Our Flabby Language II

Picking up from last week: Criteria through Famously:

  • Criteria. This is the plural of criterion—which means there must be two or more to use the word. (I know, I know—there are those who say it should be memorandums rather than memoranda.) I’d like to enter a plea here to keep the language of the Caesars around, to the extent possible; it’s a marvelous portal to roots and derivations, if you’re so inclined.
  • Crossover. I’ve noticed in news reports coming out of Latin America that insurgents are referred to as “paramilitaries” and missing civilians as “the disappeared.” My Spanish-speaking spouse, seeing my ruddy face, explains that these are literal translations of proper Spanish nouns. Well, point taken, but it doesn’t justify being lazy or taking shortcuts in English—at least until our tongue is subject to the same simple and consistent rules as true Romance languages. Especially when it’s just ignorant posing, as when, during the Iraqi invasion, embedded journalists pronounced Qatar “Gutter” instead of “Caught-TAR” when it was otherwise painfully evident they knew nothing of the terrain or the culture, let alone the language. Or when we Caucasians trespass and mangle American subcultural slang to establish imaginary “street cred.” Stop it, all of you. It’s neither cool nor ingratiating; it’s merely shallow and offensive.
  • Diva. There was a time when this term carried connotations of training, achievement, and actual talent. Now it’s applied to anyone with a pulse, a press agent, and without a Y chromosome. Store this one with Disney’s head (or in Britney’s—plenty of room there) until a cure is found.
  • Distributes the ball.” Another bonehead play by our sports glitterati—usually in reference to a basketball point guard’s deftness in passing (to the extent that even happens any more, at least in the men’s game) and playmaking. “Okay, Kahlil—here’s the ball; you can hold it for 2.8 seconds, then give it back to me. You’ll get it next, Jermaine, for approximately the same interval, after which time I’ll need it back so Shaquille gets a turn…”
  • Eats, shoots, and leaves.” Sneaking in a breather plug here—wonderful book by Lynn Truss, subtitled “The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.” Buy and read it, even if only as a mental decongestant. It makes the way straight, uncomplicating a problem created when the first student was praised for getting her pencil down ahead of everyone else in the class, rather than taking the allotted time to repeat to herself her tortured essay sentences.
  • Euph! Have you noticed the burgeoning tendency to invent euphemistic phrases to retain the pejorative without seeming unduly harsh, or smarter while retaining the inherent bias? The worst are those involving “lifestyle,” as in “the homosexual lifestyle.” (“See—I don’t really hate queers; it’s just that they’ve gone and made a morally indefensible and socially destructive choice, is all.”)  Or: choosing “the transient and homeless lifestyle.” (“Godfrey, I’ve made up my mind; here are the keys to the penthouse. Have you thrown out the carton the Sub-Zero came in?”)  Intolerable.
  • Fix. The über-verb suitable for every occasion—especially political campaigning—that poses neither risk of mispronunciation nor possibility of misinterpretation, because it is utterly meaningless in context. Its value is at least doubled when coupled with an equally opaque object: “Vote for me and I’ll fix that mess in Washington.” Now, who can argue with that?
  • Flushed, maybe? According to the dictionary, if you’re flustered, you’re agitated, confused, or excited; if you’re frustrated, you’re defeated, disappointed, or thwarted. If you’re flustrated or flusterated, you’re probably bipolar.
  • Fresh!” Harry Shearer was in Australia when the September 11 attacks occurred. After watching their television news coverage, he returned to Los Angeles where, by comparison, it seemed “someone had left children in charge of the grown-up stuff.” My kids began their adolescences in the mid to late ‘80s and they used this kind of jargon, but they outgrew it, and disdainfully. Produce is “fresh;” TV episodes and products are “new.” (And improved? How can it be both? Your call.)
  • Fueled ya! Like “swirl,” another manifestation of widening poverty in journalistic verbs. Please don’t use it when you mean “feed,” “nourish,” “drive,” or even “ignite.” Put down the screenplay and read some real prose.
  • Further me farther, Father.” I realize it’s first and goal on this distinction and I’m on defense, but what’s gained by losing the distinction? “Farther” means distance (I’ve gone farther in school than my parents expected.”) and “further” means progress (“Still, I’m prepared to further my education even farther.”) Hold that line!
  • Going/Moving forward. Sounds important but, alas… Its only apparent function is to prevent direct collisions between active verbs and semicolons or periods. “We must focus our efforts going forward.” (Unless you’re a fictional H. G. Wells character, what are your other options?) “I’m moving America forward and, boy, am I exhausted!” It’s Toyota’s current advertising slogan—“Moving Forward”—for which they’d deserve to be keyed except that it’s something a car actually does. (Thinnest of margins, but fairness is important, too.) Question: That being said, are Toyotas still equipped with a reverse gear?
  • Good/Well. Skill or ability versus state of health or being. “How are you?” “I’m well, thanks—and, by the way, I’m good at backgammon.” One does good by being charitable and does well by being good at it. Get it? (I say we bring back “Fine; and you?” as the standard response—inasmuch as it was never intended to be anything other than boulevard politesse, instead of the invitation to excruciating confessional it has become. (Especially among us Californians.) If you’re rude and really interested in that rumored breast augmentation, you may ask. And prepare to duck.
  • Grow the economy.” One of the few rhetorical bones I had to pick with Prez 42; gotta love those active screenplay verbs, I guess. You’d think, with all the manure that’s been spread on it, the economy would have sprouted long before now. “Mildred, call the CFO and remind him to prune and water the IPO before the weekend.”
  • He famously said.” I’ve given up on “hopefully” moving to the right neighborhood, but this is plain adverbial abuse. If she said it and you’re quoting it, that ought to do it, right? It’s uttered and repeated or published—ergo, famous, yes? ( Another example of AA: Lawyers have substituted “facially discriminatory” for “discriminatory on its face.” Huh? Discriminates against faces? Among faces?)

Next Week: Holy Macro! through Muscular.

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