Lake Superior State University (LSSU) has published its annual list of banished words and phrases for 2008, selecting a total of 19 utterances from about 2,000 nominations.
Banning words and phrases isn't something I endorse. But, some lingo is, like, overused, misused and abused, dude - to the point where even perfectly good figures of speech lose their shape and become out-of-proportion expressions of conformist thought.
You'll recognize the common expressions on LSSU's list - locutions like: it is what it is, described by its nominator as a phrase that "accomplishes the dual feat of adding nothing to the conversation while also being phonetically and thematically redundant."
Give back - a wonderful thing, in reality. In rhetoric, it conveys an obligatory ritual, often for PR purposes, done in all insincerity. It's enough to make you wanna steal the change from the penny tray on convenience store counters across America, just to bring some balance back to the universe. Surge - one of many Bush-isms we'll be dealing with for so long that our children's kids will come to yearn, with the word's nominator, for the good ol' days when surge "referenced storms and electrical power."
Speaking of the Bush years, another phrase on the list is Post 9/11. Father, forgive me. I've used it in this column (though I have openly mocked "the day everything changed" slogan). To atone for my syntactic sins, I'll submit a few nominations. When I become president. I know candidates say that to project a contrived sense of confidence of a future they couldn't possibly be certain about, but we're electing presidents; not kings or queens. Except in the minds of "unitary executive" fetishists like the present White House regime and their friends on the Supreme Court, presidents don't get to do whatever the hell they please. Presidential aspirations should be expressed with more honesty and modesty, using phrases like, "my vision is" Commander-in-chief. Unless you're in the military, the POTUS isn't "our commander-in-chief?" Theoretically, the president is an employee of The People (another nominee?). The president is a servant, really. A leader? Yes, but in the biblical sense - lead by serving. To be frank/honest. When dealing with people who say that routinely, does that mean one should assume they're lying anytime they don't preface what they say with "to be frank/honest"? What would Jesus say? (Another nominee?) Let your yes be yes and your no, no. The mainstream media (MSM). What is the "mainstream media (MSM)?" The national media, for sure. But does it include small, local dailies or weeklies who happen to be owned by corporations? Does it include any news periodical or publication that relies on advertising for its existence? Does it refer to every individual MSM player or the MSM game itself? Is Keith Olbermann, Seymour Hersh or even Jon Stewart part of the "mainstream media?"
Last week, I happened to catch Lou Dobbs on CNN castigating the "mainstream media" for its horse-race election coverage. And I spoke to Lou about it - through the TV screen. "Hey, Lou. News flash: you are the mainstream media, or at least one of the biggest figures in it!"
Bill O'Reilly, Rush - they all do the same thing. They talk about the "mainstream media," as if they're not MSM fixtures.
If you're looking for left-over New Year's resolutions, why not resolve to identify and avoid using certain unoriginal or uninspired words and phrases - for creativity's sake - and then submit them to the Lake Superior list keepers: http://www.lssu.edu/banished/submit_word.php.
It won't change the world but it will help prepare you for an election year sure to be filled with anti-nuance and downright Orwellian language that'll be buzzing around the political landscape like cicadas.
Sean Gonsalves is an assistant news editor at the Cape Cod Times and a syndicated columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.