I’m suffering from severe sleep deprivation again, and it’s aggravated because after a night or two, the anxiety that causes insomnia is worsened by the fear you won’t get to sleep when you do wake up (anxiety is a prime cause of insomnia). So it goes, and I have no explanation for why this came on again. One thing insomnia teaches you—or at least taught me—is how great you feel after a good night’s rest. And when I get such a night lately, I work like a demon the next day to make up for lassitude.
Sadly, today is not one of those days. You’ll simply have to do with a small post on some of the words and phrases I dislike (yes, some are proper usages), and I can’t even guarantee that I’ve not posted some of these before. But here we go. As always, I’ll take my examples from HuffPost if I can: the examplar of “with it” usage.
1.) At first blush.
This phrase is way outmoded. It’s supposed to mean “at first glance” or the like, but if you’re a language originalist, the meaning arose this way (from The Free Dictionary):
Without prior knowledge; at first glance. The earliest use of this expression dates from the sixteenth century, when blush meant not a reddening of the cheeks with embarrassment but “glimpse.” Thus, “Able at the first blushe to discearne truth from falsehood,” wrote Philip Stubbes (The Anatomie of Abuses, 2:7) in 1583.
2.) “Dropped”, meaning “came out”, as in “Rihanna’s new album just dropped.”
This is purely “with-it” jargon, meant to show that you speak use the argot of the cool kids. But when I hear it I always envision a vinyl record falling on the ground and breaking. To me, using it means the speaker is unconsciously seeking approbation through conformity, like saying “fam” for “family.”
From HuffPost, a really cool headline because it mentions not only “drops”, but also Beyoncé (overrated, in my view) and, of course, Twitter. If it weren’t for Twitter, HuffPost would have nothing to write about.
3.) “Bright line” means a hard and fast line that divide things into (usually) two classes without confusion.
The OED’s first meaning, however, is in physics:
1. Physics and Astronomy. A line of relative brightness in the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation coming from a given source, due to the presence of a particular element or molecule in the source; = emission linen. at emission n. Additions.
The second meaning is the one we, unfortunately, have to hear:
2. Chiefly U.S. A clear distinction or boundary. Frequently in to draw a bright line and variants. Often used in legal contexts;
Now this is perfectly acceptable usage, but it grates on my ears, perhaps because I think that most people use it without knowing what it means. Further, the adjective “bright” doesn’t mean “hard and fast” or “uncrossable”, making the usage confusing, like “sea change”.
It’s even worse when it’s used below, for there is a mixed metaphor here. “Bright line” is a line of division between objects or ideas, while “line in the sand” means “a line that cannot be crossed.” You can make a sentence that uses this phrase properly, but HuffPost does not, for the headline below refers to Obama’s refusal to back off the Obamacare program. It has nothing to do with a “bright’ line. “Line in the sand” is sufficient.
Now I know that usage changes, and that these phrases aren’t improper usage. They’re here because they grate on me, and if someone uses them in conversation, the laws of physics may compel me to say something like “at first what?” So don’t bother to comment me that usage changes and the like.
And, of course, you’re invited to add your own choice of the phrases that burn your onions.