By Taylor Armerding
— I am the language police officer, and I am here to help.
This does not mean I'm the thought police officer - you can think whatever you want. In fact, this is not about expressing whatever opinion you want. I'm not going to call for boycotts of any product because its executives express a view for or against affirmative action, Medicare, gay marriage, or pretty much anything else.
This is not even directly about attack ads, civility, or incivility. You will read and hear endlessly from self-appointed "truth squads" or "fact checkers" about whether an ad is accurate, in or out of context, unfair, or effective.
This is about clarity. This is a clarion call (which surely will be ignored on all sides) to speak clearly, instead of saying nothing while pretending you're saying something. This is a call to get rid of filler, distractions, repetition, and absurdity in what passes for political rhetoric.
If these phrases were banned until Nov. 6, it wouldn't make that rhetoric perfect, but it would help. Here are the highlights of my list. You probably have your own contributions. Send them to me, and I'll include them in a later post from the political wilderness:
- Let me be clear - There is no need for a politician to ask for permission to be clear. We, the people, are begging for them to be clear. In fact, when politicians say that, they are usually setting us up for more obfuscation - some gauzy, feel-good promise. What they really mean is, "Let me be vague."
- Not uncommon/Not unusual - Perhaps people think this makes them sound more erudite, but it does the opposite. It is a double negative in search of a positive. It just clogs everything up. I'll demonstrate: I'm sitting on my not unblack chair, wearing my not unkhaki pants and my not unwhite shirt, in front of my not unbrown desk writing on my not unsilver laptop.
- Won't be painless - Pretty much the same concept as not uncommon. What is with the apparently irresistible desire to put a negative in front of everything? Why not just say, "I'm taking a long trip," instead of, "I'm taking a trip that won't be short"? Imagine Winston Churchill inspiring a generation with, "I have nothing to offer but a journey that won't be bloodless, won't be free of toil, will not be free of tears, and won't be sweatless." Most of us would have turned off the radio before he got halfway through that mush.
- Patriotic millionaires - I'm calling for a ban on labeling people from any income group patriotic. Because, as most of you know, this is a code phrase. It has nothing to do with love of country. In this case, "patriotic" millionaires are those who support the Obama administration's push to raise taxes on any individual making more than one-fifth of a million.
This is ironic, because this is the party that, when it was out of power, would huffily forbid anyone from "questioning our patriotism" if they opposed a Bush administration initiative, and insisted that "dissent is the highest form of patriotism."
Patriotism doesn't mean agreement with either party. Leave it alone.
- Going forward - As if we had a choice? Yes, I know that the latest Obama re-election slogan is "Forward," and the mantra is that we have to stop Republicans from taking us "backward" to the George W. Bush years. But then, why do they keep dragging Bill Clinton onto TV to shill for Obama and talking about that golden era? That would also be going backward. An army can retreat, but time moves only one way - forward. It's not a choice.
- On the ground - As in, "conditions on the ground," "boots on the ground," and so forth. If you want to say there are soldiers in Afghanistan, just say so. Their boots are incidental. If you want to say conditions in New Orleans are wet, just say so. We know you're talking about buildings and people who are on the ground. It's like sports announcers, when they are covering a football game, endlessly talking about "protecting the football," "moving the football," as if we need to be reminded that it is not a golf ball or a baseball.
- Less fortunate - Another unnecessary negative prefix. Just say poor, sick, elders, disabled - whatever. It is ironic that Democrats constantly use this phrase to talk about people who should be receiving more government help. Calling somebody "less fortunate" means they are still fortunate - just less so than somebody else. Why should anybody who is fortunate deserve help?
- You know what?/Well, guess what? - Another trite, trivial, meaningless, utterly unnecessary filler phrase. The speaker doesn't wait for anybody to hazard a guess. He's just taking more time to say what he just ought to go ahead and say without a lame prefix.
- At the end of the day - Whaaat? The end of what day? It is not even a good replacement for, "when all is said and done," which is equally lame.
- Any way, shape or form - This just crams less information into more time. I'm going to walk, stroll, or saunter down the street or road to talk, converse, or rant to my local public servant or official.
Give it a rest. Give them all a rest.
- Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.