Malapropisms for a Monday Morning

A malapropism is the (usually) unintentionally humorous misuse or distortion of a word or phrase. It includes the use of a word which sounds somewhat like the one intended but very wrong in the context. This is one of the funniest vehicles to portray a character who is clueless or misinformed.

The terms malapropism and the earlier variant malaprop come from Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1775 play The Rivals, and in particular the character Mrs. Malaprop. Sheridan presumably named his character Mrs. Malaprop, who frequently misspoke (to great comic effect), in joking reference to the word malapropos.

The alternative term “Dogberryism” comes from the 1598 Shakespearean play Much Ado About Nothing in which the character Dogberry produces many malapropisms with humorous effect.

So the malapropism has been around for a few hundred years or so, and is still as populace as ever!

Here are some by famous (sort of) people:

  • “Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child.” (Dan Quayle)
  • “We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile.” (George W. Bush)
  • “It is beyond my apprehension.” (Danny Ozark, baseball team manager)
  • “This is unparalyzed in our state’s history.” (Gib Lewis, Texas Speaker of the House)
  • “Gentlemen, get this straight once and for all—the policeman isn’t there to create disorder, the policeman is there to preserve disorder.” (Richard Daley, former Chicago mayor)
  • “He was a man of great statue.” (Thomas Menino, Boston mayor)

Ringo Starr was famous for his malapropisms which became Beatle’s songs:

  • “Tomorrow never knows”
  • “It’s Been a Hard Days Night”
  • “Eight Days a Week”

 Archie Bunker was known for malapropisms of all kinds:

  • “A witness shall not bear falsies against thy neighbor.”
  • “The hookeries and massageries…the whole world is turning into a regular Sodom and Glocca Morra.”
  • “Off-the-docks Jews.”
  • “A woman doctor is only good for women’s problems…like your groinocology.”
  • “I ain’t a man of carnival instinctuals like you.”
  • “All girls go cockeyed during pooberescency.”
  • “A menstrual show.” (minstrel)
  • “Irene Lorenzo, Queen of the Women’s Lubrication Movement.”
  • “Buy one of them battery operated transvestite radios.”
  • “In her elastic stockings, next to her very close veins.”
  • “Last will and tentacle…”
  • “Patience is a virgin.”
  • “A Polack art exhibit!” (Jackson Pollock)
  • “As youse people say, Sh-boom.” (Shalom)
  • “A kuzeeknee.” (zucchini)
  • “In closing, I’d like to say Molotov!” (Mazel Tov)

The Sopranos:

  • “He was prostate with grief.” (Tony Soprano)
  • “Create a little dysentery among the ranks.” (Christopher Moltisanti) 
  • “He could technically not have penisary contact with her volvo.” (Tony Soprano to Jennifer Melfi)
  • “There’s no stigmata connected with going to a shrink.” (Carmine Lupertazzi Jr.) 

Ricky (Robb Wells) from Trailer Park Boys has many well known malapropisms, known by fans of the show as “Rickyisms”. Here are a few:

  • “Get two birds stoned at once.”
  • “Worst case ontario.”
  • “I’m not a pessimist, I’m an optometrist.”
  • “Survival of the fitness.”
  • “Passed with flying carpets.”
  • What comes around, is all around.”
  • “It’s clear to see who makes the pants here.”
  • “Tempus fuck it.” (Tempus fugit)
  • “It doesn’t take rocket appliances…”

Of unknown origin:

  • “He had to use a fire distinguisher.”
  • “Dad says the monster is just a pigment of my imagination.”
  • “That looks like an expensive pendulum around that man’s neck.”
  • “Good punctuation means not to be late.”
  • “He’s a wolf in cheap clothing.”
  • “Michelangelo painted the Sixteenth Chapel.”
  • “My sister has extra-century perception.”
  • “’Don’t’ is a contraption.”
  • “Flying saucers are just an optical conclusion.”
  • “A rolling stone gathers no moths.”
  • “Their father was some kind of civil serpent.”
  • “The flood damage was so bad they had to evaporate the city.”
  • “Well, that was a cliff-dweller!”

As coined by various members of my family:

  • “He must be rich, he lives in a high-rise condom.”
  • “She went to an ivy-covered college.”
  • “He plays the cello in the Philharmonica.”
  • “He has to have surgery on his coroded artery.”

Got a favorite malapropism to contribute?

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 Blog Updates, 1 Household Hint and A Song

(Originally I planned to include three updates to previous blogs. But then something really surprising happened, so it’s four blogs to update.)

Blog Update #1. Last week I blogged about the book on writing, Spunk & Bite by Arthur Plotinik and Mr. Plotnik himself commented on it! In that post, I had noted twelve words, the meanings of which I wasn’t sure, from The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. This week I am re-reading Freedom, Mr. Franzen’s most recent novel. Naturally, I’m finding more words that are I’m not familiar with, and since I am reading on my Kindle, I note it (handy Kindle feature) so I can look up those words later, and re-examine the sentences in which they appear.

As Mr. Plotnik says: “What if a word is likely to be outside the reader’s active or half-known vocabulary? Then even undefined it should lend some special aura, some majesty or exoticism, to the context.” So even if the reader couldn’t give the exact meaning of a word, the sentence in which it appears is crafted such that he still gets it.

This was a really big deal to me, that Mr. Plotnik commented on my post.

Blog update #2. I reviewed the excerpts from the finalists in the ABNA 2012 Contest in both the General and Young Adult Fiction categories. I did not predict correctly in the General category but in the Young Adult, I did.

A Beautiful Land by Alan Averill wins for General Fiction. It started out with a good hook but ended with a bad simile, the one about the Poe boarder.

