Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

I know that I am frequently guilty of using stale language. Most writers are.
Try polling any newsroom and ask how many reporters have used some form of this lead in covering an event: “Although it rained for three hours, that didn’t dampen the spirits of …”
Unfortunately, many us are guilty.
I regret to say that I am among them, although in my defense I’d like to add that I committed that particular journalistic sin before I knew better.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about phrases that have been so overused they probably need to be banished from everyday use.
Who died, you ask, and left me language czar? Well, no one. Still, I offer my list.
n Outside the box. We’re all exhorted these days to think outside the box, to be less stodgy, more creative and innovative.
Is there anyone left thinking inside the box, or coloring inside the lines, for that matter?
Is it possible the box exists for a reason? To provide structure, perhaps?
You wouldn’t want your cat to be thinking outside the box, would you?
n At the end of the day. People use this phrase to mean, “when all is said and done” or simply to put an end to a debate.
Every time I hear it, I have the urge to finish it with “…I put on my jammies.”
Recently, I heard a celebrity use this phrase at least five times in a three-minute interview. I could not focus on anything else he said because I just kept waiting for him to say it again.Perhaps we just need to freshen it up a little bit. Instead of “at the end of the day,” I’m going to start saying, “at high noon,” or “When the cows come back to the barn.” Just to change things up a bit.
n A lot on my plate. This was nominated as annoying by my LifeStyle colleague, Sarah, who says she’s tired of hearing it.
We both agree that it would be more fun to say, “I’ve got a lot of slop in my trough.” Or how about “I’ve got a lot of dirty laundry in my hamper”?
n I hear what you’re saying.
Everybody these days, even if they’ve never taken a single psychology class, is hip to counselor-speak. We’ve learned that if we say this little nugget, we can then blithely continue to do whatever it was we were doing.
“I hear what you’re saying, honey, that I need to lose weight. Could you pass the cheesecake?”
n Push the envelope. Can’t we just leave the poor envelope alone? Hasn’t it suffered enough?
The term was popularized by Tom Wolfe in “The Right Stuff” and doesn’t refer to a paper envelope but to a mathematical envelope, which is defined as “the locus of the ultimate intersections of consecutive curves.”
If you understand this, then by all means, use the phrase. If not, it’s probably best to leave it to the pilots.
n In harm’s way. Politicians seized onto this phrase at some point during the Iraq war and now seem incapable of using the more direct “in danger” or “at risk.” Why? No one knows.
n Give 110 percent. Used mostly by athletes and coaches.
This one offends my math sensibilities. If 100 percent is no longer maximum effort, then how do we know that 110 percent is maximum effort? Why not 112 percent? Or 300 percent? How about a kajillion percent, huh?You get my point.
Or maybe you just hear what I’m saying.
Contact Katie Scarvey at 704-797-4270 or kscarvey@ salisburypost.com.

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