There’s no way my wife could have known about the quirk that lay dormant in me.
Frankly, I doubt I even knew it was there.
But you don’t develop ALH (Acute Language Hypersensitivity) overnight. It can take years to emerge, forged as it is in the crucible of an overactive irritability gene.
With ALH at my disposal, I’ve become a lightning rod for words and phrases that we mainstream Americans adopt and repeat and repeat, all with an astounding lack of self-awareness.
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One phrase I heard today — and I thought it was about to fade from the scene — is the expression “at the end of the day.” I’ve heard this in every context imaginable, from a soccer coach’s postgame comments (“At the end of the day, it’s all about results”) to a politician’s views on building a wall at the Mexican border.
“It will be a beautiful wall, I can promise you that, and at the end of the day, it will be the Mexicans who pay for it,” the leader said, give or take a fact or two.
All I can say is that once the sun sets and that day finally ends, there will be some very, very busy people.
But believe me, I won’t be one of them.
I recently worked as an editor and one of my rules was to simply replace faddish words and expressions that annoyed me and do it without consulting anyone. Were I a kinder, gentler editor, I might have “reached out” and tried to explain why the words “reach out” had become a cliche for ALH sufferers like me.
When I think of “reach out,” I picture the literal – “Ed the camp counselor reached out to help little Sparky back in the boat after he slipped on that crappie and fell in the lake” – or the spiritual – “the woman had just enough faith left to reach out and touch the hem of Jesus’ robe to be saved.”
And Jesus could reciprocate, of course, by “reaching out” with a sanctified hand to save both the needy and those with subpar language skills.
But now, after so much overuse, “reach out” in almost any context is tainted.
My hypersensitivity flares when I hear someone who plans to “reach out” to the clerk at the license bureau to mail her a copy of form 18-S-B, the one she spilled red wine on.
Basically, it’s a case of “reaching out” having become a euphemism for asking a favor.
Then there’s the parent who calls the preschool to “reach out” with a request for next month’s Terrific Tiny Tots lunch menu. These watered-down uses trivialize a once-perfectly good expression.
I’ve probably grown the most tired of people who “stand with” such and such a person or cause, or “have their back” if they share a position or belief. At work, I’d delete either usage as if it were the plague and insert “support,” “back” or “join forces with.”
I never said I was a nice person.
Our publication once received a letter to the editor that criticized a news story we ran. I decided to publish the letter, which followed our guidelines but rubbed the reporter the wrong way.
Rather than stand with her by blindly defending her reporting, I violated the silent code of “not having her back.”
But applying a hackneyed expression — one based on military jargon, no less —makes little sense. Can you picture a copy editor armed with an Associated Press Stylebook and a red pen providing back-up for a reporter at the front?
Just yesterday I heard our new ambassador to the U.N. say we would support any nation that “has our back”. She could have said “shares our interests” or “agrees on basic principles” — but no, she had to go all Rambo on us with her choice of phrase.
Annoying expressions pass in and out of the public vocabulary on a daily basis. As news analysts are now saying, it’s a “robust” process, one that’s “gaining traction” with language users “on the ground” and, “at the end of the day,” will inevitably make me crazy.
My theory on “robust” is the trendiness factor — a kind of verbal street cred — that comes from our culture’s obsession with cooking shows. If you put enough fresh garlic, red pepper and who knows what else in your marinara sauce, it will indeed become “more robust.” I can live with that — or at least I used to.
Now, though, I draw the line when I hear that a police department, let’s say in suburban Philadelphia, has come up with “a robust plan” to promote better relationships between officers and neighborhoods.
On the plus side, I suppose if this new-found robustness works, cops and residents will be able to simultaneously reach out, have each others’ backs and — let’s be perfectly clear here — exchange ingredients and recipes.
This will all happen, of course, at the end of the day. That’s a time when just about everything happens, including some of the most robust marinara you’ve ever tasted.
Hypersensitive? Irritated? Tell me about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.