It may be a cliché to write about clichés, but I’m going to do it anyway. New administrations and new Congresses always bring a new tone and zeitgeist to Washington. Maybe we can update the vocabulary or at least find new clichés.
Here are a few of my candidates for elimination:
On the planet. Everything seems to deserve the name-your-superlative “on the planet.” If something is the best or worst, why then “on the planet” becomes unnecessary in the first place. Maybe people who say it mean you might find something better or worse on another planet.
Never happens again. Shootings, oil spills, disasters of all types cause officials to rush in with heartfelt vows to do whatever is necessary to make sure it “never happens again.” Except that with 6 billion people on the planet and the degree of randomness in the world, it will happen again. Goes with …
We take seriously … Organizational or bureaucratic blather. What are they going to say, we don’t give a hoot about your loss, injury, insult, poisoning? I think this one originates from a fear of legal action or that unpleasant feature of 21st-century life: “shaming” on social media.
Scathing. This is directed at fellow scribblers. Why must we describe every critical report or study as “scathing?” What does “scathing” mean anyhow? Can’t the findings speak for themselves and let the reader decide what is “scathing?”
Horrific. A needless modifier and one wearing thin with overuse. It’s used to show the speaker or writer has empathy, a shorthand code for solemnity.
Experts say. One of the worst. It substitutes, badly, for real knowledge or convincing argument. The last, best use of experts’ country cousin, “they,” occurred in 1946 with Irving Berlin’s lyrics, “They say that falling in love is wonderful …” in Annie Get Your Gun. (Annie apparently had no problem with the 2nd Amendment).
It’s about. Just kill this lazy construction. Bury it. Salt the earth where this phrase originated. Isn’t it about time?
At the end of the day. Ugh, this one has replaced the equally dreary “In the final analysis.” I always want to respond, well, what about tomorrow? Six meaningless syllables.
Leveraging and harnessing. Usually followed by “the power of” something or other like the Internet of Things or social media. I prefer the Washington Capitals’ third-period war cry, “Unleash the Fury!”
Iconic. Isn’t that a kind of Greek column? Or a software development kit? Sorry, that’s ionic. Now people use the once-powerful iconic as a hoity-toity sounding synonym for “familiar” or “often seen.” But “iconic” adds a good measure of meaningless pomp.
Convo. This is a way-too-cool shortening of “conversation” — itself a way-too-cool substitute for debate, argument, controversy. National conversation usually means a lot of herd-like opinion writers are writing about whatever it is.
Playbook. I’m not even sure where this originated before it became a beaten-to-death cliché. I’m guessing football. Pretty soon we’ll be hearing cookbooks referred to as “culinary playbooks.”
Tool(s). A companion to playbook, this one is supposed to add weight and meaning to the ordinary, like “instructions” or “software for …” Can we just dispose of it at a yard sale?