But my pick for best Young Adult did win, On Little Wings by Regina Sirois. And the really exciting thing (to me) was that this author actually found the review and commented on my post. Think my post had anything to do with her winning? I doubt it, but I’m glad for her. It’s a good story.

Last year, I was 0-for-2. This year at least I got one right. Congratulations to both winners. What an accomplishment!

Blog update #3. Last October, I published The 24 Most Annoying Phrases for 2011 but I need to bump that up to 25. This phrase has been in use for a while, so it still applies to the year 2011.

Reach out!

This is how you make initial contact with someone in business-speak. You can reach out to someone in many ways: phone call, e-mail, instant message, or just bumping into the person who needs to be reached out to in the salad bar line at the cafeteria. Probably want to skip the rest room for any serious reaching out, but anywhere else is fine.

This phrase is so annoying that I made a solemn vow never to let these two words fall from my lips, consecutively, in the same sentence. Other assemblies of the two words in the same sentence are not considered offensive as long as there is at least one word between “reach” and “out”.

Alas. I was once upon a time on some sort of conference call and after much reaching out was being attempted by others, and before I had the proper amount of time to correctly formulate my thoughts, I heard the phrase “reach out” come out of my mouth. I had said it. Gagh! I have yet to forgive myself for it. I will go to my grave knowing that I once said “reach out” and meant it. (It’s perfectly okay to say it if you are being sarcastic or joking around, but if you say it and mean it, this is a vile happening indeed.)

One commenter on the post mentioned this phrase should probably be included in the list and I realized he was absolutely right, that this is one of the worst offenders and yet I had mistakenly omitted it. My apologies, Reach Out, for not including you, and kudos to you for being one of the most ridiculous, silly, meaningless buzzphrases of all!

Blog update #4. I once wrote a blog about marketing strategies that I didn’t think worked and one of them was the Jos A Banks “Buy 1 get 4 Free!” advertising methodology. They recently sent four coupons to my husband “in honor of his birthday”. How they got that information, I don’t know.  

Yippee! Each coupon was for $25 off on a $125 purchase. Okay, that’s nice. And there are four coupons remember. Or instead, says Jos, take $100 off a $500 purchase! But wait, that’s, uh, yeah, that’s 4 times $25 and 4 times $125… Got it! Obviously they think people can’t multiply. Come on, Jos, your customer base is buying cashmere coats and merino wool suits and silk ties. Which is a real good indicator that they aren’t Joe The Plumber and probably are educated and affluent and they can multiply a couple of numbers by 4. Geesh. It isn’t even insulting, it’s just stupid on their part.   

Household Hint. The e-cloth! Found in Real Simple magazine, this is a great way to clean up. These cloths contain millions of tiny fibers which supposedly grab on to all kinds of household gunk and remove it. You can clean anything with just water. Tile, showers, porcelain, glass and there’s even an eCloth for polishing your wine glasses. There are packs for the kitchen, for the bath, for the car, or “all purpose” eCloths. Dust cloths are used dry, all the others use plain water. No more chemicals. It’s fast and it works.

I have been trying to find a way to clean black granite for years – Voila! The eCloth was the solution. Highly recommended.

A great song. Coast by Eliza Gilkyson. It plays regularly on my Emmy Lou Harris Pandora station. Listen to how beautiful it is, how melancholy. Very moving.

12 Words I Had to Look Up While Reading The Corrections

This is not a book review, but I recently read (yet another) “How To Write Real Good” book by Arthur Plotnik. This one is called Spunk & Bite, a play on the title of another How To book called Elements of Style by Strunk and White, published in 1918’s, which makes it, well, to be kind, geriatric.

Elements of Style was a rather rigid set of rules about what not to do.  Do not affect a breezy manner. Do not inject opinion. Do not use foreign phrases. Do not prefer the offbeat rather than the standard. Do not, do not, do not.

One Do Not is to use words which will be unfamiliar to the vast majority of readers, those “big words” with more than two or three syllables and with which we may not have knowledge of their meanings. There is a lot of truth in this, that an author might not want to offput his audience by using a lot of verbiage which only demonstrates how well that author has mastered the English language. In other words, he’s a show off.

Jonathan Franzen contends that counter to the idea that “difficulty tends to signal excellence”, the writer must connect with readers in exchange for their commitment of time and attention to his work.

Yet Franzen himself does this very thing. Take his novel The Corrections, which I just finished reading for the second time. I found these examples (and more) of words that I either was not sure of or had no idea as to their meaning. (Italics indicates examples in The Corrections.)

 

Noblesse oblige – as if noblesse oblige. (I had a vague idea of what this meant, but wanted to bolster my confidence a little in order to use it without incurring smirks of condescension from others.)

A French phrase meaning “nobility obliges”. To imply that with wealth, power and prestige come responsibility. Sometimes used derisively, in condescension or hypocritical social responsibility. The term is sometimes applied, in American English especially, to suggest an obligation for the more fortunate to help the less fortunate.

“Certain persons in politics need not fear being cast into a perception of noblesse oblige.”

 

Misanthropy – misanthropy and sourness. (I am a little reluctant to admit I had to look up the work “misanthropy” which I felt I should already know, but wanted a better explanation.)

A hatred, dislike or distrust of humankind.

“Dude, whenever I go to a Wal-mart, I get this totally weird feeling of, like, misanthropy.”

 

Intransigently – folded her arms intransigently.

In a manner that is stern and indicates refusal to agree or compromise, inflexible.

“Certain members of the House of Representatives are motivated to behave intransigently.”

 

Invidious – he could already hear her invidious descants on the topic of

Intension to create ill will or give offense; hateful. Offensively or unfairly discriminating or injurious. Tending to cause animosity, resentment or envy.

“Chill, woman.  Everyone has to go through the body scan so no need to be overly invidious here.”

 

Pullulating  – he considered waiting for a less populated [elevator] car, a ride less pullulating with mediocrity and body smells.

