I love language, but damn, sometimes it drives me insane. Actually, I can’t blame my occasional temporary insanity on language. It’s the people who use and abuse it.
I’m not talking bad grammar and horrid punctuation. I’ve made my peace with those. Perhaps it’s the effect of spending so many years living in countries where English isn’t the national language, but I no longer wear my editor’s hat when I read personal emails… or Grindr messages. So to all my nervous friends and grid suitors, your [sic] good.
A syntactic mess might still be hard to miss, but in general, it’s the thoughts that count. I recently received a message on LinkedIn from a headhunter in Australia who apologized at the end for any grammatical or punctuation crimes she may have committed. I’ve been hard on Aussies in the past for the way they massacre the Queen’s English. (After years of living in Australia, how “afternoon” became “arvo” and “tomorrow” turned into “tomoz” remains a mystery.) Maybe in perusing my work, she came across some of my commentary and decided to make a preemptive apology.
She didn’t have to. Her email was camera ready — not that I would have held it against her if it hadn’t been. I’ve spent years tidying up other people’s words for a living, but since leaving my last editing gig in February for the wild world of freelance writing, I’ve been too busy watching my own grammar and punctuation to worry about anyone else’s.
If only I could stop certain phrases and sentences from getting to me. Lately, I’ve saved my language-related ire for the cliches that regularly pop up in conversation, unfailingly making me cringe. Nothing on my latest hate list matches the record level of annoying set by “Is it what it is” when I first ripped it apart in writing five years ago (here). Still, I’d happily see them expunged from communication forever.
Just because it is what it is doesn’t mean I have to like it.
“You need therapy.” Don’t we all? And if you happen to be lucky and perfect enough not to, then you should probably know better than to offer such a cavalier assessment of something as serious and potentially sensitive as one’s mental health.
“Let’s agree to disagree.” Nothing devalues an intelligent, eloquent argument faster than this tired, lazy cliche.
“I’m happy if you’re happy.” Said no one ever who didn’t think someone was making a big blunder.
“No offense.” If you’re going to say something nasty, at least have the balls to own it and stand behind it.
“Slut-shaming,” “victim-shaming”… “anything-shaming.” You’re not really living — or speaking your mind — if you’re tip-toeing around everyone’s feelings. If a woman says she was raped or abused, it is NOT OK to say she was asking for it. But it IS OK to say you don’t believe her if you don’t. Call it “victim-shaming” if you want to, but there’s no shame in having an opinion that portrays someone in an unflattering light. And for those on the insulted side of “slut-shaming,” if the “slut” fits, wear it like a boss.
“On brand” It’s no longer just marketing jargon. Thanks to Instagram and YouTube, everyone with a camera can become a “star,” and therefore have a “brand” to protect. If any phrase represents the image obsession of the social-media era, an age where people turn themselves into product for fun and profit, it’s this one. Every time I hear it, I pray to be whisked back to 1995.
“Feel better” and “Have a safe flight.” Would anyone choose to stay sick if it were totally up to them? It’s right down there with “Have a safe flight.” If we all could control the safety of flights, would anyone have a fear of flying?
“It’s not all about you.” Um, duh. That said, as long as you’re living your own life, processing everything through the prism of your own experience, it will always be largely about you. And even if your first instinct is to consider how something affects you, that doesn’t mean you don’t care about how it affects others.
“The definition of insanity is…” People recite it as if it’s the actual definition of insanity, one devised and endorsed by mental health experts. It’s just a pretentious way of saying don’t waste your time on futile things. And if wasting time on futile things were tantamount to being insane, then we all really do need therapy.