I believe all of these words or phrases are new, but since I don’t keep track I can’t be positive. At any rate, here are the latest four entries in my list of words and phrases I cannot stand. I offer these, of course, expecting readers to respond with their own linguistic bêtes noires. I will use examples from the HuffPost when I find them, as that’s the epicenter of despiséd words and phrases.
1.) “Perfect storm“. This comes from a “nor’easter” turned hurricane off New England in 1991; it killed 13 and caused millions of dollars in damage. The Perfect Storm resulted from a concatenation of unusual meteorological conditions, and now is used by chowderheads to mean “a bad situation caused by the co-occurrence of several contributing factors.” It’s perhaps better known as the title of a 2000 movie about the storm.
There are two problems here. The first is that the phrase is shopworn, a cliché that is no longer especially cute or especially evocative. Second, it’s often used just to mean “concatenation”, even of good things, as in this HuffPost article (click all screenshots to read):
When someone uses this phrase, I consider them grammatically lazy. Because it can mean either good or bad stuff, it’s lost its original meaning. And there are simpler and less cutesy phrases that can substitute, like “bad outcome of many causes” As Orwell said, avoid shopworn phrases.
2.) “Deep dive.” Doesn’t this sound erudite and official? Well, guess what, there’s nothing it says that the phrase “close look” or “closer look” doesn’t say as well. Those who use it”deep dive” are grammatical sheep, employing the phrase because everybody else is. Let’s take a “deep dive into empathy,” meaning “discussing empathy in detail”:
Don’t brand yourself a linguistic ovid by emitting this odious phrase.
3.) “Sammie” “or “sammy” for “sandwich”. This is one of those attempts to be cute that fails badly. In fact, used in the singular, you save no syllables by saying “sammie” for “sandwich.” Further, when I hear the word, I think of Jews, often nicknamed “Sammy” if their real name is Samuel. (I had an uncle Sammy.)
Here’s a comestible that’s been doubly debased by that name:
There are many people who don’t like their own names shortened this way. Matthew Cobb goes by “Matthew”, not “Matt” or “Matty”; Richard Dawkins is “Richard,” not “Dick.” We respect their choices. Please respect the tasty sandwich by not calling it a “sammie”! This is one of those words that I may even correct if I hear someone say it. For example, if someone says to me, “Would you like a sammie?”, I may reply politely, feigning ignorance, “Do you mean a sandwich?”
4.) “Firestorm”, meaning “big kerfuffle” or “brouhaha”. And we’re very close to #1 again, because many of the benighted use “firestorm” in the same way they’d use “perfect storm”.
In fact, a firestorm is what happens when fire and wind meet in a particularly dangerous conflagration. If it’s just a ruckus or kerfuffle or controversy, call it that. Don’t be like this HuffPost slacker, reaching for the nearest metaphor to describe Hillary’s emails:
Again, I’m with Orwell, who opposed stale metaphors, and this one has all the appeal of a week-old slice of Wonder Bread left out on the counter. Best to make up your own metaphors, if possible, and if not, well then avoid trying to be au courant.
Your turn. And get off my lawn!