To breed, produce, increase rapidly, swarm or teem.

“Facebook is no longer a social network considered desirable by the Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers since it is pullulating with old people.”

 

Reverb – absolutely no reverb on a full elevator.

Rebound. If there is no reverb, there is nowhere to go, no escape, trapped, doomed, claustrophobized.

“Wow, I thought I was toast. Came down with a really bad case of The Plague, but I did a complete reverb.”

 

Riparian – with their damp hair they looked riparian.

Situated or dwelling on the bank of a river or other body of water.

“That shit we used to put on our hair in the sixties? That looked riparian and now they’re doing it again.”

 

Deliquescence – slushy ferric salts succumbing to their own deliquescence. (This refers to a man’s hobby, an ill-maintained basement laboratory.)

To become liquid by absorbing moisture from the air, to melt away.

I tried but I cannot think of a sentence which takes advantage of this word.

 

Diurnality – diurnality yielded to a raw continuum of hours.

Behavior, plant or animal, characterized by activity during the day and sleeping at night.

“Man, my diurnality is seriously messed up since I’ve become a narcoleptic.”

 

Hectoring – her e-mails had been hectoring.

To act in a blustering, domineering or bullying manner.

“So, I’m like, whatever, and she sighs about a million times and I’m like, you are so totally hectoring me here!”

 

Plangent – her voice was plangent.

A loud, deep sound, resonant, mournful.

“Dude, what’s with the plangent tone? You sound like such a loser.”

 

Semaphoring – inmates semaphoring, waving their arms like traffic cops.

A system of signaling, usually with special flags held in each hand and various positions of the arms indicate specific letters or numbers.

“The Kardashian Mom is on Oprah and your semaphoring is blocking my view.”

 

I recommend Spunk & Bite. It is fun to read, the writing fresh and the ideas very usable. It is one of the best I’ve read. You can find it here.

35 Aphorisms Written by a Cool French Guy

Recently, I was involved in a discussion about aphorisms, which, simply put, is a saying expressing a belief, usually true. Think, quote of the day.

There are millions of recorded aphorisms, and web sites devoted to them, one in particular I found helpful, in that the aphorisms were categorized based on love, friendship, life, etc. I chose love, thinking, maybe I could blog something about my Perigee Moon character and his rather rocky road to a lasting and fulfilling relationship. I discovered a majority of the aphorisms I particularly liked were authored by a French gent who lived in the sixteen hundreds, so I decided to research him and discuss his aphorisms exclusively.

His name is François de la Rochefoucauld and he was considered the greatest maxim writer of France, a maxim being “a compact expression of a general truth or rule of conduct.”  I believe roughly, maxim = aphorism, or at least they are enough alike that M. de la Rochefoucauld’s maxims appear in nearly every list of popular aphorisms.

Here is a picture of Francois:

Notwithstanding the big hair, he is a comely fellow. Sometimes it’s hard to tell, with the strange getups those dudes used to wear, and the wigs, facial hair, and the rather petulant expressions they all seem to portray which makes me surmise things that aren’t necessarily true.

He had an unremarkable military career of twenty years, and ended up in some court or another, one of those places where they ate, drank and entertained themselves until they were so bored they created some scandal just to relieve the tedium. He was married quite young, to Andree de Vivonne (“who seemed to be an affectionate wife, while not a breath of scandal touched her”) and yet he had relationships with a couple of other ladies as well, so there might have been a bit of dalliance going on there, which was okay for the Ms but not the Mmes. Oh, wasn’t that always the way?

Given the subject of some of his most interesting maxims, I believe it safe to suppose M. de la Rochefoucauld might have been enjoying some strange on the side. But who knows? I could be wrong about it, and thankfully he can’t sue me for slander or defamation of character since he’s been dead for 400 years. Speaking of 400 years, it’s interesting that these aphorisms (or maxims), are as appropriate today as they were then.

Here are 20 of my favorites with snarky comments:

  1. “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” We’re watching you, Kim Jong-um, Mr. Current-Supreme-Leader.
  2. “How can we expect another to keep our secret if we cannot keep it ourselves.” You should have read this, Anthony Weiner, before tweeting those jockey shorts pics.
  3. “We hardly find any persons of good sense save those who agree with us.” Just ask a conservative Republican or a liberal Democrat. It’s the one thing upon which they can both agree.
  4. “A refusal of praise is a desire to be praised twice.”  You’re pretty. My nose is too big. You’re beautiful. My mouth is too small. You’re exquisite. I’m too fat. Okay, you’re right. I guess you’re actually pretty nasty.
  5. “It is the prerogative of great men only to have great defects.” William Jefferson Clinton.
  6. “It is easier to appear worthy of a position one does not hold, than of the office which one fills.” Ohio Governor John Kasich.
  7. “Preserving the health by too strict a regimen is a worrisome malady.” It’s the old joke, where you give up things that are fun to do, and take up things that are not fun to do, and you may not live longer but it will seem like longer. A lot longer.
  8. “Attention to health is life’s greatest hindrance.” Ask any hypochondriac.
  9. “We do not despise all those who have vices, but we despise all those who have not a single virtue.” Rush Limbaugh. Congratulations for having no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
  10. “The greatest miracle of love is the cure of coquetry.” As soon as a couple shares a laundry basket and a bathroom, coquetry is pretty much history, and in its place the willingness to discuss just about anything.
  11. “One may outwit another, but not all the others.” Is this the same as “fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again. “ George W. Bush.
  12. “Some people resemble ballads which are only sung for a certain time.” Remember the Macarena? Think about that, Kim (Kardashian).  
  13. “The world rewards the appearance of merit oftener than merit itself.” Donald Trump comes to mind.
  14. “Those who occupy their minds with small matters, generally become incapable of greatness.” See, Jerry Falwell? Everyone has forgotten about you.
  15. “We all have strength enough to endure the misfortune of others.” We should all think of this one, each time we watch a news report about those affected by natural disasters.
  16. “True love is like ghosts, which everyone talks about but few have seen.” That’s because you can’t find true love on Match.com. The odds are as good as being struck by lightning and winning the lottery – in the same day.
  17. “Those who apply themselves too much to little things often become incapable of great ones.” Any person who participates in any capacity to the production of Dancing With the Stars, and this goes double for you, Bruno.
  18. “There are foolish people who recognize their foolishness and use it skillfully.” Paris Hilton.
  19. “The love of justice is simply in the majority of men the fear of suffering injustice.” The NRA.
  20. “Mediocre minds usually dismiss anything which reaches beyond their own understanding.” Fox News.

