Every once in a while, a new catch phrase appears that you hear or read rarely at first. Then suddenly you meet it everywhere, and it progresses rapidly from novelty to irritant.
The latest phrase to reach the active loathing stage for me is “reach out”. In the past few weeks it seems that everybody–mortgage brokers, politicians, you name it–wants to reach out and make sure I’ve heard the special message they have for me. Generally this message presages an attempt to separate me from some amount of money.
The spiel typically goes something like this: “Dr. Sibert, I wanted to reach out to you and let you know about…” Whatever it is, I can virtually guarantee I don’t want to know about it, and it will make me recoil like a cat from a lawn sprinkler. What’s particularly annoying about this introductory gambit is its implication that I was in need of being reached out to, or rescued. In effect, the message suggests that the writer is in possession of valuable information without which I will flounder or sink.
This brings me to a point about modern manners. Often, phrases that are used to convey politeness or helpfulness today contain a veiled insult, and aren’t genuinely polite at all. Take, for instance, the greeting you often hear on the phone or from a receptionist: “How may I help you?” Consider for a moment what this question actually conveys. The person asking the question makes two presumptuous assertions. The first is that I am a hapless individual in need of help, and the second is that he or she is uniquely qualified to offer any of the many kinds of help that I might need. This is very different from the simpler and more courteous question that was usually asked in times past: “May I help you?” This query simply asked if the speaker might offer any assistance. It did not imply that the other party was incompetent or helpless, or that the speaker possessed superior powers.
When my husband and I traveled in Japan, we were particularly struck by the difference in manner between the salesclerks in Japanese shops and department stores compared to many in America. If a wait of any length takes place in Japan, the staff members seem genuinely regretful and say “Thank you for waiting” as soon as they are able to attend to you. In the United States, if salesclerks even notice that you have been kept waiting, they are more likely to say, “Thank you for your patience.” I’ve always found this annoying. The assumption that I have waited patiently is nearly always wrong. I would react much better to a simple “I’m so sorry that you’ve been kept waiting,” and acknowledgement of the fact that waiting is generally irritating and inconvenient.
There are so many other misuses of the English language in print and other media today. So little that is labeled “amazing” actually is. The words “affect” and “effect” may not be used interchangeably. The word “impact” is a noun, not a verb. And a tire or a diaper may need changing or it may need to be changed; it does not “need changed”. Texting may in fact augur the death of elegance in the English language as we have known it. But that, dear reader, is a topic for another day.
You hit it again. Beautifully said. There are so many phrases that have crept into the English language that I dislike. How about, “I want to say…”? Well, if you wanted to say it, then do so, but if you are just not sure, then say what you mean….yikes….’enry ‘iggins was right, “In America, they haven’t spoken it for years!”
I want to say—As a high school math teacher, I was able to say, “Either you know it or you don’t. Quit wasting my time.” Or-get to the point- I would count to 3 and walk off. Math teachers are considered notional and can get away with things that others can’t.
A principal came in, because I counted to 3 instead of 10. I told her the students knew what to do-they just wanted to control the situation-It did not take the count of 10 for a student to sit down or be quiet. It’s odd- but other teachers began counting to 3.
This might be counter-intuitive, but students not in my classes also came to me for help-this included a poor girl that had been gang raped.
somehow this ended up on the wrong article. I won’t take responsibility for an electronic glitch.
About this article–whenever anybody at the oncology unit says, “You are a special and unique person. I want you to know that we value you.” that they were ready to tell me that I couldn’t fill out my last wishes or whatever-where I decide on what care I’ll receive in the last days-whatever; that again I was being denied the ability to be rid of a horribly incompetent oncologist that couldn’t answer the binary question posed by a nurse that wanted permission to use small needles to start an IV on a frail patient, whose veins were collapsing- Anyway, it takes every ounce of self-control not to smack the person that says this. I think they hope that a patient will have one of 2 outcomes–that your cancer brain will be flooded with happy hormones and you’ll walk off, forgetting what you asked, or you will become violent, and they can have security remove you.
Thank you for making this long-overdue observation. I wish I could levy a tax on usage of the phrase.
Phrases–Last week, I called to receive information about additional medicare coverage. The agent said, “I need to capture your name.” I gave my name. Next: “I need to capture your address” I said, “Do you know that you are making me feel like a ground squirrel trying to outrun a coyote?”
Amen to your post and to the comments regarding “I want to…” and by inference, its cousin, “we’d like to…”. For example, how often have you heard someone open a meeting with a statement such as, “We’d like to welcome you…” or, “We’d like to thank you…”.
I recently received a form letter invitation to have my “financials planned” at a free-of-charge seminar. The letter began with “Dear Dr. ___ , I want to invite you to…” I couldn’t resist responding with the following:
“There are two things I don’t understand:
1) if you truly “wanted” to invite me to your seminar, why didn’t you. And 2) if you were not going to invite me, why in the world would you even inform me of the seminar in the first place?
The funny thing was that a couple of days later, I received a phone message from someone asking if my reply meant that I was coming to the seminar or not. That was followed by a second call from my (now “ex”) auto-insurance agent asking the same question—and in so doing, revealing to me the identity of who supplied them with my name and address in the first place. 😛
“I could care less.” which of course conveys just the opposite of what was meant by the original, “I couldn’t care less.”
“What was your name again?”
“Excuse me but what WAS my name? When? Did I somehow imply that it changed at some point in the past—because it has not?”
“Up a creek without a paddle.”
What does that mean—because it actually doesn’t sound too terribly bad? For if I want to be up the creek, then I’m already there. And if I want to be anywhere else on the creek, I can enter my boat (which the mention of the paddle implies I have), and leisurely float to my destination. It seems that the real predicament would be if I was, “Down the creek without a paddle.” and desired to be up the creek.
Up the creek without a paddle was changed to be politically correct and not upset the emotionally and verbally tender. It was up in the human waste creek- where your little not-motor- boat, was stuck in the sludge of fecal matter. You had the choice of paddling with your hands in the raw and fermenting fecal matter or getting out and either swimming or wading through it. Meanwhile you are retching from the stench of the fecal matter.
Don’t get stuck in slit creek without a paddle. Then change the L to an h. This was a real problem in America the 1920s and earlier.
Thank you for putting my thoughts and feelings into words. It is refreshing to know that I am not alone in my abhorrence of the recent epidemic of “reaching out”.