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2009's Most Annoying Words, and Some Keepers

5 years ago
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Some 3 million-plus Americans will retire in 2009. The following overworked words and expressions should pack and go with them.

Narrative -- As in, "The pro-Obama narrative featured an almost mystically talented young idealist . . ." The word is not bad in itself, especially as an adjective, as in narrative poetry. But why use it when a much simpler word will do? Like story. Doesn't story do the job as well, without the pretense? Apparently not. Especially when talking about President Obama. "Obama narrative" shows up more than 33,000 times on the Internet.

Robust -- Another fine word, but not when it has to work a room harder than Harry Reid on health care. Today, robust describes everything from U.S. foreign policy (the administration intends to pursue a policy of "robust engagement" with China) to women's shoes: ("Think women's 'menswear' shoes, with sturdy or wedge heels, maybe a robust but low platform.") Robust is the purview of coffee houses and wine critics. Let's not turn it into a literary bar towel.

Meme -- Ask five people what this word means, and you'll get five answers, not to mention pronunciations. A good friend, a man of letters, in fact, told me with a straight face it's meh-me (rhymes with hemi). Of course, meme is pronounced with a long "e" and rhymes with steam. According to Merriam-Webster, a meme is "an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture." Meme may make you look smart for five seconds, but the word has definitely lost its way. It needs about a century in rehab.

Bandwidth -- Cool-speak for horsepower, borrowed from the world of digital technology. As in, "Does this office really have the bandwidth for a project this size?" I know of this phrase only secondhand, from a friend who works in government and says its use is widespread. As fun as it might be to toss this expression out at weekly staff meetings, it's time to narrow the bandwidth on this bad boy.

Deploy -- Another term borrowed from one field (the military) and applied to civilian life. A friend who owns a digital sign and kiosk business spends half his life deploying equipment to one city or another. You can try to keep up with kindred expressions, such as "rendezvous at oh-fifteen-hundred," but mil-speak loses its charm faster than a frozen MRE.

Trending -- If you don't tweet, you're probably clueless here. Last week, for example, I learned that the word "BlackBerry" had been trending in Twitter for 15 hours. I figured out its meaning from context, but made the mistake of asking for confirmation. My bad. I had exposed myself as a fusty old newsosaur. No amount of tech- and Twitter-speak could redeem me. If a word or topic is trending, BTW, it means it's currently in the top-10 most searched items in Twitter. A person could just say it that way. But that's so last year.

"Let me be clear" -- One of President Obama's favorite warm-ups packed some heat at one point. No more. I'm still not clear about health care reform.

Whatever -- This dismissive answer/statement isn't new or even new-ish, but does continue to be an equal-opportunity irritant. It topped the list of most annoying words of 2009 in an October poll.

Other expressions that should be packed away with the Christmas ornaments deep in the garage: empowering, Ka-ching, rebranding, diversifying the brand, vis-à-vis, toxic, deliverables, at the end of the day, Debbie Downer, synergy, seminal, the Governator, real time, Namaste, What does that look like?, public discourse, eye candy.

But lest I be called a total fly-over-state Philistine, I do like some semi-trendy expressions. I believe some may hold up in years to come and may even go on to become classics.

Misremembered -- Star pitcher Roger Clemens made the word famous in 2008 when he said, "I think he misremembers," referring to a friend who testified Clemens had used steroids and human growth hormone. "Misrmembered" -- it's short, punchy, memorable, and it gets the job done.

Mission creep -- I find a new use for it every day.

Blah, blah, blah -- The hardest-working three words in the English language.

It's the Cowboy Way, or Cowboy Up -- Part of the unspoken Code of the West, this expression says you won't wienie out.

That's my narrative, and I'm sticking to it.
Filed Under: Woman Up, Culture

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