My hope is not to offend any readers; I have probably shown my true colors here, which is a shade of blue-purple. I suspect most are left-leaners anyway, or you wouldn’t have been hanging out here for this long. Am I right?

The following of M. de la Rochefoucauld’s maxims are too insightful to deface with jokes, or references to bad people. I like these. They were written 400 years ago and are as true today as they were then.

  1. “It is a kind of happiness to know how unhappy we must be.”
  2. “In their first passion, women love their lovers; in all the others, they love love.”
  3. “In jealousy there is more of self-love than love.”
  4. “One is never so happy or so unhappy as one fancies.”
  5. “Neither the sun nor death can be looked at steadily.”
  6.  “Good advice is something a man gives when he is too old to set a bad example.”
  7. “Everyone blames his memory; no one blames his judgment.”
  8. “There are very few people who are not ashamed of having been in love when they no longer love each other.”
  9. “It is almost always a fault of one who loves not to realize when he ceases to be loved.”
  10. “When a man is in love, he doubts, very often, what he most firmly believes.”
  11. “There is only one kind of love, but there are a thousand imitations.”
  12. “If we resist our passions it is more from their weakness than from our strength.”
  13. “We are more interested in making others believe we are happy than in trying to be happy ourselves.”
  14. “Absence diminishes little passions and increases great ones, as the wind extinguishes candles and fans a fire.”
  15. “When a man must force himself to be faithful in his love, this is hardly better than unfaithfulness.”

There are many more of M. de la Rochfoucauld’s aphorisms (maxims), this is a mere sampling. They aren’t platitudes and they aren’t dark sayings. They are packed full of meaning, no wasted words, yet with no loss of substance. I detect some melancholy poetry as well. He was an experienced writer and a deep thinker with a devotion to the romance of chivalry. Each one could be the subject of an entire essay.

20 Examples of Great Euphemisms

A euphemism is “the substitution of a mild, indirect or vague term for one considered to be harsh, blunt, or offensive”. Sometimes called doublespeak, a euphemism is a word or phrase which pretends to communicate but doesn’t. It makes the bad seem good, the negative seem positive, the unnatural seem natural, the unpleasant seem attractive, or at least tolerable. It is language which avoids, shifts or denies responsibility. It conceals or prevents thought.

Doublespeak was one of the central themes of George Orwell’s famous novel, 1984, although he didn’t use that term, instead he used the terms “doublethink” and “newspeak”.

Here are some particularly amusing examples, except where downright offensive.

1. If you are offered a career change or an early retirement opportunity, a career or employee transition, or you are being involuntarily separated, or if personnel is being realigned or there is a surplus reduction in personnel, or the staff is being re-engineered or right sized, or if there is a workforce imbalance correction then: You’re fired!

(Cartoon by Kipper Williams)

2. You aren’t poor, you are economically disadvantaged.

3. You aren’t broke, you have temporary negative cash flow.

4. You do not live in a slum but in substandard housing, or in an economically depressed neighborhood, or culturally deprived environment.

5. If you are managing company stakeholders, that means you are lobbying, which is really the same as bribing.

6. When you get an unwanted phone call just as you are sitting down to dinner from a representative of the Republican party (and you are a Democrat) or vice versa, this is called a courtesy call. Only courtesy has nothing to do with it, it’s just freaking annoying.

7. In light of the recent demise of Osama bin Laden, several politicians have stressed that it was the enhanced interrogation methods which caused the informants to squeal and give up the nickname of the courier, which we then followed around until he led us to the compound of OBL. This is one of my personal favorites, not the process it refers to of course, but the absolute ludicrousness of this particular phrase. The ultimate of euphemism. It’s torture, folks! Torture, and you can’t sugarcoat it, and you can’t make it sound nice. Torture.

8. Since we’ve been involved in two wars for ten years, stuff happens, stuff that we don’t want to happen. When you come into a country and break it, for a variety of good reasons, you might cause some collateral damage, which are really deaths of civilians. Women and children and old people. Accidental death. Accidental – but you can’t quite escape the “death” part.

9. When a geographical area is neutralized or depopulated that means the CIA killed people, just because.


10. On a lighter note, intelligent ventilation points, when speaking of a garment are – armholes!

11. You’re not buying a used car, you are purchasing a pre-enjoyed or pre-loved vehicle.

12. If you are a bank, bad, crappy debts are non- or under-performing assets.

13. Ah, genuine imitation leather. That new car smell. But really, it’s cheesy vinyl. 100% virgin cheesy vinyl.

14. If you want a raise and you deserve a raise, but there’s no money or the company just doesn’t want to do it, you might get an uptitle instead, which is a fancy name for what you already are. Uptitles are fancy job names given in lieu of monetary compensation. An example: Assistant Supervisor of Things Beginning with the Letter “A”.

15. Watch out if the company you work for says it is levering up, it means they are spending money they don’t have. See “uptitle” above.

