Friday, July 1, 2011

The Good Typist’s Guide to Words and Phrases that Should be Retired Post-Haste

Someone e-mailed me this link recently, and I agreed universally with everything on the list. I liked it so much that I thought I would make up my own “Worn Out Words” list. I am all one for language remaining a fluid, ever-evolving entity, but there is a big difference between evolving and eroding—hence my personal favorite on The Guardian’s list--the complaint about “literally” being used metaphorically, to the point where no one knows what it means anymore. (And, no—doing so ironically doesn’t change my feelings about it.) I hereby present you with:

The Good Typist’s Guide to Words and Phrases that Should be Retired Post-Haste

“Old Soul” (as in, “My five-year old may be just a kid, but he is such an old soul!” Or, “You just can tell that Susan is an old soul.”)

Please, just shut it down with calling people “old souls.” It’s one of those compliments that is not a compliment to the person it’s directed at, but rather a pat on the back to the person delivering it. It’s a showy, public ode to your own “deep” insight and spiritual perception, but has nothing to do with the actual person it’s directed to, especially if you’ve just met them. This falls into the same category as re-defining your child’s behavior issues as a manifestation of their being a “crystalline” child and therefore too evolved to stop biting their classmates or tormenting the dog.

“It’s Simple Math” (bonus points if it’s followed condescendingly by the word, “people”)

This phrase is usually sputtered angrily by someone on-line in a comments section or forum, and is universally used to lay the down the law on a complex and nuanced situation or circumstance that can in no way be solved by a simple equation, much less a mathematical one. But Mr./Ms. Know-it-All has decided that the housing crisis or fighting in the middle East could be resolved if we all just understood, for once and for all, that a+b=c . It’s simple math, people. Huff, puff, cue righteous, finished-one-year-of-grad-school, inflated-intellectual-indignation here.

It’s very sad that these multitude of geniuses who have simple solutions to complex international issues choose to remain alone, huddled in front of their keyboards with their incisive brilliance, instead of helping all of us mouth-breathing stupid folk create order in the world with their easy-peasy math formulas. If only we hadn’t alienated them with our complicated thoughts!

“Bone” (Applicable for poets only)

This was a difficult one for me to put on this list. “Bone” is an all-around great word, but I have made a conscious effort to stop using it in my poems, because I’ve been noticing lately that it’s in almost every poem I read, including a good number of my own. It’s such a temptress, the word “bone”. It has a lovely, long, low sound, yet it evokes starkness and loss and hunger. It’s a great go-to. If I could use it at least six times in every poem, I would. But using it is starting to feel like a cop-out and a short-cut, instead of a well-thought-out choice. Look, fellow poets? We’ve all done it. There’s no judgment here. All I’m asking is that maybe we cut back a little on the weekdays, okay?

Side note: Using “bone” to describe activity that may occur between a man and a lady who are very much in love is still acceptable, as long as you are under 21 and in a fraternity.

“Happy Wife, Happy Life”

Ever since this obnoxious phrase was uttered by one of the especially terrifying Real Housewives, (the angry one with the glassy silver eyes), I’ve heard it way too many times. I find it demeaning to both women and men, and I wish it would go away. It implies total a lack of hope for any sort of equal partnership in a marriage. For men, it means that you’re not capable of, or responsible for, being emotionally intimate, as long as you can pay for your wife’s material indulgence. For women, it implies that you’re shallow, narcissistic, and don’t care about your husband’s happiness as long you can shop in the manner to which you feel entitled. And if you don’t, well by god, you’re willing to make things hell on earth for the man you love, and that’ll show him!

Personally, I think we all can do better. It’s simple math, people!

Bonus Phrase! “Um, Basically (brought to you by Mr. Typist, who won’t actually bother to read my blog, but is always willing to offer his opinion on what I am writing about.)

“Um, basically” is over-used and wrongly-used constantly. According to Mr. Typist, The only time that it is acceptable to use the word “basically” is when need you a really fast way to describe the process of nuclear fission: “Well, um basically--you get two groups of plutonium rods and push them together. That causes fission, which causes heat, which creates steam, which moves a turbine, which in turn generates electricity. Basically.”


It is still funny to say, “Let’s put a pin in that and circle back” ironically in a meeting, especially if only a few people realize you’re being ironic. It’s even funnier when combined with the gun-point/finger-snap combo gesture. Bonus points if you can slide "Just keep that one in your back pocket" at least once in the same meeting.

And, it’s still not okay to use the word, “ironical”.

--Kristen McHenry


Dale said...

Oh, shoot. No bones?

How about if I call them by name? Are femurs and ulnas and clavicles still on?

Isabel Doyle said...

hear hear

Kristen McHenry said...

Certainly, Dale! Specificity is good, right? I declare by the power vested in me as a barely visible poet, that that we stop using the word "bone" in every single gosh-darn poem. But I think you have a very elegant solution there.

My favorite-sounding bone is the Iliac Crest. It sounds like a lovely vacation spot on a sea cliff.

Frank Moraes said...

I LMAO regarding Mr. Typist's example. (Yes, that's a joke regarding LMAO--see the original article--but it did rather make me laugh.)

As for the use of "literally" to mean, "not literally": this is such an old complaint (e.g. S&W), especially among the Brits, that it makes me want to use it, even though I literally never do.

I totally agree about "old soul," but I'm not sure what to make of "it's simple math." It brings to mind the literally classic line, "The Calculus, and its [sic] simple math." What about, "It's simple fluid dynamics, people!"? Or the literally classic line, "The climate model and its [sic] simple fluid dynamics."

I spent four hours last night watching That Mitchell and Webb Look, so please forgive me. And by saying this, I only claim silliness and not necessarily humor as my own.

Your comment about "happy wife, happy life" made me feel even more out of touch than usual. Literally: thanks.