Monday, August 09, 2004

Verbal tics that annoy me

I still have no good ideas for doing signature subsumption of method abstractions (translation: I suck at research), so now I am going to vent on something completely different. My friends are hereby informed that the following words and phrases are on my shit list. Not that any of you habitually say or write any of the things that follow, but allow me to bitch for a while.

This is basically a colorful way of saying "doubleplusgood". It is a word that is almost literally meaningless, except as a social signal that writers and speakers use to fluff up something that they're too lazy to fluff up with some more specific description. The proof that this is true is that people use it to modify almost any noun to add a splash of color, in much the same way that a gaudily colored lampshade can be used to brighten any room, and with similarly tacky results --- see: "vibrant health care system", "vibrant military", "vibrant accounting firm", "vibrant cement". Whatever punch "vibrant" may once have had, it is now thoroughly debased. Maybe someday this carelessly random usage will decline, and this much-dulled blade will grow sharp enough to be used with precision again. In the meantime, if you really want to say that something is so alive and full of energy that it is akin to a vibrating object, then find a different way to say it. And if you mean to say something else, then say something else.
Analogous to "vibrant"; can be used to modify almost any adjective, and has become more of a social gesture than a word with an actual denotation. Signals a cheap world-weariness: "In my (implicitly vast and impressive) experience, other members of set X are Y, but Z, although a member of X, is refreshingly not-Y." What makes this formulation especially obnoxious is that it is the pose of somebody tired of clichés, but it is itself a tired cliché. Either come up with a livelier way to say this, or just say that Z is not-Y and have done with it.
I don't know about you, but I basically assume that any reasonably intelligent adult is articulate by default. Calling someone "articulate" is a signal that you believe the person you're talking about belongs to some group --- e.g., children, autistic people, or gorillas --- whose members are not presumptively capable of expressing coherent thoughts in language. When this word is applied to people like, say, Barack Obama, it's just ludicrous. Obama is not "articulate", he's eloquent. (Note, by the way, that this word seems to be applied with unusual frequency to African-American men in public life. Call a black man articulate and you're probably transmitting an unsavory assumption about the group to which he belongs.)
"X nails it", "X hits it out of the park"
When not used in reference to carpentry or baseball, these phrases have become really overused, particularly among bloggers. Give it a fucking rest. Come up with some other way of saying "I agree!" Better yet, don't say "I agree!" Surely you've got something more substantial to say. (Full disclosure: I used this regrettable turn of phrase about a year ago. Therefore, next time I see you, you have permission to punch me.)

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