16. If you say you committed terminological inexactitude, or you relayed misinformation, misspoke or were economical with the truth, well that means you just told a whopper. A bold-faced lie.

17. If you are a politician in Arizona, people who run across the border are illegal aliens, unless they are employing these same people to tend to their children or flower gardens, then they are known as undocumented workers.

18. We consume adult beverages which are booze drinks, beer and wine and hard stuff. Adults also drink things like water, coffee and tea but these aren’t called adult beverages, just beverages. There’s adult entertainment too, and we know what that means. So attaching the adjective “adult” to a noun, must mean the same as “sleazy” or “bad for you”.

19. If you get rejected for a job because you are partially proficient, that means you are just plain unqualified. This happens a lot to the middle class, as they attempt to find employment in other areas because the areas in which they used to work no longer exist. See my prior post about corporate buzzwords for the explanation of Outsourcing. But don’t despair because you are probably totally proficient to be a greeter at Wal-Mart.

20. Here’s the one that really hurts. When you’re called postmenopausal, or mature, or senior – that means you’re old.

What is your favorite euphemism?

The 24 Most Annoying Phrases For 2011

The following is a list of the Most Annoying Words or Phrases of 2011 (according to me). This has been done many times, just Google “most annoying phrases 2011” to get the complete list of blogs and websites that have contributed to outing the phrases that make your teeth hurt.

I know. 2011 isn’t over yet, but I doubt much will change in the next three months.

The list is in descending order, like David Letterman’s Ten Reasons list, with the least offensive at the top.

  • Whatever – I think this is funny if said with the proper amount of disdain and sarcasm. But what is annoying is the Valley Girl version: what-EV-errr. That gets my eyes a-rolling.
  • I’m just sayin’ – This is also funny, though I don’t know why. We say it all the time around my house, and I doubt it will ever really annoy me enough to generate even a blink, let alone an eye roll. When someone tells you, for instance, that they think what you write is “vomit on the page”, but adds, “I’m just sayin’”, that somehow makes it better.
  • Not so much – This one isn’t too bad either, I’ve been known to say it myself, but now that it is on The List, I’m refraining from that. You lovin’ bowling? Not so much.
  • That’s a good question – This is said when the person to whom the question was directed, doesn’t know the answer. And the problem is, that person is supposed to know the answer. So he is in danger of seeming unprepared, but if he says “That’s a good question”, it makes the asker feel smart, and so takes the pressure off the answerer, who is probably not smart, or he’d have been better prepared.
  • No doubt – A meaningless phrase which is usually said when the person to whom the question or request or general statement is directed wants to get you out of his face. Example: “I would like you to leave me alone.” “No doubt.” What? Does that mean you will, in fact, leave me alone?
  • Don’t get me wrong – If you are requesting that I not get you wrong, then maybe you should rephrase whatever trivial blathering you are currently attempting, so there is no question as to your real meaning. You might be the dumass here.
  • Just kidding – Usually not. This is said after a cruel, or “honest” appraisal is made, and then the speaker feels guilty, as if he needs to tone it down some. Such as, “That color is awful on you. Just kidding.”
  • 110% – Look. There is no such thing as 110%. I know, when you are sucking up to the boss, it is tempting to say “I agree with you 110%” but you can, in fact, only agree with someone 100%. I believe 110% might belong in the Theory of Everything category, which mere mortals can’t understand anyway. And can you ever agree with someone 50%? Isn’t it a matter of I do, or I don’t?
  • Do you know what I mean? – Well, if you could speak the English language without saying “um” and/or “like” fifty times in one sentence, I might get your drift. But I got lost in a sea of babblespeak five minutes ago.
  • Shit happens – I never understood this one. Is this literal? Or does it mean, bad things happen? Whichever the case, I guess it’s an understatement.
  • I’ll be honest with you – You have been lying to me all along, but NOW you’re going to finally start being honest? Aren’t we lucky!
  • Going forward – Is there a better way to go? Backward? That sounds difficult.
  • So to speak – This generates a three quarter eye roll. I confess to not knowing why anyone would say this.
  • If you will – I won’t! Won’t! So don’t ask me if I will, because, no, I am not going to. This is said by pompous political pundits a lot. And the answer is always the same. No. We’re getting to the full eye roll section here.
  • Let’s not go there – Where are we not going? This is said in business settings, when someone has the audacity to bring up a negative reality that does not fit in with the solution that is currently being proposed. Let’s ignore it.
  • Gottcha – Gen X speak. Ah. Before, I was speaking a foreign language that you did not understand, but now you comprehend what I am trying to tell you.
  • Actually – Filler word that is meaningless. For some reason, this seems to be said by children a lot. “Actually, I have to go to the bathroom.” It’s kind of like “like”, said unconsciously without actually thinking about it. Oops.
  • It is what it is – Okay. “It is” equals “it is”. Can “It is” not equal “it is”? How can it not be what it is? This used to be funny, sort of a business speak shrug, as in, “Yeah, it sucks but we can’t do anything about it”.
  • Amazing / awesome – Getting to serious eye roll territory. Watch one of those awful Entertainment Tonight shows, or the Grammys, or the Oscars and try to count the number of times you hear the word “amazing”. It has no meaning, it doesn’t answer any questions. How do you feel about winning this here Grammy? It’s amazing. Oh, I see.
  • Have a nice day/afternoon/evening/weekend – I don’t know you, so please do not presume to tell me what kind of day to have. If I want to have a crappy day, I’ll have it. How many times have you been in a Target checkout line and the surly clerk tells you to “have a nice day”. No eye contact, no smile. It’s a matter of, I have to say this, according to Cashier Rule #3 but get out of here, it’s time for my break. And another thing, I have been told when I pay for lunch to “have a nice evening”. Wait a minute. Aren’t you getting ahead of yourself? What about my afternoon? Don’t you care what kind of afternoon I have? How could you be so indifferent to me and what kind of afternoon I have, and only care about my evening? That’s just cold.
  • My bad! – Groan. Another Gen X saying. It’s your fault! Because of you, this thing/project/whatever is hopelessly screwed up. But saying “My bad” somehow acknowledges it without taking responsibility for it.
  • At the end of the day – I first heard this five years ago and it is still being said. Again, the counting thing. I have been in business meetings where it was said upwards of twenty times by the same person. Yes, it was kind of cute when the first person said it, but do you know how dumb it sounds to say it before every sentence? At the end of the day, we want to go forward with this. Puh-lease.
  • That being said, having said that – Someone, please tell me what the purpose of saying this could possibly be. People used to say “it goes without saying”. Which is confusing enough. So before you didn’t have to say it, now you have to tell someone that it has been said. What?
  • LOL – Number One, all time triple eye-roller. This is never spoken, but appears in text messages and emails. I text, “I am stuck in traffic, and I’m running out of gas, and there’s a guy behind me with a gun rack who keeps shaking his fist and ramming my bumper and I have to pee” and the response is “LOL”. People who respond with the lone LOL, should be sent to a Happy Place where they can’t hurt anyone.

