By this time next year, maybe alternative facts (or would that be alt-facts?), the brow-raising term Trump staffers tossed into the American lexicon the other day, will top a word-of-the-year list.
Some words won because people looked them up a lot, as can be tracked online, but an entity like the American Dialect Society also considers how a word -- or a multi-word "vocabulary item" -- reflects the national zeitgeist. (Its choice, dumpster fire, even got represented by a pairing of trashcan and fire emojis.)
Then there are those words that ought to be banished from our national banter. With apologies to George Carlin, call them the seven words that everyone says on television -- and everywhere else, too, but shouldn't. These seven linguistic sins may not be deadly, but they're overused, big league (not bigly, apparently). They're also imprecise, gawky, and often just plain unnecessary.
I know my list probably isn't complete, but, as Carlin said about his, it's a starter set.
If you're literally scratching your head about why I would make a fuss about the heedless use of literally, well, I am not alone -- and can't explain it any better than this marvelously demonstrative BuzzFeed video:
2) On the ground
Newscasters are especially hooked on this phrase, which seems to have become embedded during the early days of the American incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq. In wartime it was, and is, naturally important to distinguish troop activities on the ground from airborne missions.
But somewhere along the way, on the ground deposed another long-serving and also military-derived phrase: on the front lines. So nowadays civilian speakers of all stripes refer to all sorts of activities on the ground, as in, "Wells Fargo employees on the ground say they had no choice but to open new accounts."
Since we Earthlings are gravity-bound, we can assume we are all on the ground, much as we can assume we are all featherless bipeds. So unless the context is war, or such pursuits as hot-air ballooning, the phrase serves little purpose, and isn't even a very good substitute for on the front the lines. If you're on the front lines, you're not only on the ground, you're clearly right up front, where the action is, which is what people seem to mean these days when they use on the ground -- but where on the ground? In the trenches, perhaps?
3) To be honest
I always find this a disconcerting phrase because it seems to impugn everything else being said.
"Pretty much everything I'm telling you now is a big-league fairly tale, but, to be honest, I love chocolate chip cookies."
Even in a post-truth world of alternative facts, we should be able to assume that our friends, colleagues and acquaintances -- perhaps even our new president -- are on the level, much as we can assume they're on the ground.
I suppose to be honest evolved out of a desire to express greater candor than merely saying frankly, although frankly packs ample punch, as Rhett Butler made clear.
4) It's all good
This giddy catchphrase comes up a lot these days, in an odd variety of contexts, but is often deployed to gloss over an awkward moment, usually a fairly minor one, as in accidentally stepping into line ahead of someone at the supermarket: You recognize your faux pas and say you're sorry, and then the other person tells you not to worry about it, adding it's all good.
I can appreciate the show of positivity, but to say it's all good also sounds like a paean to denial. Because we know that just beyond the supermarket line, or whatever the immediate context may be, it is not all good, from the homeless man sleeping on the street nearby to the many ills beyond -- wars, famine, disease, overpriced cable TV service, and on and on.
There are surely times it might be mostly good, even if only by the narrow margin of 51 percent. In some situations it may be 75 percent good, or in extraordinary moments of goodness even 99 percent. But all good?
5) At the end of the day
A silly-sounding and by now highly overused substitute for the perfectly adequate phrase when all is said and done.
"At the end of the day, I like to drink tea in a hot bubble bath." Sure, why not? Or, on Super Bowl Sunday: "At the end of the day, we'll know whether the Patriots or the Falcons are the champions."
But what you often hear is something like:
"At the end of the day, Wells Fargo will have to win back the trust of its customers." I know it's not meant literally, but this usage still sounds jarring, like saying you'll call someone back in a minute when it's really going to be a week or a month or even decades (see no. 6 below).
As always, though, there are poetic licenses to be granted, like, say, to One Direction:
Many voices in the media, I've noticed, have gotten into the habit of referring to relatively long timespans in terms of decades when, not so long ago, years used to suffice.
Decades may be a fair quantification when speaking of the career of someone like Tyrus Wong, the artist responsible for Disney's Bambi, who drew and painted from the time he was a boy until his recent death at age 106. But I hear a lot of talk about decades when it's been only two, three or maybe four. That adds up to quite a few years, but not really that many decades. So why exaggerate?
7) Limited access to email
This is not something anyone usually says, on TV or anywhere else, but we've read it for years now in auto-reply emails: "I am out of the office through Jan. 31 and will have limited access to email during that time." This limited access line might have been credible back in the dial-up days, but now? Well, maybe if you've ventured deep into the Amazon rain forest. But otherwise, how about something like:
"I'm on vacation so please don't expect a response right away. To be honest, my inbox will literally be stuffed with messages when I get back, so at the end of the day it could be decades before I respond. But on the ground it's all good."