We all have pet peeves when it comes to language – terms or phrases that grate on our nerves, common misuses that drive us bonkers, etc. But past the mere annoyances there’s a more corrosive category of terminology that does actual damage to the culture. Words and expressions that, when we hear them, signal that either someone is an idiot or thinks we are. Subtle misdirections designed to leave us believing things that aren’t true. Constructions carefully crafted to encourage us to hear that which wasn’t actually said. And so on.
So the S&R team has pulled together a brief primer of terms and phrases that we don’t ever want to hear again, at least not in the cynical context in which we’re accustomed to encountering them. (If anything here offends you because you do it, too, and you don’t think you’re guilty, don’t feel bad. As we’ve looked over each other’s entries some of us have been indicted, as well.)
From Sam Smith
Support the troops: Know what – we all support the troops, bitch. If you looked hard enough you could probably find 15 or 20 Americans who wish the troops ill, but for the most part all Americans are behind all our men and women in uniform all the time. What this phrase really intends is that the speaker (or the driver of the car with the dumbass bumper sticker or even lamer yellow ribbon decal) thinks you should support George Bush and the rest of the goddamned morons who lied us into Iraq (and if your bumper sticker actually says “Support Our Troops and President Bush,” as though those two things had anything to do with each other, you need a righteous caning, and I mean right now). There our brave kids can shed their blood for the hateful, narrow, greedy ambitions of a pack of gutless neocon chickenhawks whose bravery and patriotism would vanish instantly if “support” meant that they or their families or the families of their born-rich buddies had to step into harm’s way.
Those of you who use the phrase or have the bumper sticker and who don’t feel this way, I sympathize. It’s a noble and honest sentiment. But strip off the bumper sticker, because you’re being used by people whose real support ends at the tip of their forked tongues.
Cut and run or stay the course?: As soon as you say it, you’ve graciously reproduced a brutally cynical warmonger frame. Karl Rove thanks you. And I hope you don’t need this one explained to you.
Flip-flopper: A bullshit frame that takes the process of learning – because none of us was born omniscient – and turns it into a vice. Ever done, thought or said something stupid, and then realized the error of your ways? Right – you’re a flip-flopper. And if a person isn’t a flip-flopper, he or she is pigheadedly stupid and patently unfit
for public office to be out of the house off-leash.
Unborn child: It’s called a “fetus.” As soon as you use the Religious Right frame you announce to the world that you think citizenship begins at conception. Which – religious implications notwithstanding – leads us into all kinds of difficulties. Like if you kill a woman, how many murder charges should you face? And how about all those unconceived children? – they have rights, too, you know. And shouldn’t I be able to start claiming Li’l Sammy as a tax deduction from the time he’s conceived?
If your beliefs are such that you do think life begins at conception, have the guts to say it and stand behind it. Don’t try and win the argument by sneaking one past us.
I’m sure I’ll think of more…
From Martin Bosworth
Going forward, on the table, pushback, lessons learned, skin in the game/ground game, low-hanging fruit
All of these are examples of the anemic corporatist doublespeak that is infecting our discourse on every level. We’ve replaced simple plainspokenness with these worthless, cliche, barely meaningful phrases that are recited, drone-like, by legions of otherwise worthless MBAs and hacktacular consultants – and just like every other type of slang, they do two things:
- They get picked up on and recited by others without any real understanding as to what they’re saying; and
- They conceal the fact that the speaker either has nothing substantial to say or is incapable of articulating it in a fashion more eloquent than that of your average Bush administration crony explaining his sudden resignation.
From Mike Sheehan
Is America ready for a [fill in the blank] president?
Whenever I see or hear this, I can’t help but feel that the answer is already “not really”; otherwise, the question wouldn’t need to be asked. Also, the quoted individuals in the article or report are often at the extremes.
The white man (esp. when said by a white person)
This is condescension at its worst. It may be impulsive liberal guilt directing it, but it’s insulting in that implies that modern native peoples think and speak like Indians in an old Western.
From Jim Booth
The bottom line is…: Whenever I hear this I know somebody’s throat is getting cut. Usually it’s labor’s throat being cut so that executive “leaders” can award themselves obscene pay and bonuses and “golden parachute” (another loathsome term) exit deals when they’ve ruined and looted a company for their own enrichment.
Let me go on the record…: Read from a carefully crafted piece of doubletalk and equivocation that sleazy advisers / attorneys / PR men have prepared for the politician / businessperson / athlete speaking those words…..
I don’t now nor have I ever…: Spoken when the speaker (see group in previous “record” section) believes that whatever documentation / proof / witnesses to wrongdoing have been nullified….
From Nick Langewis
Special rights: This is a big one. Just because one is used to a particular group of people being denied basic rights doesn’t mean that they’re not entitled. It’s more that one doesn’t want to go to the trouble of changing one’s world views just to set things right, and it’s quite easy to confuse “what’s right” with “Hey, it’s working for me, so it’s fine the way it is.”
Sanctity of marriage: HAH! Tend your own garden and you won’t have to worry, hypocrites. People who use this phrase make me picture Kelsey Grammer giving driving tips. Don’t come crying to a queer child of divorce about “protecting marriage,” especially if you’ve fucked up three of your own.
Ownership society: I haven’t heard this one in a while, but remember how this phrase was used to “encourage homeownership” like real estate is the best investment one can make? It’s funny how I’ve by-and-large been told that by people selling mortgages or real estate. In a true “ownership society” we’d own ourselves; we wouldn’t be in hock for everything we live in, eat, drive, wear, or otherwise physically possess.
Culture of life: This phrase I have heard many times out of the mouths of the same people that don’t want your kids to have affordable medical insurance or a decent education, but will ship them off en masse to the Middle East to kill thousands and/or get killed themselves. It comes off to me as “Cherish the unborn, fuck the already living.”
From Brian Angliss
On the ground: Using this phrase applies a false gravity to whatever you’re saying. It doesn’t really mean anything that can’t be said in a more informative way.
Collateral damage: A euphemism for “anything we destroyed or anyone we killed that we didn’t mean to,” and like most euphemisms, it dehumanizes and distances the reader and the people doing the “damaging.” War is messy and awful, and when we whitewash the language describing it, we make war are the more palatable. This euphemism is most disgusting when applied to civilians accidentally slaughtered by bombs gone astray, crossfire, etc.
War on Terror: This one has started to phase out since the White House stopped using it all the time, but it still bugs me for a simple reason – terror is an emotion, and you can’t have a war on an emotion. War on terrorists, war on failed states, war on the Taliban – all of those make sense. Even “war on terrorism” doesn’t make sense, given that terrorism is a tactic that could be used in a war, but isn’t an actual state of conflict.
Ground truth: This makes it seem like the truth is something exclusively understood by someone physically located at the site of a disaster, conflict, etc. when the reality is that any situation I can think of where “ground truth” is being discussed must also be considered by a complete team of generalists, specialists, and people on-site and off.
From Rori Black
In other words (when spoken by George Bush): If he had said it well the first time he wouldn’t have to keep rephrasing it. He’s stalling; it’s his new version of “um.”
Pre/Post-9/11: The September 11 disaster was a major event in our history, but when people use this term it usually says a lot less about how the world changed meaningfully and more about how the speaker is trying to capitalize on the tragedy for political gain.
From Dr. Denny
I want to apologize to anyone whom my comments/actions may have offended…: How are you going to offer a sincere apology when you don’t even know who you’re apologizing to? This probably also means that you’re not 100% sure what you’re apologizing for.
And now, your turn. We’re almost certain that we didn’t get them all. So let us know what you’d like to add to the list of banned phrases…