Please feel free to vent! What’s your favorite, or maybe that’s least favorite, Most Annoying Phrase?

A Nicer Word for Euphemism

A euphemism is “the substitution of a mild, indirect or vague term for one considered to be harsh, blunt, or offensive”. Sometimes called doublespeak, a euphemism is a word or phrase which pretends to communicate but doesn’t. It makes the bad seem good, the negative seem positive, the unnatural seem natural, the unpleasant seem attractive, or at least tolerable. It is language which avoids, shifts or denies responsibility. It conceals or prevents thought.

Doublespeak was one of the central themes of George Orwell’s famous novel, 1984, although he didn’t use that term, instead he used the terms “doublethink” and “newspeak”.

Here are some particularly amusing examples, except where downright offensive.

If you are offered a career change or an early retirement opportunity, a career or employee transition, or you are being involuntarily separated, or if personnel is being realigned or there is a surplus reduction in personnel, or the staff is being re-engineered or right sized, or if there is a workforce imbalance correction then: You’re fired!

(Cartoon by Kipper Williams)

You aren’t poor, you are economically disadvantaged.

You aren’t broke, you have temporary negative cash flow.

You do not live in a slum but you might live in substandard housing, or in an economically depressed neighborhood, or culturally-deprived environment.

If you are managing company stakeholders, that means you are lobbying, which is really the same as bribing.

When you get an unwanted phone call just as you are sitting down to dinner from a representative of the Republican party (and you are a Democrat) or vice versa, this is called a Courtesy Call. Only courtesy has nothing to do with it, it’s just freaking annoying.

In light of the recent demise of Osama bin Laden, several politicians have stressed that it was the Enhanced Interrogation Methods which caused the informants to squeal and give up the nickname of the courier, which we then followed around until he led us to the compound of OBL. This is one of my personal favorites, not the process it refers to of course, but the absolute ludicrousness of this particular phrase. The ultimate of euphemism. It’s torture, folks! Torture, and you can’t sugarcoat it, and you can’t make it sound nice. Torture.

Since we’ve been involved in two wars for ten years, stuff happens, stuff that we don’t want to happen. When you come into a country and break it, for a variety of good reasons, you might cause some collateral damage, which are really deaths of civilians. Women and children and old people. Accidental death. Accidental – but you can’t quite escape the “death” part.

When a geographical area is neutralized or depopulated that means the CIA killed people, just because.

On a lighter note, intelligent ventilation points, when speaking of a garment are – armholes!

You’re not buying a used car, you are purchasing a pre-enjoyed or pre-loved vehicle.

If you are a bank, bad, crappy debts are non- or under-performing assets.

Ah, genuine imitation leather. That new car smell. But really, it’s cheesy vinyl. 100% virgin cheesy vinyl.

If you want a raise and you deserve a raise, but there’s no money or the company just doesn’t want to do it, you might get an uptitle instead, which is a fancy name for what you already are. Uptitles are fancy job names given in lieu of monetary compensation. An example: Assistant Supervisor of Things Beginning with the Letter “A”.

Watch out if the company you work for says it is levering up, it means they are spending money they don’t have. See “uptitle” above.

If you say you committed terminological inexactitude, or you relayed misinformation, misspoke or were economical with the truth, well that means you just told a whopper. A bold-faced lie.

If you are a politician in Arizona, people who run across the border are illegal aliens, unless they are employing these same people to tend to their children or flower gardens, then they are known as undocumented workers.

We consume adult beverages which are booze drinks, beer and wine and hard stuff. Adults also drink things like water, coffee and tea but these aren’t called adult beverages, just beverages. There’s adult entertainment too, and we know what that means. So attaching the adjective “adult” to a noun, must mean the same as “sleazy” or “bad for you”.

If you get rejected for a job because you are partially proficient, that means you are just plain unqualified. This happens a lot to the middle class, as they attempt to find employment in other areas because the areas in which they used to work no longer exist. See my prior post about corporate buzzwords for the explanation of Outsourcing. But don’t despair because you are probably totally proficient to be a greeter at Wal-Mart.

Here’s the one that really hurts. When you’re called postmenopausal, or mature, or senior – that means you’re old.

What is your favorite euphemism?

My Top 40 Favorite Corporate Buzzwords

There are so many great, fun buzzwords, it’s hard to pick my top 40. I’m interested in corporate nonsense, the character in my next book, February Moon, will be too. He’s an “I’ve seen it all” kind of guy, who isn’t impressed with EYMs any longer (Earnest Young Men. You know the type, the twenty somethings who regularly congratulate others on what a “good job” they did doing whatever it is they do.)

