Banned Words and Other Things
I watched too many sports events this weekend. The misuse of the English language finally got to me. I am compelled to pull out and rework a screed I posted elsewhere earlier this year.
In a newsroom where I worked, there was an entire wall devoted to banned words and phrases—words or phrases that were over worked, misunderstood, obscure or otherwise. I think all journalists and critical-thinking individuals need to consider the words they use. Yes, the English language is evolving, but is that evolution moving toward clarity?
Look at what text-messaging is doing to our language. LOL.
As a reporter many years ago, I turned in a script to a producer. The producer changed some words violating basic rules of the “King’s English” that we may have been taught in elementary school. I am talking about the subject of a sentence agreeing with the verb in the sentence. Well, I would have none of it. I told him that I would not record the script because I did not want my voice, my signature, on something that was grammatically wrong. He protested saying, “Well, that’s the way that people talk!” I responded saying, “Those that know, notice. Those that do not know, do not notice.” The disagreement went all the way to the news director, and, yes, I won.
I am not saying that I am not guilty of using bad grammar or (more likely) misspelling something. I am saying that it is the responsibility of us in the media—print, web, and broadcast—to use good grammar and avoid trite, cliché, and other over-used words. We only promulgate and validate poor usage when we are lazy and choose to use these incorrect or tattered terms.
So, what set off this language explosion? What put me over the top this weekend? It was the broadcast of the World Series Game Sunday, October 26, 2008. Joe Buck will never hear of this posting or care, but I must get this out of my system. Play-by-play man Joe Buck said:
“We just had a chance to visit with his pitching coach, Jim Hickey, and we’ll play it for you …”
Later in the inning, he said again:
“We had a chance to talk with Jim Hickey, and well bring it to you...”
Later in the game, he said:
“I had a chance the last time I was here in Philadelphia …”
He finally got the usage right later:
Regarding B.J. Upton’s strike out, “He had a chance here in the 7ths inning …”
You get the point. Why not just say, “Why not say, I spoke with whomever?” Or, I visited wherever? The rest is useless, meaningless clutter.
For some reason sportscasters seem to be the worst. Troy Aikman used the hated and feared “I had a chance…” during a football game earlier in the day. This recurring phrase isn’t the only one that drives me nuts.
I shall list of a few that come to mind with some explanation:
> “Centered around” Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!! An argument or anything else cannot be center around something. It may be centered ON something, however.
> “Very unique” If it is unique, it cannot be more than unique.
> “Completely destroyed” If something is destroyed, it is complete.
> “The building suffered major damage…” People suffer; buildings cannot.
> “I would like to thank you for flying X airline.” Well, if you would like to do it, why not just say, “Thank you” and be done with it? (Very similar to “had a chance.”
> “A parent’s worst nightmare…” Fill in the blank.
> From sports: “We overcame adversity.” More often than not, adversity is synonymous with calamity. There is calamity in sports sometimes, but most of the time, it is a game. (I am a certified baseball fan, by the way.)
> From sports: “He went for the homerun with that pass.” The announcer, with a clearly limited vocabulary, mixed up his sports.
> From sports: “So, in that inning, we had one hit batsman…” Unless the announcer is doing play-by-play for cricket, the term in baseball is “batter.” (Yeah, I know that one is picky, but refer to “baseball” earlier.)
> Worn-out words: “Awesome” (Blame generations under 40 years old.) “Paradigm” (How many of us use that word in a conversation?) “Infrastructure” (See the previous question regarding “paradigm.” This one, by the way, was on the wall in the newsroom mentioned earlier.) “Person” (This is a cold term with little meaning. Are we talking about a man, woman, child, teenager, or whom?” (This was on the wall too.)
> From sports more often than not: “Shy” “He’s just shy of the first down marker.” Or, “He’s just shy of his 40th birthday.”
> “I’ve got” or “I have got to blah-blah-blah.” You got it. Now, now you have it.
> Passive instead of active voice when writing news copy. (One of my pet peeves.)
I could fill a book with these. There are many more. You know them. You may love them.
Post the terms, words, and phrases that drive you nuts. Or, you could try making a sentence out of all the terms listed above and post them. Perhaps the exercise will purge them from our brains!
(C) Jim McNabb, 2008