti­san’ is uttered by politi­cians mean­ing (depend­ing on which side they are on)  ‘Some­thing I want­ed but nev­er got’ or ‘Some­thing we should all look like we are try­ing for even though we real­ly don’t want it any­way’.  Like Lite and Fat-Free or Sus­tain­able, it’s an now a mean­ing­less word held aloft like a flag of vic­to­ry or rag of defeat.

Wall Street always fol­lowed by Main Street
It used to be that you could say ‘Wall Street’ and every­body knew that it referred to the New York Stock Exchange, as well as the oth­er busi­ness and orga­ni­za­tions in that gen­er­al geo­graph­ic area of Man­hat­tan. Now, like Twee­dle Dee and Twee­dle Dum or Flot­sam and Jet­sam, it has become a stu­pid short­hand for the hos­til­i­ty between the rich and con­nect­ed in the Finan­cial Ser­vices Sec­tor vs. Mid­dle Amer­i­ca. Like two squab­bling chil­dren, we are sup­posed to make sure both are tak­en care of, but not to let the oth­er get jeal­ous or sulky. I hope they break up the idiom before it becomes anoth­er ‘prim and prop­er’ or ‘tooth and nail’.

Bailout
‘Bailout’ orig­i­nal­ly meant ‘an act of loan­ing or giv­ing cap­i­tal to a fail­ing com­pa­ny in order to save it from bank­rupt­cy, insol­ven­cy, or total liq­ui­da­tion and ruin’. (Wikipedia). Now it’s almost become a joke phrase, mean­ing  Free Mon­ey.  Enough, already. It’s nev­er fun­ny.

…and the word or phrase that I’ve found the both the most ubiq­ui­tous and annoy­ing­ly impre­cise on the news these past months:

Trans­par­ent
I’ve heard this word used so many times, I’ve start­ed doing the old Pee-Wee’s Play­house shtick (well, not scream­ing real loud, but say­ing ‘ding!’) every time it is uttered.  I think it was to sug­gest that like a glass house, the oper­a­tions and deci­sions of an orga­ni­za­tion (such as the Fed­er­al Gov­ern­ment) were to be eas­i­ly appre­hend­ed by the pub­lic, typ­i­cal­ly by using a Web Site or some oth­er pub­licly acces­si­ble medi­um. Was­n’t that what C‑SPAN was sup­posed to do? (except of course, nobody but the wonks and fanat­ics both­ered to watch it). Again, like ‘Come Togeth­er’, Trans­par­ent is anoth­er word or phrase overused to the point of mean­ing­less­ness.

There are oth­ers, but these are the ones that come to mind today. I’m sure that in a few weeks I’ll be sick of ‘Tor­ture Memo’ and ‘Pan­dem­ic’, because they’ll have been made just as mean­ing­less through rep­e­ti­tion by that time.

9 Replies to “Coming Up for Air and Tired Old Phrases”

  1. I agree with your analy­sis, David.

    The MSM does­n’t appear capa­ble of orig­i­nal thought the past few years.

    Jon Stew­art of The Dai­ly Show points this out on a reg­u­lar basis with his video clips of dif­fer­ent reporters spout­ing the same mantra. His pro­duc­tion is my main source of news from down south as he cuts through the BS to get to the real sto­ry .…

  2. I think you should add ‘Open’ to the list of words used too often, or at least mis-applied too often. It’s a cousin to trans­par­ent most of the time, but has been seen in the wild on its own, and has cor­po­rate brands have been flirt­ing with it for a while.

  3. I should have men­tioned that we watch Jon Stew­art and the Dai­ly Show (the pre­vi­ous evening’s record­ing) on the TiVO imme­di­ate­ly after one of those 3 net­work news broad­casts.

    Todd, for me, ‘Open’ jumped the shark when they named a cred­it card after it (it was a ver­sion of the Amer­i­can Express Card).

    Talk of ‘Open’ as a buzz­word reminds me a of a sto­ry: A while back, I heard a sto­ry about some devel­op­er’s wife say­ing that she could­n’t under­stand why his friends and col­leagues were so fix­at­ed on skin dis­ease, because they kept talk­ing about ‘Open Sores’.

  4. Hi David. Dropped by from Tanya’s tonight, and I’m glad I did: you write from such a unique per­spec­tive, and as a born-and-bred — and proud — Cana­di­an, it’s refresh­ing to see my coun­try through your eyes.

    As a jour­nal­ist and ana­lyst who is often inter­viewed by MSM for com­men­tary on tech and busi­ness issues, I’m high­ly con­scious of today’s pen­chant to hang on to pet words and phras­es. I find the prac­tice lazy — if it isn’t some­thing I’d say around the kitchen table, it isn’t some­thing I’d want to say on-air.

    Look­ing for­ward to read­ing more of your work. Safe trav­el, btw!

  5. Thanks for the vis­it, Car­mi! Tanya’s Meet n’ Greet is always a great idea. She was, in fact, one of the first peo­ple to wel­come me online when we moved here, and I’ve always been touched by that.

    The oth­er day, I was (along with a bunch of oth­er folks) being ush­ered out of a class­room because the evening meet­ing I was attend­ing was over and they were begin­ning to close up. As the fel­low asked us to leave, I imme­di­ate­ly (and per­haps reflex­ive­ly) apol­o­gized. “No, no! You don’t have to apol­o­gize. That’s sooo Cana­di­an! We’re always apol­o­giz­ing for some­thing” he exclaimed. I broke into a smile and told him I was a recent immi­grant from the US, and was flat­tered to have been mis­tak­en for a native. “You’ve obvi­ous­ly become assim­i­lat­ed, then.” He joked.

    While it will prob­a­bly be a lit­tle while longer before I become a cit­i­zen (and my wife and I do plan to), it was nice to know that my tem­pera­ment was per­haps already some­what Cana­di­an.

    Thanks for the good wish­es, and the best of luck to you in your work as a jour­nal­ist and ana­lyst.

  6. Hey Van­cou­ver, ready for the big foot­ball game? Van­cou­ver @ Toron­to FC for the Cana­da Cup, this Wed. 8 EST at BMO. Rock on, White­caps! But I’m rootin’ for DeRo and TFC.

  7. Hey David… Good points… I agree. I’m hon­est­ly real­ly unhap­py with most of the com­men­tary from our provin­cial politi­cians dur­ing this cam­paign. It’s crap.

    And, don’t even get me start­ed on STV.

    Glad you are gain­ing read­er­ship with the Meet n’ Greet! Always great to have you a part of that fun.

    We need to catch up soon!

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