Our hero may have been an EYM in the past but he certainly isn’t any longer, having age and experience in his background. And in fact, he and his likewise jaded friend coin their own phrase to see how it takes off and a funny meeting ensues as they discuss “storming the glass castle”, which is met with blank stares by the other meeting-goers who know they should know what storming the glass castle means, but don’t.

Here’s my Top 40 and their definitions (according to me):

1. At the end of the day – The realization that one can plan and plot, figure and reconfigure, all day long, but nothing will change.

2. Bandwidth – As in, do we have enough bandwidth to accomplish this? Or, how many people can we force to work overtime to get it done?

3. Bio break – Visiting the restroom.

4. Blue sky thinking – (See thinking “outside the box”.) The person who comes up with the most bizarre solution wins.

5. Bobbleheading – Mass nods, agreement with the boss, even though he may have his head up somewhere dark.

6. Challenges – Things we suck at.

7. Change management – Forcing objectionable ideas down the throats of customers / employees without them noticing.

8. Come up with an action plan – A “to do” list, but action plan sounds a lot more businesslike and so much cooler.

9. Customer-centric – The pretense that everything we do is with the customer in mind, usually said to the customer.

10. Deliverables – Things that need to get done and stuff that needs to happen, which may or may not, get done or happen.

11. Drink the Kool-Aid – Hold your nose and suck it up until you can collect early Social Security.

12. Empowering our employees – Getting them to work on the weekend.

13. Goal-oriented – Being committed to a future event or future competence, as in “my goal is to end world hunger” or “my goal is to win the lottery” or “my goal is to make it to the weekend”.

14. Going forward – The act of putting bad news behind you so that no one talks about it anymore. Politicians like to use this phrase after they’ve been seen shirtless on YouTube and corporations like BP use it so people will stop talking about how they have totally screwed up our environment and instead start talking about how the price of their stock has rebounded.

15. It’s a new headwind for us – We suck at this.

16. Knowledge transfer – What you do when someone in India is taking your job.

17. Lessons learned – All the stuff that went horribly wrong, and how to keep it from happening again, which of course you can’t because next time it will be new stuff that goes horribly wrong.

18. Leveraging – Stealing someone else’s ideas or expertise, usually without his or her knowledge and in the unlikely event that it is with his or her knowledge, is documented in the form of an email to that person alone where you acknowledge the leveraging but don’t copy anyone else. You rely on the person’s unwillingness to forward the email at the risk of drawing attention to himself and not appearing to be a “team player”.

19. Low-hanging fruit – Stuff that is really easy to do, which has a lot of eye appeal – usually things like papers flying into folders, spinning icons, and mouseovers with a hint of humor.

20. Managing expectations – Being very careful to point out what the project won’t do, so, by contrast, what it will do, will seem awesome and like, totally amazing.

21. Moving the goal posts – Changing the rules midstream as soon as you know that the project is doomed to failure. See “Managing Expectations”.

22. Multi-tasking – Able to walk and chew gum, simultaneously, or able to debug a Java class while listening to Foo Fighters.

23. Next steps – What you propose when your one-hour meeting is up and nothing has been decided.

24. Offline – As in “let’s take that offline”, which means, shut up and I’ll call you later. Only I won’t.

25. On the same page – Oh, groan. Does anyone still say this? It was cute the first time someone thought it up, but now saying it risks corporate shunning. It means having the same tired, slanted, prejudicial corporate mindset as everyone else.

26. Open door policy – The pretense that someone, usually a manager, will actually listen to someone who reports to him. It sounds good in an email, but is a dangerous activity to actually attempt.

27. Think outside the box – Having an original idea, as if anyone could in corporate America. Figuring out new ways to do something, which accomplishes the same old results. This one too, is pretty tired and worn out, so use it with caution.

28. Outsourcing – Elimination of the American middle class.

29. Ownership – Shifting responsibility to someone else so you don’t have to be bothered with supporting it, as, “I’m giving you ownership of our bankrupt client backlist”.

30. Paradigm shift – A new way of thinking about an old, tired subject. Commonly used by dumb people who want to sound smart (note the silent “g”).

31. Proactive – The main ingredient in buzzword soup. A high-scoring word that no resume or project proposal is complete without, at least once in every paragraph. The opposite of reactive, which is bad. Basically, it means, after the meeting, I will get my email out first because I type faster than you, thus, making me “proactive”.

32. Repurposing – The after-the-fact redefinition of the goal of a process or project to comply with what has already been developed, not necessarily what anyone actually wanted.

33. Seamless – The act of incorporating change that is invisible to the naked eye, unnoticeable, a “seamless” transition, until 2:00 AM when all hell breaks loose.

34. Skills transfer – (See outsourcing, above.) When what you do well is given to someone else to do, and you are given things to do that you do, not well.

35. Singing from the same songsheet – Being able to mindlessly reiterate all corporate buzzwords and bs, as if you had thought of it yourself.

36. Ten-thousand foot view – The big picture, i.e., having a lot of grand ideas with no clue as to how to get any of them to work.

37. Touch base – Sending a CYA email to someone to let them know that you haven’t yet done anything, and, in fact, have no intention of doing anything, about a problem to which there is no solution.

38. Transitioning – (See outsourcing, above.) The opposite of a promotion, a lateral move, which is on a gradual, slight decline, usually resulting in the elimination of bonuses or salary increases. As in, “I’m transitioning from Corporate to the Mayville branch.”

39. Win-win – Management wins, customers and employees lose.

40. Wish-list – A well-organized spreadsheet of nice-to-have items, usually prepared by clients, that would increase productivity and improve accuracy, and which they have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever getting.

It is important to note, that “buzzword” is in itself a buzzword, making it iterative and circular. And totally confusing.

