Monday, January 4, 2016

2016 goals: Vocabulary need a makeover?

CBS reports that a new poll by Marist ranks “whatever” as the most annoying word of the year – for the seventh year in a row.

Whatever. Is that you? Do you grab blah blah words out of the air to drag into your conversation? Are you addicted to overused, misused, nerd words or clich├ęs?

Is your reply to everything “I know! Right?” Do you toss stale old phrases like “and the whole enchilada” after every sentence? If so, maybe your 2016 list of goals includes a vocabulary makeover.

I asked some of the media staff here what words they think are way overused. One did not hesitate to say “so” – admitting that when smarty-pants people start every sentence with so he would like to slap them. That was pretty straightforward.
Staff Writer Mark Schremmer is bugged when words are misused. As when someone says I could care less when they really mean they couldn’t care less. You can tell he is a word man.

Our copy editor Elizabeth Andersen says a phrase that she despises is hump day. Elizabeth reads every sentence that goes out of here and says one phrase she never wants to read in 2016 or ever is only time will tell.

Associate Editor Greg Grisolano is annoyed with some of the new words being used and is all ready for them to be immediately scuttled. Slang words like fleek. “What the heck does fleek even mean?” It was explained to him by our social media maven Kerry Evans-Spillman that when your eyebrows are perfect they are on fleek.

Here’s a catchphrase you need to cut loose if you are a user – circle back. I got an email from someone I had never talked to who said “I want to circle back to last week’s conversation about a new trucker app.” I deleted it. I’m not replying to anyone who pretends to have talked to me. And especially someone who says circle back.

At the end of each year, various news outlets weigh in on words and phrases that invaded our personal dictionaries during the past 12 months.  

One of the most famous banished word lists is the annual offering from Lake Superior State University, aggregated from suggestions from all over the world. This year, the list included polar vortex, skill set, takeaway, swag, cray-cray (as in this traffic is just cray-cray). One thing I really like about truckers. I have never heard one use the phrase cray-cray.

I know we are simply trying to reinvent our language, always trying to come up with new words to substitute for the old tired ones, but I couldn’t be happier to see that we successfully retired a few last year. Deep in the weeds is one that was cute for five minutes. Drill down is still out there, but good people are trying to drum it out. And the aha moment is one we’ve mostly laid to rest – finally.

I asked trucking friends what words they would like to see gone. One said overuse of “and the whole nine yards” would be at the top of his list. One said she was sick of my bad.

Another asked me what the deal is with trucks and buses. Stop the truck. Back up the truck. Thrown under the bus? Time to park the bus?  I have no answers but I agree those might have been popular for a while, but let’s think of some new ones.

About the word filthy. Users of urban slang have appropriated it to mean not disgustingly dirty, but really cool. Like “those recessed lights in your sleeper are totally filthy.” Schremmer – a former sports editor – says the new usage filthy was invented by sports writers/commentators. OK, in that case, they get a pass. It’s a tough job to find new ways to describe winning or losing.

Like sports, in covering the trucking industry, it’s easy to get stuck in the habit of constantly using certain words. When you write about the same topics a lot, you spend a lot of time trying not to be boring. You stare at a headline that adequately serves the purpose but – will anyone want to read it?

Managing Editor Jami Jones is setting a goal for 2016 to eliminate boring words from headlines.

I think public word court should strike down the word hack in 2016. Not only does this word mean to cut up, it means horse-drawn buggy, or to break into a computerized system. A hack is also a person who is an amateur, a fraud or poor example of a professional. As in “the guy is a real hack.” But wait. Hack, for some reason, is now the word for good idea. Or tip, as in life hacks.

I was sort of OK with four meanings, but now the word is completely overused. Let’s just use the word hack anytime we can’t think of what to call something. I bounced this off our radio show news anchor Reed Black, who said it was “a hack of an idea.”