Stuck for a new year resolution? Convinced yourself that smoking and jam doughnuts are actually good for you and, sure, you’d only be dicing with death by giving them up? You already tell the truth, brush your teeth twice a day, thank the bus driver and walk the dog, so no room for improvement there either. In fact, you’re the one Tina Turner had in mind when she sang “you’re simply the best”.

While you may be perfection personified, though, there is something you can do for the rest of us. It’s this – mind your language. I’m not talking about swear words and curses, but those irritating Americanisms and affectations of academia that have come to blight public conversation. With all that “reaching out” and “leaning in” we hardly know whether we’re coming or going anymore.

Why would anyone have to reach out to anyone else when all they need do is contact them? This can be done by calling, texting and emailing them or, if they are thoroughly odious, turning up on their doorstep in the middle of the night. Reporters have been known to recount that they reached out to people living in Australia, sounding surprised that they got no reply. What did they expect? Unless they have an intercontinental arm span, calling someone is a safer bet than trying to stretch across the Atlantic.

[ Are creeping Americanisms your bugaboo? This will likely tick you off ]

In this month of dry January and detox diets, let’s clear out the verbal clutter of cliches and waffle that our culture has amassed. Uncle Sam, the country that gave us the Coca-Cola Santa, is the biggest culprit for spreading nonsensical jargon. I give you “the Donald”. His plain-speaking, surely, is the only comprehensible reason why anyone would vote for Trump. (Do you think his friends call him “the Don”?).

A recent and deeply annoying American import is “excited for”, as in “I’m excited for my holidays” or “I’m excited for my future”. No, you’re not. You’re excited about your holidays or about your future but you might be excited for your neighbours should they win the Lotto and spend it on locating new neighbours.

Many of us will eventually come to rest beside new neighbours in a cemetery – possibly from bingeing on jam doughnuts – but, by golly, we won’t be dead. We’ll have “passed”, like swans gliding by on a lake. If ever there was a euphemism designed to avoid the inevitable, this is it. Death is eternal. Passing is transitory. You pass the bread. If you’re lucky, you’ll pass your exams. Calling death a “passing” does not change the fact that there is no return.

The mangling of the language does not cease even beyond death. The conundrum then is whether you will lie down or lay down. “Lay” is the position du jour chosen by the people who assess the “lay of the land”, an expression which, once upon a time, would have been a term of vulgar abuse.

Where to start with this linguistic pollution? How about with “the get-go”? For the uninitiated, “the get-go” means the start. Like the boy band in the old Kit Kat TV ad, it sounds awful, it looks awful, and it’s gone a long way – right into the heart of public discourse. Whoever thought the world needed a ludicrous hyphenated, two-syllable alternative to the word start? “Onset” being a perfectly adequate option.

Maybe it was the same person who came up with “the main takeaway”. No, this is not an order for a double cheese burger, chips and a fizzy drink, but a lesson, a finding or a conclusion. Lofty experts clamour to identify these in newly published reports with the result that they produce more takeaways than McDonald’s. Would that they were as digestible.

Speaking of lessons, is there anything surer to set your teeth on edge than “learnings”? The word is even uglier than “uptick”. If Ireland’s decelerated economic growth this year had any fleeting benefit it was the concomitant abatement of all the upticks in public sentiment, consumer spending and retail sales customarily hailed by our economic oracles. Are ticks not always up?

Try not to spend all your money when some advertisement or website invites you to “shop the collection” or “shop the bargains” when what they mean is they want you to “buy” or, at least, “browse” their merchandise. You “shop for things” whereas, if the reward is high enough, you might shop your friends.

Wise old Confucius said clarity is everything in language. Yet some of the worst offenders against the rule are those presumed to be the smartest among us – academics. “So,” they will say, before they say anything else. “Did Hannibal cross the Alps?” you ask. “So,” they reply, “he crossed them with a herd of elephants”.

Even worse is “speaks to”, a clunky, ear-splitting substitute for evoking, evincing or illustrating something. In places of learning – as opposed to “learnings” – Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps “speaks to” the absence of Ryanair flights on the route, though the elephants would still be needed to carry the luggage.

Let’s not forget the ubiquitous “piece”, a word so versatile you can stick it on to anything. Thus we get the “sport piece” and the “policy piece” and the oxymoronic “communication piece”. Not only is “piece” superfluous, it is an obstacle to communication.

Words matter. In this age of disinformation, they matter more than ever. Politicians, therefore, should heed Confucius’s advice and speak lucidly. That cannot happen until they go cold turkey on the addictive “in terms of”. There is scarcely a Government TD capable of answering a question without throwing in those three words of utter litter. They serve only to obfuscate and distract and they should be banned.

Ditto “with respect to”. How often do you hear politicians paying respect to housing and hospital trolleys? If they don’t understand that inanimate objects have no feelings and, ergo, respect is wasted on them can we trust them to fix our crises?

Enough already, as they say. This is only half of it but I shall desist from listing the rest because my new year resolution is to stop moaning.

QOSHE - Just reaching out about those odious Americanisms and infuriating academic affectations . . . - Justine Mccarthy
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Just reaching out about those odious Americanisms and infuriating academic affectations . . .

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29.12.2023

Stuck for a new year resolution? Convinced yourself that smoking and jam doughnuts are actually good for you and, sure, you’d only be dicing with death by giving them up? You already tell the truth, brush your teeth twice a day, thank the bus driver and walk the dog, so no room for improvement there either. In fact, you’re the one Tina Turner had in mind when she sang “you’re simply the best”.

While you may be perfection personified, though, there is something you can do for the rest of us. It’s this – mind your language. I’m not talking about swear words and curses, but those irritating Americanisms and affectations of academia that have come to blight public conversation. With all that “reaching out” and “leaning in” we hardly know whether we’re coming or going anymore.

Why would anyone have to reach out to anyone else when all they need do is contact them? This can be done by calling, texting and emailing them or, if they are thoroughly odious, turning up on their doorstep in the middle of the night. Reporters have been known to recount that they reached out to people living in Australia, sounding surprised that they got no reply. What did they expect? Unless they have an intercontinental arm span, calling someone is a safer bet than trying to stretch across the Atlantic.

[ Are creeping Americanisms your bugaboo? This will likely tick you off ]

In this month of dry January and detox diets, let’s clear out the verbal clutter of cliches and waffle that our culture has amassed. Uncle Sam,........

© The Irish Times


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