Our Flabby Language VI (Redux)

NOTE:  And, finally, another look at the sixth installment of Our Flabby Language.  (I posted the newer ones, VII and VIII, in September.  You can read them here and here.)–EGF


Picking up from last week: From Swirling to the bitter end, and possible penance:

  • Swirling.” Open your newspaper. Children swirl. Hair swirls. Rumors swirl. Scandal swirls. Weather swirls. All this swirling makes my head swir—spin. Synonym up, people!
  • Talking Point. You already know that I’m partial to words favored by dead Romans, so this one really makes my toga ride up. A podium, like a dais, pulpit, or rostrum, is something you stand on or in to be seen and heard above the rabble – or, in the classic Greek Olympic idiom, to be celebrated (Note to Winter Games skateboard dudes, dudettes, and hangers-on: Noway—podium ain’t a verb!). A lectern is the thing on the table or raised-up other thing that holds the microphone and behind which you stand to peer at your outline or notes before and as you orate. Vidi?
  • Tech-Drek. It’s bad enough that technical terms and computerese are used in context, legitimately or not; must they be exported to the colloquial? Corporate-speak is lousy with this stuff, because it seems impressive while being exquisitely vague. “Parameters”—a perfectly fine and limited mathematical term—was the pioneer. How, exactly, do you “calibrate” an intangible? Lately, up has popped a sublimely annoying usage: “legacy,” used to refer to something that is older or out of fashion—as in, United is a legacy airline whereas Southwest is not. Aside: Would that make whoever bought bankrupt, pensionless United “airline heirs?” Snerk! (As nearly as I can tell, this is an ascription that’s borrowed from Taiwanese mainboard manufacturers, who refer to the BIOS toggle for the old-fashioned, off-board modem or game port as the “legacy.”) How about this one? “Heirloom vegetables.” Yikes. “What’s that black, moldy, disgusting thing on the mantelpiece?” “Oh, that. That’s the family carrot; grown and handed down by my great-grandfather.” As if all recent corporate scandals haven’t demonstrated the perniciousness of MBA-ese. “I’ll calibrate your enterprise and think outside the box if you raise my bar and expand my parameters. Oh—and while you’re at it, please level my playing field and, if you’re not too tired, shift my paradigm. Thanks. Ta.”
  • That Which is Who. I admit it; I had to review the rules on this one. In a nutshell, “that” is preferred for restrictive clauses—those that limit or define—and “which” for nonrestrictive clauses, which are parenthetical remarks and asides. (I’m informed that even E. B. White didn’t practice what he preached here; for a brief and entertaining explicative, visit the Grammar Girl.) My point: if you choose “which” because it’s longer and therefore seems more likely to impress or inflate your grade, even if it sounds unnatural, don’t. In reference to your fellow sentient bipeds with opposable thumbs, singly or in groups, please choose “who.”
  • The “ize” has it. “Prioritize” already sleeps in the middle of the tent, so let it go; but “incentivize?” “Randomize?” “Weaponize?” I’ve wasted whole mornings in the shower, waiting for my shampooed and conditioned hair to “volumize.” (Senator Ted Kennedy at one time was fond of saying “circularize,” as in memoranda; nobody ever knew if he was kidding.) Tread carefully.
  • There, their, they’re. “There” is direction or location; “their” is third-person plural possessive; and “they’re” is a contraction of “they are.” “Their problem is that they’re not there yet.”
  • Transparent-cy. More inflated MBA-speak, to the point where its primary meaning as the antonym of “opaque” is all but lost. Most often used to describe characteristics or policies; whatever happened to “clear;” “obvious;” “true;” or “understandable?” Those who use it these days are genuinely “transparent,” though; if you’re half-bright you can see straight through their bullshit.
  • Twenty percent is customary, right? Here’s another case where ubiquity has pulled a potent phrase so far from its portent that it’s become powerless and passé: “tipping point.” Malcolm Gladwell’s enticing notion of conceptual perfect storms as social or cultural benchmarks has been beaten down to imprecise PowerPoint phlegm.


