I’ve been looking out for infelicitous phrases for a while, and I think my previous posts in this series have nearly exhausted my curmudgeonly policing of language. So in the past two months I have just two pharses. But they’re phrases that one hears a lot.
Now before you start telling me that “languages evolves,” don’t bother, for I’m highlighting phrases that bother me. You have such phrases. too (and eliciting them is what I intend to do), while other folks, being liberal minded, will say that it’s fine that phrases like “begs the question” can be used to mean “raises the question”. After all, languages changes. But this is not the post to point that out.
As usual, I take my examples from HuffPost, whose writers cannot write without Twitter and must lean on language that they think is trendy.
a.) “Deep dive”. This simply means a “close look”, or, if you want to be fancy, a “thorough analysis”. You will never hear me use this phrase, but HuffPost uses it often. Here’s but one example:
But it’s not just HuffPost! The New York Times uses it, too!
b.) “Perfect storm”. Now if you really want to sound au courant, just use this phrase to refer to the concatenation of factors that aggravate a situation. (Don’t get me started on “aggravate”!). The words were popularized by the eponymous 2000 disaster movie in which a boat and its crew are lost in a terrible storm. (The title came from the 1997 nonfiction book that inspired the film.) And, of course, HuffPost is aboard the linguistic Andrea Gale:
Note that in the headline above, “perfect storm” is in quotation marks, which indicates, perhaps, that the author knows he’s not writing something quite right. And he isn’t: for there are not multiple concatenating factors here that worsen a situation, but just a proposed sequence of violent episodes. Still, Mr. Mathias wants to sound cool, so he uses it anyway.
But the New York Times uses it as well. Here’s just one example:
At least they use it to refer to a series of concatenating factors that, together, could cause a big disaster. But a good writer doesn’t just lean on these trite phrases. Instead, as Orwell urged, try thinking up your own fresh metaphors or similes. For that is the mark of language that’s a pleasure to read.
Now you know the drill: cough up some words or phrases that annoy you. Curmudgeon time!