Please comment with your favorite buzzword!

The Oxford English Dictionary – New Words

This week, at least two new Texting 2.0 words have been added to the Oxford English Dictionary. OMG and LOL for sure, and I’ve also heard FYI and ROFL have been added, but these may be merely nasty rumors.

“FYI” is a corporate abbreviated expression, widely used among sayers of office-speak who inhabit fabric-lined cubicles, in emails and other corporate communication software, to indicate that, really, I don’t care if you know this or not, but am passing it on, just so someone else knows it and I am not the only one who will be responsible for knowing it while not doing anything about it. I am not entirely sure if this term has actually been added to the dictionary, but have read tweets to that effect.

I follow Roger Ebert, who is wise and witty and a wonderful writer, and he said ROFL has also been added, but does anyone really use that term anymore? Isn’t that the equivalent of saying “Aw, shucks”? ROFL was definitely a 90’s term. I can’t imagine that it would have been added, no self-respecting texter would use ROFL any longer. I think we have to take that one with a grain or two.

When I see OMG, I have visions of “tweens” as they expound on any number of events, which could be (a) exciting, (b) surprising, (c) horrifying, or (d) just really dumb. I confess to using it a couple of times, but it’s actually, pretty stupid. People who don’t swear have trouble with this one, and they always have to make sure you know that they would never say what OMG stands for, so they amend it to be OMGosh, which is, well, maybe it would have been a little better not to have gone there.

Which brings me to LOL. I don’t say this, I will never say this. (I am saying it here of course, but only as a means to dis it.) It is overused and meaningless. I don’t know why, but it makes me a little nuts when I see it.

In recent years, I joined a writers’ group. As a member of this group, I was invited to join the email chain, which I thought would be filled with wonderful, thought-provoking exchanges, good ideas, and feedback, and tidbits of writerly interest. But what I found was that the email chain became more personal than helpful, and people would send an email to the chain-members asking for prayers for the family dog, who was having surgery, or the neighbor, whose mother had been taken to the hospital for observation, or the husband, who had gastric distress. Yes, alas, the email chain lost it’s reason for being, became a repository for idle gossip, and whenever someone shared a funny story, inevitably, at least one recipient would reply with the lone “LOL”.

Really? Think of all the jammed up cyberspace traffic and you’ve just added to it by sending these meaningless three characters to all the people on the email chain. And think of the frustration of people, who have to see it and hit the delete key (yet again) because some people insist on cluttering up inboxes in such a manner. The moral of this story is, they forgot why they were a group in the first place. What started out as a writers’ group ended up as a repository for trading stories about funny pet tricks. And what is the logical response to that? LOL, of course.

And really, it’s a bunch of writers. I would think they would be able to come up with something more original than that.

Cliches – Four Rules About Them

A cliché is like a bad apple.

How can an author tell if his work is cliché-ridden, with the obvious phrases and also the lesser known culprits? There are a number of websites that list them, I liked this one.

In the following paragraph, I have included several of the more blatant offenders, and some others maybe a bit more obscure, but just as annoying.

For all intents and purposes, clichés should be avoided at all cost. Your readers weren’t born yesterday and by and large, most readers know the score, and clichés won’t pass the sniff test. It’s the same old, same old. Been there, done that. You’ll bore them to tears. If you must use a cliché, take the plunge and mix it up. Twists and turns on clichés can be your ticket to success. Let this be your wakeup call. Overuse of clichés is a very real concern. You don’t want readers thinking it’s the same old story, a broken record. Instead, think outside the box. Time and time again, art imitates life. What’s not to like, about understated elegance? To my way of thinking, it’s a perfect storm. Your readers will get your drift, but your writing will be fresh as a daisy. It’s easier said than done, I know, but hang in there!

Wow. That was painful. I count 28.

For all intents and purposes, at all cost, born yesterday, by and large, know the score, pass the sniff test, same old same old, been there done that, bore them to tears, take the plunge, mix it up, twists and turns, ticket to success, wakeup call, a very real concern, same old story, broken record, think outside the box, time and time again, art imitates life, what’s not to like, understated elegance, to my way of thinking, a perfect storm, get your drift, fresh as a daisy, easier said than done, hang in there.

Did I miss any?

There is software available which allows you to insert your book text and it will count the number of clichés and overused phrases it finds. This paragraph would have probably exceeded its capacity, an “out of bounds index” or “too many inputs” or “an unknown error has occurred”. I especially like that last one.

Rule for cliché use (according to me):

1. If you must use a cliché, change it around, make it a little different. Recently I used the phrase “that shoe is on the wrong foot”. I hoped the reader would realize that the cliché I was imitating was “if the shoe were on the other foot”, which means if the situation were reversed. In this context, during an argument between a wife and her husband, she means to say, “You’ve got it wrong. The situation is reversed.”

2. Recognize that it is a cliché and make a reference to it. In one case, when a person of dubious authority refers to a bunch of other people as “losers”, one of the other people says, “Isn’t that the pot and the kettle thing? Being called a loser by her?” The speaker knows it is a cliché and refers to that, thus implying that he is above saying something trite.

3. Sometimes it seems good to use clichés in dialogue. People use them, it’s the way we normally speak. In a moment of anger, when a woman is being accused of not being committed enough (and this is after forty bad years), she says, “When does it become okay to throw in the towel? On my death bed?” I think it is appropriate to use this here. She was angry, it expresses what she felt at the moment. If I had avoided it, I’m not sure it would have been as effective.

4. If there is any doubt whether to use a cliché or not, don’t.

I’d like to leave you with this thought:

With clichés, when push comes to shove, you’re caught between a rock and a hard place, because at the end of the day you are never quite sure whether to go with the flow or take the ball and run with it.

Sorry.