  • Unseasonable.” The way I came up on pre- and suffixes, this means “incapable of being seasoned.” The word you want, Sparky Q. Meteorologist, is “unseasonal,” when referring to atypical weather. Clouds, after all, can be salted.
  • “Up” yours! “Meet up.” “Join up.” “Partner up.” “Let’s meet up; don’t forget your antigravity suit.” (“Cowboy up,” “gear up,” and “lawyer up?” Let’s see that literary license. Hm. Warm, musically witty slang. Okay—you’re free to go.) Hey, knock it up—off!
  • Verbal Abuse. In the words of the contemporary social philosopher, Bucky T. Katt, “You can wordify anything; just verb it.” Better not be standing too close to me when you “incent,” “intuit,” or “summit,” Robbo. Thanks to our Olympic snowboarding commentators, podium is now a verb. Dudes! (I’d better be out of the room when you “gift,” “task,” or “partner.” Don’t even think about “disappearing” somebody.) When did “egress” and “ingress” become substitutes for “leave” and “enter?” (They’re nouns, folks, and still a poor synonym for “door” or “window.”) Is “exit” a legitimate verb? (“Please exit through the exit.”) I just heard somebody use “mediated” to mean reported on or broadcast. Let’s not make this language any harder than it already is: “His craft is to craft crafty craft craftily.”
  • Vintage. Another perfectly good word that is fast losing its patina due to marginal and inappropriate use. The three primary definitions of the term as noun all relate to winemaking and the two preferred adjectival meanings are “classic” and “old or outdated.” All of the other uses are ”informal”—i.e., grudgingly accepted, if at all. To wit: “vintage” clothing. Clothing made from cloth woven from grapevines?) This iteration is used to gussy up or obscure the obvious—which generally equals “second-hand” or “used.” I believe what all those twits who twittered about the “vintage gown” flap at some recent film awards ceremony or other really meant is that the article in question was unique or original—so, why not just say a Versace “original,” and call it “one-of-a-kind” if you’re used to underestimating your audience anyway? Finally, I submit that since the availability of and admiration for wine is ubiquitous in our culture, using “vintage” to refer to anything not oenological is, um, “vintage” usage. Swirl that in your stemware, America.
  • Who’s/Whose. Tired of this yet? “Who'[i]s” as opposed to the possessive form of “who” or, if you prefer, the human form of “which.” “Who’s the guy whose pants are falling off?”
  • Willya stop, already? Moving up on “you know,” “basically,” “at the end of the day,” and perhaps even “uh” is the calorie-free and totally disruptive “if you will.” I might, but I’ll make up my own mind, thanks – and I certainly won’t if you use that phrase!
  • X-gaming. There is no emptier modifier than “awesome” due to broad overuse, but “extreme” is moving up—denoting everything from one degree above ordinary to incomprehensibly dangerous. In marketing terms it’s used to christen everything from pointless diversions designed only to sell automobiles, beer, or junk food on television, to low-end pickup trucks with a few risky looking ornaments added. Can we possibly be this bored or unchallenged? Extremely.
  • You Guys.” The salutatory plague of the service industry, brought to you by seemingly every female under the age of, what, 30? (Again, the condition may be more prevalent here on the Left Coast.) It would be amusing, were it not so omnipresent, since for me at my most charitable it resurrects John “The Tooz” Matuszak as the cyclops “Sloth” in Goonies: “HeyyyyyooooGIIIIIIZE!”
  • Your/You’re. “Your” is second-person possessive; “you’re” is short for “you are.” “Your problem is that you’re unclear on the difference between ‘your’ and ‘you’re.'”

Now—go in peace, sin no more, and say three “Our Fathers” and five “Hello, Dollies.” (I stole that from Eddie Izzard, the famously executivized Britist Transvestatite.)

Feel free to respond with your own little obscenities.

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